Skip to main content

Syria death toll probably at 70,000, U.N. human rights official says

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
updated 9:07 PM EST, Tue February 12, 2013
New Syrian refugees arrive at the Za'atari refugee camp on February 1, 2013 in Mafrq, Jordan.
New Syrian refugees arrive at the Za'atari refugee camp on February 1, 2013 in Mafrq, Jordan.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.N. high commissioner for human rights said a month ago that death toll was 60,000
  • Syria's civil war has raged since March 2011, partly inspired by Arab Spring protests
  • In January, U.N. envoy urged the United Nations Security Council to act

(CNN) -- The death toll in Syria is probably now approaching 70,000, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Tuesday.

In early January, Pillay said that 60,000 people in Syria had died, a figure that she called "truly shocking." She blamed the international community for failing to act.

At that time, CNN tried to put the number in perspective. Sixty thousand people is roughly the population of Terre Haute, Indiana; or Cheyenne, Wyoming. It's how many people would fit in Dodger Stadium, and it's more than the 50,000-plus U.S. combat deaths in Vietnam.

The war in Syria has been raging since March 2011 when protesters, partly inspired by Arab Spring uprisings in the region, began demonstrating for more freedom. That movement quickly morphed into a movement against President Bashar al-Assad, who was appointed president by Syria's rubber-stamp parliament in 2000 after his father died.

Syrian refugee crisis grows
McCain: Assad could have been stopped
Can Syrian town's truce hold?
Syria's latest string of violence

The largely amorphous group of anti-al-Assad rebels who have been trying to oust al-Assad, the Free Syrian Army, has had many casualties, but many innocent civilians have died.

No area of the country seems safe. The opposition activist organization Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCCS) said 136 people were killed in war-related violence across Syria on Tuesday, including 47 in Damascus and its suburbs, and 32 in Aleppo. CNN cannot independently verify those figures.

In mid-January, Aleppo University was the scene of horrific violence. One student described to CNN his dizzying attempt to help another after bombs exploded at the school, saying that he reached out his hand to help only to wind up grasping a fellow student's severed hand.

Every day looks the same in Syria. Al-Assad's forces bombard neighborhoods. Body counts are recorded by anti-government rebels and activists.

United Nations envoys -- two of them so far -- have tried to negotiate to end to the fighting.

In late January, envoy Lakhdar Brahimi tried to persuade the U.N. Security Council to do something.

"Syria is being destroyed bit by bit and, in destroying Syria, the region is being pushed into a situation that is extremely bad and extremely important for the entire world," he said after meeting with the body in private.

Throughout the war, there have been several instances in which observers have surmised that the bloodshed might be near an end.

They've been wrong every time. Al-Assad has made those predictions seem even more foolish when he's given speeches in which he says all his government is doing is fighting back "terrorists."

There are Syrians who still very much support al-Assad, too.

For example, in a recent CNN exclusive, CNN's Frederik Pleitgen reported from Saidnaya, a predominantly Christian town outside Damascus that is standing firmly behind al-Assad.

"I don't know why, but we love the president very much," said Housam Azar, a Saidnaya resident and organizer of the town's militia. "Sure, there have been mistakes, but we love the president a lot."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
updated 4:23 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The little boy looks barely old enough to walk, let alone understand the dark world he's now inhabiting.
updated 12:22 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
ISIS has released video of the aftermath of a mass execution. Another video shows alleged captured Peshmerga soldiers.
updated 5:33 AM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
The number of people who have fled Syria and registered as refugees amid the country's civil war will surpass 3 million Friday.
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Douglas McAuthur McCain, 33, grew up in the Minneapolis area, but died more than 6,000 miles away in Syria, fighting for ISIS.
updated 4:54 PM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
If the United States is serious about thoroughly defeating ISIS, it must, somehow, go through Syria.
updated 8:43 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
updated 8:48 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
updated 7:41 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
updated 5:17 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
updated 4:25 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
updated 4:04 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 2, 2014
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
updated 12:10 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
updated 7:30 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
More than 100,000 people reportedly have been killed in Syria since a popular uprising in 2011 spiraled into a civil war.
ADVERTISEMENT