War versions: who believes the victims of the Russian operation in Syria

Russia has repeatedly accused its strikes in Syria kill civilians. Monday in Moscow was presented a new charge as a result of airstrike on a hospital in the North of Syria, whose work was supported by “Doctors without borders”, killed at least seven people. The Syrian Observatory for human rights (Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the SOHR) placed the responsibility for the strike on Russian aviation. “Doctors without borders” accused in the attack of President Bashar al-Assad. At the same time, the Turkish authorities stated that under Russian airstrike hit a hospital in the town of Azaz, which killed at least ten people.

The Kremlin, the Russian foreign Ministry and the defense Ministry denied these accusations: the President’s press Secretary Dmitry Peskov urged to focus on the statements of Damascus on the responsibility of the United States. But the statement of the Ministry of defense immediately raised the questions: Russian group Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), who is famous for his investigations into the death of Russian soldiers in Ukraine, having analyzed the statement of the Ministry of defense, concluded that the Agency gave wrong picture lighting strikes the world’s media and “Doctors without borders” and made groundless accusations against the latter in cooperation with the Turkish authorities. Statement of the Ministry of defense in General “contain a huge amount of false information”, said a member of the CIT mediaactive Ruslan Leviev.

Counting via the comparison

Exact data on the number of people killed in the bombing has neither the one side. His calculations led by several non-governmental human rights and research groups; some have an extensive network of contacts in Syria, while others summarize the message and verified first, using data from social networks.

Among those involved in the verification data, for example, the Monitoring group of the air war (Airwars Monitoring Group, AMG). A year and a half since the beginning of operation USA and its allies (August 8, 2014) died from 2097 to 2724 of civilians, suggests the group. Its analysts have counted 333 incident, probably related to the loss of civilian life, and with certainty to establish the fact of civilian casualties was only possible in 16 cases, the victims of these airstrikes steel from 34 to 45 people. Another 137 incidents, whose victims were to 1,213 people were able to establish with relative accuracy. In its work, the AMG uses the message of human rights defenders, information from social networks and websites with the Islamists, the news of both Western and Russian media, for example, the Agency Sputnik and the Arabic-speaking version of RT.

AMG is not yet able to estimate the number of victims of the Russian bombings “because of the large number of alleged incidents”, reads the website of the group. Reports of victims of Russian attacks, which began on 30 September 2015, one and a half times more than the deaths in the bombing of the Western coalition. For the last 4.5 months AMG has averaged 541 case when civilian deaths associated with the attacks of the Russian HQs.

The representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova cited at a briefing on Thursday at AMG data about the victims of coalition air strikes — but only in order to show the West that the civilian casualties they say “their own research”. As evidenced by the organization’s website, the group receives funding Charitable trust Joseph Rowntree, Oxford research group and the Foundation “open society” of George Soros (in Russia is recognized as undesirable by the organization). “We look at their data not supported”, — says Zakharov in a conversation about the position of the Smolensk square in relation to AMG.

Counting the victims of the Russian raids are at least four non-governmental organizations. It is already mentioned by SOHR, the Syrian network for human rights (Syrian Network for Human Rights, SNHR), Center for documentation of violence (Violations Documentation Center, VDC) and a group of “White hats” that emerged in opposition to Assad volunteering, they each give their assessment of civilian victims of the Russian operations. On February 14, these figures ranged from 1380 until 1815.

Human rights defenders

One of the most quoted in Western sources of information — SOHR. Established in 2006 in the UK Rami Abdul Rahman, who fled Syria for six years before that, the group was initially engaged in lighting a resonant stories associated with the protection of human rights, and worked including Amnesty International. With the beginning of the civil war in 2011 she became one of the few organizations, which, in his own words, had an extensive network of informers, her work is highly evaluated, in particular, bi-Bi-si.

The AFP, for example, immediately believed the information of the group Abdul Rahman. Chief of middle East Bureau of the Agency Izeddin Saeed explained the decision four years ago: “We first used SOHR [as a source] in November 2006. The organization has shown himself trustworthy in the past, so we continue to use it.”

