MANILA, Philippines – What surprise?
United Nations Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard has denied the claim of Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella that the Philippine government was not informed of her trip beforehand.
“I reject the statement issued today by the spokesperson’s office of President Rodrigo Duterte stating that the Philippine Government had not been informed in advance of my trip to the country,” Callamard said in statement on Friday, May 5.
In a statement released through the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights website on Friday, the human rights expert said: “On 28 April 2017, the Government was officially informed of my forthcoming visit to the country to take part in an academic conference on drug related issues. The Government was also informed that the trip was not an official visit.”
“The Government of the Philippines replied with letters dated 29 April and 1 May, acknowledging reception of my letter and reacting to the information about my upcoming academic trip. Exchanges on this matter by phone, mail and email between my mandate and the Permanent Mission of the Philippines continued until 4 May,” Callamard added.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the NGOs who invited Callamard have repeatedly explained the circumstances surrounding her visit.
In her latest statement, Callamard reiterated that she is in the country for an “academic visit” to attend a two-day conference on drug policies. Callamard noted that “it is normal routine for Special Rapporteurs to visit countries to attend different conferences or events, but such activities are not official country visits.”
“My current stay in the Philippines is not an official visit, so I will not be assessing the situation in the country, and there will be no report presented to the Human Rights Council,” she stressed.
In a statement on Friday, Abella said Callamard’s supposed failure to give the Philippine government a heads up on her visit showed she would not be “objective” in checking on allegations of extrajudicial killings in the country.
“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,” said Abella.
In a chance interview with media on Friday, prior to her official statement, Callamard herself made it clear that she was not in the country to conduct an investigation.
CHR Chairperson Chito Gascon also noted that in December 2016, Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, was also in the country on an “academic visit.” The Palace did not issue a statement about his visit then.
“She is not on official mission and we will respect what that means,” added Gascon in relation to Callamard, among the guests at the CHR’s 30th anniversary celebration on May 4.
A special rapporteur may only conduct an “official visit” upon the invitation of a country. The Philippines extended a formal invitation to Callamard but this came with conditions that “did not comply with the rules and methods of work of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council,” said Callamard.
Palace stands by statement
In response to Callamard, while Abella confirmed the exchange between the UN special rapporteur and the Philippines’ Permanent Mission in Geneva in relation to the trip, he reiterated that Callamard was asked to “reconsider” it as it coincided with the UN review on the human rights progress of the Philippines, where a Philippine delegation was to make a presentation.
“Ms Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur, has issued a statement rejecting the Spokesperson’s claim that the Philippine Government had not been informed in advance of her trip here to take part in a conference, and that such was not an official visit,” Abella said.
“She conveniently failed to disclose that when the UNHCHR office in Geneva informed the Philippine Mission there. The Mission asked her to reconsider the trip since Philippine officials would be in Geneva at the same time for the Universal Periodic Review, and were expecting to see her, that being the appropriate venue to meet,” he added.
Abella said Callamard’s “delayed reply came on the day she left for the Philippines.”
“This was neither timely nor proper courtesy accorded to a sovereign nation. We stand by our statement,” he added.
Callamard was invited by several non-governmental organizations for the Manila forum which covered, among other things, the health and economic aspects of illegal drugs. It will also discuss the experience of other countries in waging a punitive solution to narcotics.
During her keynote speech at the forum on Friday, May 5, Callamard reiterated previous statements that punishment-centric policies against illegal drugs do more harm than the original problem itself. (READ: Is Duterte’s 4 million drug addicts a ‘real number’?)
Still, Callamard said she “[looks] forward to a positive engagement with the Government of the Philippines on issues of interest to my mandate.”
“I remain deeply committed to undertake an official visit to the country,” she added. / Bea Cupin /@beacupin/Rappler.com