Will the United Nations special rapporteur for summary killings investigate the war on drugs being waged in the Philippines? It seems the Duterte administration and the United Nations are at an impasse, with the President imposing three conditions before allowing Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard to visit the country and the French human rights activist rejecting the President’s conditions.
But even though the conditions seem at first glance to be reasonable, they are in fact designed to be rejected. It is now clear that President Duterte is allergic to criticism, especially of his human rights record. He has often bristled at the memory of being subjected to investigation by both the Commission on Human Rights, under its then chair Leila de Lima, and UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston in 2009, when he was still mayor of Davao City. Now that he is president, he sees another human rights investigation not only as a personal affront, but also as a slur on the nation he now represents.
His three conditions, relayed by the Department of Foreign Affairs, are meant to hold the visiting Special Rapporteur to a higher level of accountability: Callamard must agree to a public debate with the President; she must allow herself to be questioned by the President; and she must take an oath (that is, she must bind herself legally to her answers).
Again, reasonable at first glance. But consider Callamard’s response. In a CNN Philippines interview, she explained why she could not possibly accept the President’s three conditions. In a word, these violate the UN’s own code of conduct governing the work of special rapporteur.
“I cannot build trust, including with the police or with the government, if there is a threat of public debate at the end of the mission,” she said. She explained that the matter under investigation, the possible use of state employees and resources to kill suspected criminals without trial or due process, needed to be treated with the utmost sensitivity. “There is the necessity of respect. Respect for the life, respect for the loss of life. Respect for the victims, respect for the police, respect for the family.”
To the President’s condition of a debate held in front of the media, which she feared can only become “politicized,” she made a counterproposal: for the President and other government officials to be given a private briefing after the preliminary findings are in, after which he can conduct a news conference and, if necessary, make a rebuttal.
In response, the President rejected the idea of a private briefing. He said he wanted to discuss the controversy over the mounting death toll in the war on drugs in public; he also said he wanted to force Callamard to present any soldier or policeman who had killed criminal suspects without due process, and under his orders. “Extrajudicial? We don’t do that,” he said.
That is exactly the issue at hand. And the UN has developed its system of special rapporteurs and other officers precisely to investigate possible human rights violations in its member-countries. To be sure, many UN members have tried to limit the scope of responsibility of these human rights monitors; it is an ongoing struggle. It is truly unfortunate that the Philippines, one of the original founders of the UN and for many decades a strong voice for human rights, is now imposing new conditions that are, in fact, designed to undermine the work of a human rights special rapporteur. Are we now in the same league as perpetual offenders like Saudi Arabia?
To the Duterte administration, we must address the same argument its officials and supporters use to justify the intrusions into privacy committed in the course of the war on drugs: Why not allow it, if you have nothing to hide?
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