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UN expert rejects Philippines conditions for fact-finding mission on drugs war

GENEVA (16 December 2016) – The UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions has called on the Government of the Philippines to lift a series of preconditions it has imposed on her planned visit to investigate the alleged extra-judicial killings of suspected drug dealers since President Rodrigo Duterte took office.

Agnes Callamard said Special Rapporteurs follow the Code of Conduct adopted by the Human Rights Council, which should be honoured by the Government of the Philippines. She issued a detailed rebuttal* of the preconditions, saying some were beneath the dignity of the victims and of her mandate.

“I deeply regret the Government’s position and urge the authorities to reconsider their demands,” Ms. Callamard said.  “I have suggested an alternative in response to their proposals, which comply with the Human Rights Council’s code of conduct governing country visits by Special Rapporteurs.”

She added: “The conditions imposed by the Government of the Philippines could contravene both the spirit and the letter of the code of conduct and are not in line with the working methods of Special Procedures.”

The Government has denied media reports that it has cancelled Ms. Callamard’s visit, which is intended to look into the rising death toll in the context of President Duterte’s war on drugs.

But officials insisted the Special Rapporteur would have to “agree and comply with the conditions imposed by President Duterte in inviting her to visit the Philippines".

The Government has specified three demands for the visit to take place: that the Special Rapporteur holds a public debate with President Duterte; that the president can put forward his own questions to “whoever he deems appropriate, including the Special Rapporteur”; and that the Special Rapporteur takes an oath before answering questions from government officials and the President.

“It is crucial for the effective implementation of the mission that the UN terms of reference are fully accepted by governments and that the code of conduct is respected. These are essential guarantees which ensure that the mission delivers on its outcomes, to the benefit of all those involved,” Ms. Callamard said.  

(*) Read the Special Rapporteur’s position on the preconditions imposed by the Government of the Philippines:

A public debate with the president

The Special Rapporteur’s visit aims to examine the level of protection of the right to life in the Philippines, including in relation to the alleged extrajudicial killings in the context of the war on drugs.  Estimates by the authorities themselves suggest that close to 6,000 people have been killed since the beginning of President Duterte’s anti-drug campaign. Of these, 2,086 were allegedly killed in police operations and 3,841 in other circumstance, including vigilante-style killings.

Investigations carried out during a future visit may include a number of sensitive, if not confidential, matters including evidence in ongoing trials; ongoing investigations; killings which may not yet have been investigated; and meetings with alleged victims and alleged perpetrators.

Many of these matters should remain confidential for the sake of due process, in keeping with the principles of fair trial and presumption of innocence, and to avoid future accusations of contempt of court, amongst other things.  They cannot and should not be publicly debated.

“As per the code of conduct, I act in a manner consistent with my status at all times. This includes treating people with the utmost respect and offering them guarantees of confidentiality, respect and non-retaliation, while carefully interviewing them. These standards cannot be upheld when publicly debating these sensitive matters”.

At the end of country visits, Special Rapporteurs hold high-level debriefings where they share their findings with governments. The findings are preliminary, as further research and analysis will take place during the drafting of the mission report.  The methodology is thorough and the government and other parties have the opportunity to provide additional information.

For all these reasons, a public debate is not the appropriate forum to discuss these matters – for the sake of the victims and their families, of fair trials and due process, or frankly for the sake of the Philippines society and government itself. It is beneath the dignity of the victims and it also affects the dignity of my mandate.

President Duterte should have the opportunity to put forward his own questions to whoever he deems appropriate, including the Special Rapporteur

“The high-level debriefing with the government at the end of the visit provides an opportunity for the authorities to present their preliminary feedback and responses. The President of the Philippines will have plenty of opportunities to question me in the context of this debriefing, and refute or debate my preliminary findings as he sees fit. But these debriefings are confidential”.

“I have suggested to the government that the debriefing be followed by a joint press conference with President Duterte and myself, if he so wishes. This would be an opportunity for me to introduce briefly my preliminary findings and for the president to offer his own analysis or reply.  This format would uphold the principles that should guide my visit, while allowing the Government of the Philippines to publicly agree, disagree or refute the preliminary findings. This option does not seem to have been accepted thus far”. 

The Special Rapporteur should take an oath before answering questions from government officials

This demand strongly departs from the Code of Conduct of Fact-Finding Missions, which prescribes that mandate-holders are independent United Nations experts and that they shall not, inter alia “neither seek nor accept instructions from any government, individual, governmental or non-governmental organization or pressure group whatsoever” (Ref CC, art. 3.f).  When appointed by the 48 member states of the Human Rights Council in July 2016, I made a commitment to “perform my duties and exercise my functions from a completely impartial, loyal and conscientious standpoint, and truthfully” (Ref. CC, art. 5). For these reasons, this demand is unacceptable. 


Ms. Agnes Callamard (France) is the new Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. She has a distinguished career in human rights and humanitarian work globally. Ms. Callamard is the Director of Columbia Global Freedom of Expression at Columbia University and has previously worked with Article 19 and Amnesty International. She has advised multilateral organizations and governments around the world, has led human rights investigations in more than 30 countries, and has published extensively on human rights and related fields. Learn more, log on to:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Executions/Pages/SRExecutionsIndex.aspx

The UN Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Read the Code of Conduct for Special Procedures Mandate-holders of the Human Rights Council:  http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Executions/CodeOfConduct.pdf

UN Human Rights, country page – Philippines: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/PHIndex.aspx

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Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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