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Civilian Deaths in the Syrian Arab Republic - Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/50/68) (Advance Unedited Version)

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Human Rights Council
Fiftieth session
13 June–8 July 2022
Agenda items 4 Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic


In its resolutions 46/22 and 49/27, the Human Rights Council requested the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to resume its work to establish, document and publish the extent of civilian casualties in the Syrian Arab Republic, in cooperation with civil society, in order to fully assess the number of people killed as a result of 10 years of conflict. Building on previous efforts on casualty recording and reporting on the Sustainable Development Goals indicator 16.1.2 on conflict-related deaths, OHCHR presents its statistical analysis covering the period from March 2011 to March 2021.

I. Background

  1. In its update to the Human Rights Council at its 48th session (A/HRC/RES/46/22), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported on casualties in the Syrian Arab Republic conflict based on a list of 350,209 identified individuals killed in the conflict between March 2011 to March 2021. More work was required to further analyze the data, including understanding how many of these deaths were civilians. On 1st April 2022, the Human Rights Council adopted resolution A/HRC/RES/49/27, noting with concern the number of people killed and emphasizing the importance of such comprehensive, verifiable and transparent records of the casualties of the conflict. The Human Rights Council also requested OHCHR to continue to document and publish civilian deaths and submit a report at its 50th session.

  2. This report outlines and analyzes the results of OHCHR's work to produce a rigorous assessment of casualties during ten years of conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, including through a statistical analysis of available data on conflict-related deaths. The data directly gathered by the UN, government entities and civil society organizations does not, and cannot be considered to, account for each and every casualty occurring in the Syrian Arab Republic conflict, owing to the major operational and practical challenges in collecting the necessary information in these circumstances of conflict. In response to the Human Rights Council's request, OHCHR has sought to address this gap through the use of established statistical techniques to provide a reliable estimate of the total civilian deaths that may have occurred during ten years of conflict – both documented and undocumented. The report, accordingly, includes both an enumeration of the documented conflict-related deaths, with yearly disaggregations by sex, age, the governorate where the death occurred, the cause of death by weapon type, actors alleged to have caused the deaths, and the civilian status of casualties, and statistical estimates to account for missing data on civilian deaths- undocumented and unidentified.

  3. This statistical work builds on previous efforts in assessing direct conflict-related deaths, that is, deaths that resulted directly from war operations and where the acts, decisions and/or purposes that caused these deaths were in furtherance of or under the guise of armed conflict. They may have been caused by the use of weapons or other means and methods. For purposes of this report, the term 'casualties' is used to indicate deaths.1 In 2013 and 2014,
    OHCHR commissioned three statistical analyses of documented killings in the Syrian Arab Republic. 2 In 2019, OHCHR reinforced its global engagement on casualty recording, monitoring and investigating incidents involving civilian casualties and resumed work on a statistical analysis to include the conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic in its global reporting on the Sustainable Development Goals indicator on conflict-related deaths (SDG indicator 16.1.2).3 4. This is the first time that OHCHR is able to report on civilian deaths resulting directly from the 10 years of conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic, including the total number of documented civilian deaths and the estimates of undocumented deaths. The massive figures in this report do not, however, include indirect deaths, namely those resulting mainly from loss of access to essential goods and services that was caused or aggravated by the conflict.

  4. Monitoring and documenting conflict-related deaths are essential to help protect civilians and other potential victims, ensure better respect for international humanitarian and human rights law norms during and after the conflict and understand the patterns and consequences of armed conflicts for prevention purposes. Documenting individual cases is key to effectively realizing a range of fundamental human rights – knowing the truth, seeking accountability, and pursuing effective remedies. It can facilitate survivors' access to education, health care and property. It also supports and complements efforts to account for missing people. In the Syrian Arab Republic's context, OHCHR has been engaged in various activities to address the issue of missing persons, from monitoring related violations and normative developments impacting the rights of victims, survivors and their families to cooperation with relevant actors and promoting the use of international human rights mechanisms.