‘Human rights advocacy is routinely equated with insurgency and the focus diverted to discrediting the messengers rather than examining the substance of the message.’
AGNES Callamard, United Nations special rapporteur on Extrajudicial Summary or Arbitrary Execution, had strong words on the situation in the Philippines during an online forum “No lockdown on Rights” last May 29.
She said “the vulnerability of the people of the poorest individuals in our society, the homeless, those who live in a hand- to-mouth existence were not considered “in the implementation of measures to stop COVID-19 resulting in increased systemic violence.”
In a statement posted by a certain Roger Dala on VERA Files’ Facebook page, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, “Now, I’d like to say re-state the rule in international law: The use of force is not prohibited by the State provided it is necessary and it is proportional.
And I think the kind of responses, the use of force that we have seen satisfied these criteria, if not, then appropriate cases are filed whether be it criminal or administrative which is the duty of the state in case of an alleged violation of the right to life.”
Roque also said he personally knows Callamard: “I know Professor Agnes, she’s not a specialist on extra-legal killings. She is a specialist on freedom of expression. It would have been better if the UN appointed an actual expert on extra-legal killings of the same caliber as Philip Alston.”
EcuVoice Philippines, which organized the May 29 webinar, reacted to Roque’s comments, saying: “We at EcuVoice see nothing proportionate nor necessary in the use of force by state agents in the implementation of COVID-19 measures in the past three months. The observations raised by Callamard are all warranted and reasonable, based on the numerous cases reported before the public.”
EcuVoice also said they “condemn the disrespect shown by the presidential spokesperson to the UN Special Rapporteur in his attempt to rebuff her observations.”
“His inappropriate debasement of Callamard’s credentials is consistent with how the President has shunned and rejected international human rights protection mechanisms by resorting to ad hominem attacks. Such action has underscored the current administration’s utter and obvious disregard of well-established human rights mechanisms and standards,” they added.
Yesterday, the UN Human Rights Office released its report on the Philippines.
We will write more about this in the coming days. Let me share the conclusion of the report.
– The legal, constitutional and institutional framework in the Philippines contains human rights safeguards, as well as checks and balances. The challenge has always been one of implementation – and circumvention. The long-standing overemphasis on public order and national security at the expense of human rights has become more acute in recent years, and there are concerns that the vilification of dissent is being increasingly institutionalized and normalized in ways that will be very difficult to reverse.
– In just the first four months of 2020, including during the COVID-19 pandemic, OHCHR documented killings of drug suspects and human rights defenders. Charges were filed against political opponents and NGO workers, including for sedition and perjury. A major media network was forced to stop broadcasting after being singled out by the authorities. Red-tagging and incitement to violence have been rife, online and offline. The response to COVID-19 has seen the same heavy-handed security approach that appears to have been mainstreamed through the ramped-up drug war and counter-insurgency imperatives. While important measures were taken to mitigate the pandemic’s economic impact on vulnerable communities, threats of martial law, the use of force by security forces in enforcing quarantines, and the use of laws to stifle criticism have also marked the Government’s response.
– Persistent impunity for human rights violations is stark and the practical obstacles to accessing justice within the country are almost insurmountable. Human rights advocacy is routinely equated with insurgency and the focus diverted to discrediting the messengers rather than examining the substance of the message. This has muddied the space for debate, disagreement and for challenging State institutions and policies, resulting in deep mistrust between Government and civil society – a rift that urgently needs to be repaired.
– The country faces major systemic challenges, from structural poverty, inequalities, armed conflict, natural disasters and now the nationwide impact of COVID-19. OHCHR welcomes important efforts to improve the protection of economic and social rights and access to essential goods and services across the country. It is crucial, however, that this be guided by a human rights-based approach, focused on “leaving no one behind.” Efforts to address criminality, the trade and use of illicit drugs and to prevent and counter violent extremism and armed conflict must be grounded in evidence, consistent with the rule of law and with full respect for the human rights of all affected persons. Accountability for violations committed by both State and non-State actors, with full transparency and respect for due process, are essential for rebuilding public confidence.
– Given the widespread and systematic nature of the alleged killings, and the failure of domestic mechanisms to ensure accountability thus far, there have been strong calls for an international accountability mechanism. In June 2019, a group of 11 Special Procedures mandate-holders called on the Human Rights Council to establish an independent investigation. The International Criminal Court, for its part, is conducting a preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines.
– The High Commissioner again emphasizes the need for independent, impartial and effective investigations into the killings and stands ready to assist credible efforts towards accountability at the national and international level.