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“James is a professional journalist who has remained totally neutral in this conflict,” AFP chairman Emmanuel Hoog said in a statement. “His captors, whoever they may be, must release him immediately.”

Covering Syria has been a challenge for journalists. The government rarely gives visas to journalists, prompting some to sneak in with the rebels, often at great danger to themselves.

The new U.N. analysis said monthly casualty figures have been steadily increasing since the conflict began in March 2011.

Independent experts compared 147,349 killings reported by seven different sources — including the government — for the study, which was commissioned by the U.N. human rights office.

By removing duplicates they arrived at a list of 59,648 individuals killed between the start of the uprising on March 15, 2011, and Nov. 30, 2012. In each case, the victim’s first and last name, the date and the location of his or her death were known.

The real death toll is likely to be even greater because reports containing incomplete information were excluded and a significant number of killings may not have been documented at all by the sources available.

“There are many names not on the list for people who were quietly shot in the woods,” Pillay’s spokesman Rupert Colville told The Associated Press.

The data, which didn’t distinguish among soldiers, rebels and civilians, also show that the killing in Syria has accelerated.

During the summer of 2011, shortly after the uprising against Assad began, the monthly death toll stood at around 1,000. A year later, an average of 5,000 were killed each month, the U.N. said.

Most of the killings occurred in Homs, followed by rural Damascus, Idlib, Aleppo, Daraa and Hama. At least three quarters of the victims were male.

The U.N. rights chief warned that thousands more would die or suffer terrible injuries if the conflict continues, and repeated her call that those responsible for the killings — which in some cases could amount to war crimes — should be held accountable.

“We must not compound the existing disaster by failing to prepare for the inevitable — and very dangerous — instability that will occur when the conflict ends,” she said.

“Serious planning needs to get under way immediately, not just to provide humanitarian aid to all those who need it, but to protect all Syrian citizens from extra-judicial reprisals and acts of revenge” like those seen in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Congo, she said.

The U.N. refugee agency said about 84,000 fled Syria in December alone, bringing the total number of refugees from the conflict about a half million. Many more are displaced inside Syria.

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