MANILA, Philippines – The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, who earlier had a series of unpleasant communication exchanges with President Rodrigo Duterte, is finally here in the country. And the Palace is not pleased because it claimed Agnes Callamard did not approach her assignment “professionally or objectively.”
On Friday, the Philippine government said it would complain to the United Nations after Callamard failed to notify it of her visit to Manila, which it said was a “clear signal” she was not interested in an objective view.
“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,” presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said on Friday, May 5.
According to Abella, the Office of the President sent a letter to Callamard on September 26 last year inviting her to visit the Philippines and meet government officials “to get our perspective on the drug menace confronting our country and the efforts of law enforcement and others to address that challenge within the means allowed by Philippine law.”
The government asked Callamard to visit the country following Duterte’s invitation to UN and European officials to come to the Philippines and conduct investigations into the alleged worsening human rights violations amid the administration’s war on drugs campaign.
Invitation with conditions
The invitation to Callamard, however, had conditions. Last December, the Philippine government said it would allow Callamard to visit the country and investigate alleged human rights abuses if (1) she would engage in a public debate with Duterte (2) Duterte would be allowed to ask Callamard questions and (3) the UN rapporteur take an oath.
Callamard thumbed down the three conditions because these she said were not consistent with the code of conduct for special rapporteurs.
On Friday, Abella said the Philippine government’s “hope at that time” that it was inviting the special rapporteur was that “Dr. Callamard would accept this invitation as part of a commitment to carry out her new responsibilities in a manner that was objective and fair to all perspectives on this important issue.”
But he said “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 such “assessment has been reinforced by the fact that Dr. Callamard has arrived in the Philippines in a manner that circumvents all recognized United Nations protocols for such visits and, more importantly, at the very time our government has a senior-level delegation traveling to Geneva to meet with officials of the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as part of the 3rd Cycle of the Universal Period Review of the Philippines and the issue of human rights.”
“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,” said Abella.
“The fact that we issued an invitation to Dr. 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,” he said.
“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,” added Abella.
FLAG: Trip not as UN representative
Cookie Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), which organized the event, said Callamard “followed all protocols required, including informing the Philippine government.”
She also reiterated that Callamard spoke before the forum in her personal capacity, and not as a UN representative.
“We organized this forum. We want to have a meaningful dialogue. We feel there are alternatives to what’s happening outside,” Diokno said. “But to see a reaction like that, it seems the Palace is not willing to engage.”
On Friday, Callamard said she was in the country to participate in a policy forum at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City. “I am not here on an official visit. I am here in response to an invitation to participate to an academic conference.”
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The UN rapporteur said the Philippine government could check her activities while in Manila, adding that she had no ulterior motive in her visit to the country.
“They are entitled to monitor me, absolutely. I am here on the invitation of the university and of the task force, and I will participate to the discussion in that role. That’s the only contribution and work that I will be doing over the next two days,” she said, referring to the two-day forum in UP organized by human rights lawyers belonging to the Free Legal Assistance Group.
Callamard has been vocal about allegations of systematic summary executions in the Philippines as part of Duterte’s war on drugs, which has killed thousands of people.
She sought to visit last year to investigate the allegations but said the government’s conditions – including that she publicly debate Duterte – were far from agreeable.