Killing fields

January 03, 2013 - 1:33:51 am

The UN human rights commissioner’s report that at least 60,000 people have died so far in Syria’s conflict is spine-chilling. The number represents a huge jump from the toll that has been reported. Until now, it has been estimated that up to 45,000 people had perished in the conflict, and the new finding increases the toll by a third. 

But what is more worrying and shocking is the fact that 60,000 may not be the actual death toll and could be much higher. The UN said it has established the name, place and date of death of each of those it says it has counted and left out incomplete information. This means a significant number of killings may not have been documented at all, which is possible because of the complicated nature of the conflict. Foreign aid agencies have no presence in Syria and the rebels themselves are unorganised and have been unable to keep a track of the killings. A spokesman of the UN human rights commission said that there were “many names not on the list for people who were quietly shot in the woods”. 

The UN figures are indisputable because the regime has been on a killing spree since the start of the revolution. Dozens were killed on Tuesday when a government warplane bombed people queuing at a petrol station in a suburb of Damascus.  The latest figures and the gruesome picture it paints should inject an urgency into international efforts to find a solution to the conflict. A few days ago, the UN-Arab peace envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi warned that the death toll could easily touch 100,000 if the crisis continues unresolved, but the UN revelation makes his warning a low estimate. If the war continues at this pace, with the possibility of Bashar Al Assad’s killing machines working overtime, the death toll could spiral beyond all our estimates and imagination.

In the past several weeks, Arab and Western countries have been adopting a hands-off approach to the conflict, leaving rebels to make gains on the ground and oust Assad. But unfortunately, the rebels haven’t been able to deliver lethal blows which can force a solution. There have been several high-profile defections from Assad’s ranks and fighters have been able to strike at vital installations. But it has been more of a roller-coaster ride, with the regime troops able to wrest back some of the gains from rebels and mostly repelling attacks.

If the international community chooses to baulk at action on Syria, the entire country will be reduced to a graveyard, and there will be nothing left to implement a solution, when it comes.

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