MANILA, Philippines >> The U.N.’s investigator on extrajudicial executions issued a veiled rebuke Friday of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly campaign against illegal drugs, saying world leaders have recognized that such an approach does not work.
Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, told a forum in Manila that badly thought out policies not only fail to address drug abuse and trafficking, they also compound the problems and “can foster a regime of impunity infecting the whole justice sector and reaching into whole societies, invigorating the rule of violence rather than law.”
She did not mention the Philippines by name.
Callamard was an early critic of the Philippine president’s anti-drug drive, and has been challenged by Duterte to a debate on his campaign, which has left thousands of suspected drug dealers and users dead since he took office in June.
Human rights groups say 7,000 to 9,000 have been killed, but the government refutes that, releasing data this week showing nearly 4,600 people were killed in police operations and homicides found to be drug-related.
“In 2016, the general assembly of the world’s government recognized explicitly that the ‘war on drugs’ — be it community based, national or global — does not work,” Callamard said.
She said U.N. member countries, in their joint commitment to counter the world drug problem, called instead for a multi-faceted and scientific approach that promotes the dignity and human rights of individuals and communities.
She said poorly conceived policies escalate problems including extrajudicial killings, slayings by criminal gangs, vigilante crimes, detention in rehabilitation centers without trial or evaluation and the breakdown of the rule of law.
Duterte spokesman Ernesto Abella expressed disappointment that Callamard did not contact the government before her visit, saying “she has sent a clear signal that she is not interested in getting an objective perspective of issues that are the focus of her responsibility.”
He said the government sent a letter to Callamard in September inviting her to visit and meet with officials to get their perspective on the drug menace. Abella failed to mention that Duterte earlier rejected Callamard’s proposal to hold a private meeting and instead insisted on a public debate with her.
Callamard refused to answer questions from media Friday except to say that she was in the country in an unofficial capacity, solely to attend a two-day academic conference at the invitation of the University of the Philippines and human rights lawyers.
She invited “all parties, including the government, to participate fully and take stock of what is going to be debated.”
Jose Manuel Diokno, head of the Free Legal Assistance Group of lawyers documenting the killings and assisting victims, said Duterte’s campaign has been devastating, especially for the poor, who have been the majority of victims.
“There is going to be a long-lasting impact of this war on drugs,” he said. “Whenever people are encouraged to take the law into their own hands it’s not just lives that are lost but the legal system itself is losing its meaning and value in our society.”