By Neil Jerome Morales
MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines said it would complain to the United Nations after one of its human rights investigators failed to notify the government of a visit to Manila on Friday, which it said was a “clear signal” she was not interested in an objective view.
Agnes Callamard, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, gave a speech at a policy forum at a university on Friday. She said she was not in the Philippines in an official capacity and would not carry out any research.
Callamard has been vocal about allegations of systematic summary executions in the Philippines as part of President Rodrigo 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.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said on Friday Callamard was invited last year but had not responded.
That, he said, suggested she “would not be approaching her review of allegations concerning our country objectively or comprehensively”.
“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,” Abella said in a statement.
“Callamard has arrived in the Philippines in a manner that circumvents all recognized United Nations protocols for such visits,” he said.
Callamard later issued a statement via the United Nations in Geneva, “rejecting misinformation” about her visit and stressing that it was not an official U.N. mission.
“I am presently visiting Philippines to participate in an academic conference on drug-related issues. It is normal routine for Special Rapporteurs to visit countries to attend different conferences or events, but such activities are not official country visits,” she said.
Callamard rejected the spokesman’s statement that the government had not been informed in advance of her trip, saying it had replied twice to her April 28 letter.
She looked forward to a “positive engagement” with the government on issues of interest to her mandate: “I remain deeply committed to undertake an official visit to the country.”
Callamard mentioned different approaches to tackling illicit drugs in general at Friday’s forum, although not specifically the Philippines. She said the U.N. General Assembly had recognized last year that drug wars did more harm than good.
“Badly thought out, ill-conceived drug policies not only fail to address substantively drug dependency, drug-related criminality, and the drug trade, they add more problems,” she said in a speech.
The United Nations and the Philippines have different accounts of Callamard’s request to investigate drugs-related killings, which activists accuse police of being behind.
On Thursday, Duterte again rejected those allegations.
Authorities say police are only responsible for deaths that were in self-defense during anti-drugs operations. They say the thousands of mysterious murders of drug users are the work of vigilantes or rival drugs gangs.
Callamard said last year a debate with Duterte would contravene U.N. protocols and instead proposed a joint news conference.
(Writing by Martin Petty; additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Tom Heneghan)