The United Nations’ (UN) special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings condemned the Philippine government’s use of violence to combat illegal drugs, during an unofficial visit on Friday that angered Malacañang.
In a speech at the University of the Philippines, Agnes Callamard of France warned of the many pitfalls of governments globally adopting violent responses to illegal drugs, and said she had been watching events in the Philippines closely.
“The ‘war on drugs’ does not work,” she said. “Badly thought out, ill-conceived drug policies not only fail to address substantively the problem, they add more problems [instead],” she added.
Callamard praised people in the Philippines who had spoken out against Duterte’s drug war.
“I have followed testimonies of the relatives of victims, I have seen the brave work of civil society actors, lawyers, human rights defenders, academics, senators,” she said.
“I have heard debates between politicians, explanations by government officials, and indeed I have watched footage too of police and military men – and all saying there are other ways; better ways; other options, and better options.”
The government appeared to be caught off guard by Callamard’s trip, saying it would lodge a protest with the United Nations because she had not organized the visit through official channels.
Callamard, a human rights expert, had previously worked for Amnesty International and is an adviser to Columbia University.
She told reporters in a brief statement on Friday that she did not travel to the Philippines to conduct a UN investigation – she said she was merely taking part in the academic forum.
However she did meet with various human rights campaigners and lawyers while in the Philippines, including some who organized the forum.
In a statement, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said Callamard’s unannounced visit meant that she would not be objective in her investigation of summary killings.
“We are aware that Dr. Callamard is currently in the Philippines and we are disappointed that, in not contacting our government in advance of this visit, she has sent a clear signal that she is not interested in getting an objective perspective on the issues that are the focus of her responsibility,” Abella said.
Callamard spoke before a two-day conference on drug policy and extrajudicial killings at the invitation of the Free Legal Assistance Group.
Abella said the timing of Callamard’s visit was suspect – a senior-level delegation was traveling to Geneva to meet with officials of the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights for a third “universal period review” of the Philippines’ human rights record.
The delegation to the May 8 UN review is led by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano and Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra.
“Our position is very clear, if Dr. Callamard is committed to ensuring due process to our government and a truly objective assessment of our record on an issue of tremendous importance to our nation, she should be in Geneva meeting with our representatives,” Abella said.
“Callamard has arrived in the Philippines in a manner that circumvents all recognized United Nations protocols for such visits,” the Palace official added.
Abella recalled that Malacañang sent a letter to Callamard on September 26, 2016, inviting her to the Philippines to look into the government’s war on drugs.
Duterte however set conditions including a demand that she have a public debate with him on the drug war. Callamard refused to come under those conditions.
“The fact that Dr. Callamard did not respond to our invitation showed that she would not be approaching her review of allegations concerning our country objectively or comprehensively,” Abella said.
He said the invitation to Callamard to visit the Philippines “makes it clear that we respected her as a professional and we very much wanted her to see the situation on the ground first-hand and engage in an exchange of views with officials in our government to understand our position on the issue of human rights and the progress being made in the Philippines.”
“Her actions since then, and the circumstances surrounding her current visit, have made it clear that Dr. Callamard is not approaching her assignment professionally or objectively,” Abella said.
The Palace offcial said the Philippine team in Geneva would raise the issue before the UN, saying Callamard’s actions were unprofessional.
“This is a matter we have asked our representatives at the United Nations to take up with their United Nations counterparts and it is something our delegation in Geneva will certainly be raising during their current visit,” Abella said.
On Thursday in Davao City, President Rodrigo Duterte told an orthopedic doctors’ convention that he thought Callamard was in the country to investigate drug-related deaths.
“That’s why the rapporteur of the UN is here, investigating extrajudicial killing,” the President said, while recalling his controversial remarks that had been criticized by rights advocates and international bodies such as the UN, the European Union and the US State Department.
Also on Friday the Philippine National Police (PNP) dared Callamard to recommend a solution to address the country’s drug problems.
“What would she recommend on how to address the drug problem with an estimate of four million people hooked on illegal drugs?” asked Chief Supt. Dionardo Carlos, the PNP spokesman.
He pointed out that the PNP had reached out to drug offenders – both users and pushers – to allow them to change their ways, through the so-called Oplan “Tokhang” (knock and plead), in which police urge drug suspects to turn themselves in.
This, Carlos said, had resulted in the surrender of 1,266,966 people involved in drugs.
“The Philippine government through the DOH (Department of Health) and DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) extend all possible help to allow these drug addicts to be treated and rehabilitated either by community-based wellness and rehabilitation programs or treatment in drug rehabilitation facilities,” he said. “This is just in a span of eight months,” he added.
‘Period of darkness’
The night before the UP forum, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) celebrated its 30th anniversary with Callamard, former CHR chief Loretta Rosales and agency employees.
In his speech, CHR Chairman Jose Luis Martin Gascon lashed out at Duterte for disregarding human rights, describing the administration as a “period of darkness.”
“Although we are a tropical country, winter has come. It is in this period of darkness that we shall all be tested as we fight for human rights,” Gascon said.
He also decried the lack of public support or empathy for human rights advocates. “There is a lack of public support, or empathy for the principles and values of human rights,” Gascon lamented.