Russian authorities, on the contrary, the SOHR as a reliable source rejected immediately. In February 2012, the then foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich stated that the Council “employs only two people — the head and Secretary-translator”, and Chapter has “not only journalistic or legal training, but even a complete secondary education”, owns the diner, and shies away from contacts with the Russian side. “These facts by themselves show how good the supplied structure information,” — said the diplomat. Since then this attitude to the SOHR was the Russian Foreign Ministry accepted. “For us, “Observatory” is not a body that can be referenced” — confirms Zakharova.

From the report by Al Arabiya 2014, it appears that in Britain the group is represented by one person who works from his home in Coventry and does not accept any new members, allegedly due to fear that it infiltrate spies of the Assad regime. Director of London-based Council for Arab-British understanding Chris Doyle in conversation with TV channel remarked that Abdul Rahman was actually to blame for the lack of fully reliable information from Syria. But, he said, “this is a common problem” and the British band delivers at least some data from the beginning of the war.

Leviev from investigative project CIT characterizes the group of Abdul Rahman in conversation with: “or We perceive them rather as a political activist or a group of political activists <…>. Unless we use their information about the time and place of attack”. Nevertheless, the European external action service in weekly reviews of Russian disinformation (*.pdf) refers to reports by the SOHR. “Syrian monitoring group on human rights is not “unreliable source”, — stated in the summary. The fact that SOHR is considered to be a reliable source, confirmed by a European diplomat.


Two other commonly used in the West of the source of information — human rights groups SNHR and VDC — appeared in contrast to the group of Rahman only with the beginning of the civil war in 2011 and adopted a very tough anti-government stance. It affected their attitude towards Russia, all these years supporting the Assad regime.

SNHR has published the first report on the consequences of the Russian air strikes on 11 October 2015. Then her head Fadel Abdul Ghani said that Russia bombed a medical center, two mosques and the center of the bread, the victims of the attacks allegedly began 104 civilians. Moscow, thought he, “joined to [one] of the parties to the conflict violated international humanitarian law”. VDC, the staff of which includes more than 30 employees in Syria and beyond, in turn, in November last year, accused Russia for the deaths of “hundreds of civilians” and in Syria using cluster and vacuum bombs.

From the beginning of this year, says (*.pdf) SNHR, from the blows of the Russian VC killed more Syrian civilians (679) than from the actions of Assad’s army (516) or militants of the banned in Russia “Islamic state” (98). “We with a sufficient degree of confidence ready to take their data on the number of victims as “lower the bar”, i.e., victims may be more than they say, but it is unlikely that less,” confirms the competence of SNHR Leviev.

These groups practically do not use Gani’s largest news agencies, but they are actively quoted by the Turkish media, in particular close to President Recep Tayyip erdoğan English language newspaper the Daily Sabah. This does not mean that they are completely unreliable — three years ago, the press-Secretary of the UN Secretary General Martin Nesirky indicated that SNHR was one of the sources of the report of the UN high Commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay on the situation in Syria — along with SOHR, VDC and several human rights groups.

The new methodology

Another organization, the Syrian center for political studies (Syrian Center for Policy Research SCPR), media mentions so often. He counts the victims and don’t do periodic digests, and engaged in the construction of statistically based models of the Syrian crisis. The centre was established by immigrants from Syria, graduates from Leicester, Edinburgh and Essex universities Rabi Nasser, khuloud Saba and Zaki Mehki. SCPR worked with several agencies of the United Nations, including middle Eastern UN Agency for Palestine refugees and the organization of work (he has an office in Syria) and the Syrian branch of the United Nations development Programme. Their research on the socio-economic problems have been tested by analysts from international organizations, and they work in close cooperation with specialists remaining in Syria and holding including positions in the Executive branch. The center itself is based in Damascus.

