GENEVA — More than 60,000 people have died in Syria's 22-month-old civil war, the United Nations' human rights chief, Navi Pillay, said today, expressing dismay at the findings of an analysis that far exceeds previous estimates of casualties.
''The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking," Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement that condemned the government of President Bashar Assad for the scale of the carnage and sharply admonished the U.N. Security Council for failing to act.
''The failure of the international community, in particular the Security Council, to take concrete actions to stop the bloodletting, shames us all," she said.
An "exhaustive analysis" of casualties in Syria documented 59,648 killings between mid-March 2011 and the end of November, Pillay reported. "Given there has been no letup in the conflict since the end of November, we can assume that more than 60,000 people have been killed by the beginning of 2013," she added.
Pillay's comments coincided with reports that an airstrike on a gas station in Damascus, the Syrian capital, today may have killed dozens and injured many more, while heavy fighting around the northern city of Aleppo had forced closure of its international airport.
The analysis of deaths in Syria, described by Pillay as the most detailed and wide ranging to date, was based on a study of seven data sets, including one from the Syrian government, conducted on behalf of the U.N. human rights office by Benetech, a nonprofit technology company whose three earlier analyses of Syrian casualties used fewer data sets.
The analysis, which took five months to complete, drew from a combined list of 147,349 reported killings. Duplicate listings were excluded, as was any report that did not include at least the first and last name of the victim and the date and location of the death. In the end, the analysts came up with a unique record of 59,648 conflict-related deaths as of Nov. 30, 2012. Given that the total excluded reports with insufficient detail, the true toll could easily be higher.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a rebel group that tracks the war and is based in Britain, reported two days earlier that more than 45,000 people, mostly civilians, had been killed. The United Nations said its data could not distinguish between civilians and combatants, but, like the observatory, it concluded that the rate of killings had accelerated. The death toll had climbed from around 1,000 a month in the summer of 2011 to more than 5,000 a month since July, the report for the United Nations said.
''This massive loss of life could have been avoided if the Syrian government had chosen to take a different path than one of ruthless suppression of what were initially peaceful and legitimate protests by unarmed civilians," Pillay said.
Most of the killings occurred in Homs (12,560), Damascus and its environs (10,862) and Idlib (7,686), with those three areas accounting for about half the total, followed by Aleppo, Daraa and Hama. Around three-quarters of those killed were male, the analysis found.
''Unless there is a quick resolution to the conflict, I fear thousands more will die or suffer terrible injuries as a result of those who harbor the obstinate belief that something can be achieved by more bloodshed, more torture and more mindless destruction," Pillay said.
Her comments echoed warnings in the past week by Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab League mediator for Syria, that Syria must achieve a political solution or face "hell," with the danger that 100,000 people could die in 2013 if the conflict was not halted.
Brahimi spoke after visits to Moscow and Damascus at the end of last month in his latest push to kick-start stalled negotiations on a transitional government based on the formula agreed to in Geneva in June 2012, but his efforts have attracted scant support from Syrian opposition groups.