INDEED, Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur assigned to the Philippines, may have made claims that are not totally baseless.
Here are the major points she said in her plenary speech in an academic forum at UP Diliman, and some of these are indeed based on facts.
• Callamard said that the war on drugs does not work. This is a fact if we base it on the experiences of Mexico, Colombia and Thailand, among others.
• She pointed out that there are better, scientific ways to combat drug trafficking. Indeed, there are.
• She revealed that the drug problem did not disappear. In fact, the exact opposite happened. Again, this is something that has empirical evidence in the countries mentioned above.
• For her, the very idea of human rights is being questioned, and in many places, being rejected. While this statement appears as an opinion, it is nevertheless supported by evidence where people question not only the logic of human rights, but also its discourse as a Western construct that may need to be fine-tuned to the historical-structural contexts that are unique to the developing countries.
• She believes that those involved in human rights work know we are living in a world of disruption of norms and values. Any social scientist, and any perceptive individual, and not only those involved in human rights work, would know that this is happening.
• She pointed out that rejection of human rights is predicate to the rejection of our common humanity. There is nothing controversial or novel in this claim, considering that she just stated a logical relationship between the state of our humanity, and the existence of our rights.
Agnes Callamard’s claims are therefore not necessarily controversial.
What is controversial is the politics that she represents. She comes out not only making the above claims that any academic scholar can also claim. She came to the country less as an independent scholar, nor even just a human rights advocate. She came to the country as a UN Special Rapporteur who has already made up her mind, even before making an on-the-ground investigation about the state of the war on drugs waged by President Duterte.
She has the status of a diplomat, being a representative of the United Nations. Under Article 6a of the code of conduct for special procedures mandate holders of the Human Rights Council, under which Callamard operates as a Special Rapporteur, she has the burden of always seeking to establish the facts, based on objective, reliable information emanating from relevant, credible sources, that she has duly cross-checked to the best extent possible.
It is a fact that she has not gone around the country to personally verify claims made by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI), as reported in local and international media. She also has not heard the side of the government whose report was being presented in Geneva by a team led by Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, while she was speaking at UP Diliman.
Furthermore, Callamard cannot simply visit any country she wishes.
Article 11b of the same code of conduct directs her to ensure that her visit is conducted with the consent, or at the invitation, of the Philippines. The Office of the President has revealed that while such an invitation was made in the past, Callamard rejected the parameters set by the government.
Furthermore, Article 11c of the code requires that Callamard should have prepared her visit in close coordination with our Permanent Mission accredited to the UN Office in Geneva. The only exception to this is if the Philippines has designated another authority for this purpose. The Department of Foreign Affairs has come out with a statement denying the existence of such coordination. While Callamard informed the mission of her visit, such was not given final confirmation. The DFA also questioned Callamard’s motive and sincerity in engaging the Philippine government in a dialogue, when she travelled to the Philippines exactly at the same time that Senator Cayetano and his team were in Geneva to present the government’s report on human rights.
Callamard made it appear that her visit was purely academic in nature, to speak in a policy forum sponsored by the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), in cooperation with other groups, including UP and the CHR.
If indeed Callamard visited the country in a private capacity, then she has a lot to answer for. She came out not only to make academic statements in a forum organized by groups that have certain political advocacy biases. She also affirmed those biases through her statements. In doing so, she practically undermined her capacity to conduct an objective and unbiased examination of claims about human rights abuses, more so of drug-related cases in the country.
Thus, the canard by Callamard is not in what she said, but on how she represented herself.
It is not true that she was here just as an academic presenting a scholarly treatise in a public forum.
She was here as a biased advocate expressing her opinion aligned to the agenda of the organizations which invited her, contrary to the expectations that she should appear neutral, impartial and objective.