A week ago, SCOR published a report on the impact of the war in Syria, both economic and social. It provides an estimate of the total number of fatalities to 470 thousand “By the end of 2015, the mortality rate reached 10 deaths per 1,000 population, while the number of injured is estimated to have reached at 1.88 million people. This means that 11.5% of the population remaining in Syria, killed or wounded in armed conflict”, — is spoken in the work. About half of the 22 million citizens of the country have either fled Syria or become displaced, it is noted in the document. “About 60% have left their homes remain in Syria as internally displaced, while 29 percent left the country as refugees, while 11% had emigrated to other countries,” say the authors of the study, prepared with the support of the Syrian Bureau of the UN development Programme.

“We created a statistical model with a rigid methodology to assess the impact of the crisis,” says Nasser. According to him, work in war conditions it was hard, but the center has received support from various agencies including Central Bureau of statistics Syria, and non-governmental organizations. “We studied the whole of Syria with the help of 2100 informants and different methods were used to verify the results,” says Nasser. The methodology of a study SCPR is preparing to unveil in April.

The assessments and conclusions of the report “do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations development Programme, its Executive Board or member countries of the United Nations”, specified in the document.

Can we trust the UN

UN chief source of information about the victims in Syria are called at least Russia and the EU. In these matters, Moscow trusts the UN data, and “data monitors and non-governmental organizations, but those who have already proven themselves,” says the representative of the MFA Zakharova. Among them she mentions, for example, Human Rights Watch. “We in the European external action service use data provided by the UN system”, — confirms in the letter, the official representative of European diplomacy, Catherine ray.

The problem is that the UN does not conduct its own count, and summarizes and analyzes these non-governmental organizations. Moreover, on 7 January 2014 the UN has stopped counting the number of victims of the conflict in Syria. The representative of the office of the UN high Commissioner for human rights, Rupert Colville explained to the Associated Press that the solution to inadequate access to specific areas in the country and the inability to verify “source data” provided by third parties.

According to him, the UN took into account six different indices, the calculation of which involved a series of different non-governmental groups. Over time, the number of indicators was reduced to two or three, so “we felt that it was not able to continue [their work] in the same spirit.”

However, in August 2014 the UN released another report with an assessment of the number of victims of the conflict. These organizations were based on information, inter alia, SOHR, and SNHR, and VDC, although the report used information provided by the Syrian government. Colville then stated the Associated Press that the UN has released an updated data due to the fact that the organization has increased the credibility of the process of data collection on victims of the conflict. The latest assessment of the UN — dated 17 August 2015 — 250 thousand dead and 12 million people who fled their homes and moved or abroad, or in safe areas of Syria.

In the headquarters of the UN and the UN Information center in Moscow did not answer the question , what non-governmental groups in Syria, the United Nations continue to work.

With the revitalization of the United Nations in Syria, perhaps the monitoring of victims of the conflict will be more effective. Past participants on 12 February, the Munich meeting of countries participating in the International support group Syria (MGPS) agreed that Thursday, February 19, must earn the working group on humanitarian Affairs. It will monitor seven locations in the country, said the UN special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, where it is particularly challenging humanitarian situation.

The truth will not be

But the exact calculation in the face of hostilities is unlikely. “The international press and social media are that the answer to this question is easy to obtain, but it is not so,” say the researchers from the Group on data analysis for human rights (Human Rights Data Analysis Group HRDAG). Established over 20 years ago, a group of Western non-governmental analysts from academic universities counted the victims of internal conflicts in East Timor, Guatemala, Colombia, Kosovo and Peru. This experience gave them an idea about “the enormous difficulties that stand in the way of accurate counting of victims of hostilities”. So, HRDAG calculated at the end of the conflict in Peru, the number of victims was three times higher, than ever it was called before that, and 15 years conducted by the team in Kosovo was enough to identify only half of the total fatalities. In Guatemala, they managed to draw only one conclusion: the chances of dying from the Indians from the tribes that had supported the guerrilla war against the government, was eight times higher than the Guatemalans of Spanish origin, but still most of the tombs and remains nameless.