The Philippines voiced anger Friday over a surprise visit by a United Nations special envoy on extrajudicial killings, saying it was meant to discredit President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs days before Filipino officials were set to explain the deadly campaign in Geneva.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the visit to Manila by U.N. Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard “sent a clear signal that she is not interested in getting an objective perspective” on the country’s war against drugs.
Earlier this week, police reported 2,692 drug suspects have been shot dead since Duterte came to power 10 months ago. About 5,700 drug-related killings, many of them carried out by unknown vigilantes, are being investigated by police.
Rights groups have said the killings were sanctioned by police, a claim officials have denied.
Private forum on drugs
Callamard, who was in the Philippine capital to attend a privately organized forum on drugs, has been asking the government since last year to allow her to investigate these killings in her official capacity as U.N. envoy. Duterte has said he would only agree to this if she also allowed to be questioned in public, a condition that Callamard rejected.
In September, the Philippine government wrote to Callamard inviting her to “get our perspective on the drug menace confronting our country,” Abella 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.
Abella said Callamard’s trip “circumvents all recognized United Nations protocols for such visits,” adding that a Philippine delegation that was expected to attend a Universal Periodic Review of the U.N. Human Rights Council, scheduled for May 8, would raise the issue.
“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,” he said.
But the circumstances surrounding her visit have made it clear that the U.N. official “is not approaching her assignment professionally or objectively,” he said.
“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,” he added.
But Callamard said she was on a private trip and came to Manila upon the invitation of the organizers.
She told a forum at a Manila university that the drug problem had become a global issue funding corruption and heavily affecting governments worldwide.
But while governments have come together to denounce the problem, they also recognized that drug dependency has become a disorder that needs a health-care approach, she said.
“What governments did not commit to last year was the war-on-drugs approach. Quite the contrary. They called what amounts to a balanced, multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary approach, and they placed great emphasis on health, rights and justice,” she said.
The war-on-drugs approach does not work, according to Callamard.
It fosters “a regime of impunity infecting the whole justice sector” and erodes trust in public institutions and ultimately leading people to despair, she said.
She also praised Filipinos who had spoken out against the killings, saying she had followed closely the developments here.
“I have heard debates between politicians, explanations by government officials, and indeed I have watched footage too of police and military men – and all are saying there are other ways, better ways. Other options, better options,” the U.N diplomat said.
In a speech on Thursday, Duterte sought to clarify that he had not personally killed anyone despite repeatedly threatening drug addicts.
The sudden change of tune – he clearly told reporters earlier that he had killed at least three people – came after two former aides with personal knowledge of the killings filed a case of mass murder against him at the Hague-based International Criminal Court.
Meanwhile, the government’s drugs war continued this week with deadly consequences. Eight people were slain in the south and in Manila, including a mother and her two young children accidentally shot by police raiding a drug den.