'Very unlikely' for Callamard to be part of UN review of Philippines' drug war

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 13) — The United Nations' human rights office is expected to launch an investigation into the killings and alleged rights abuses in the Philippines anytime soon.

Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, told CNN Philippines on Friday she had asked the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to "let me know how they are proposing to proceed" with the probe. There has been no response yet.

She said the office also has to determine who will lead the investigation. When asked if she might be tapped to take part in the probe, Callamard said "it's very unlikely."

"I think the investigation will be carried out by a staff of the human rights program officers, human rights experts, either within the OHCHR or contracted out for the purpose of that investigation," Callamard said.

She added that she has done her part – sounding the alarm on the "deteriorating" human rights situation in the Philippines. "Now it's up to the Council and to the OHCHR to do the investigation," she said.

READ: What to expect from UN's review of Philippine drug war

Callamard herself previously tried to investigate the country's bloody war on drugs. President Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly criticized and even threatened to slap her if she pushes through with the probe.

Callamard, a vocal critic of Duterte's anti-drug campaign and other controversial policies, was forced to cancel her planned investigation into the spate of killings in 2016 after Duterte set conditions for her entry to the country –including a public debate with him.

Last June, Callamard and 10 other human rights experts issued an unprecedented joint statement calling for an independent UN probe into the alleged human rights violations in the Philippines. She believes the call may have prompted Human Rights Council members "to consider the fact that the Philippines was deteriorating sharply and that something needed to be done before it got worse."

'PH can still shift policy'

Callamard said the OHCHR will now have to discuss how to go about the probe now that top government officials have condemned the United Nations Human Rights Council's approval of the resolution seeking to launch the investigation. Iceland's resolution, which 18 other states of the 47-member council voted to adopt, requested UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to present a "comprehensive" report in June 2020, during the body's 44th regular session in Geneva. Fourteen other nations, including the Philippines and China, voted against it. The remaining 15 abstained.

But the Philippines' top diplomat, Foreign Affairs Secretary Tedoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin, Jr. said any probe resulting from the resolution "will not be allowed in the country." He also warned that "there will be consequences" as the human rights body has insulted Filipinos in passing a baseless measure.

Duterte, meanwhile, said he might just consider letting the UN probers into the country. "Let them state their purpose and I will review. Kung dagdag lang sila sa intriga [If they'll just add to the intrigue], they better go to the media. And the media will tell them the truth," the President said.

Callamard appealed to the government to "please hear and listen to what the international community has to say."

"We are acting because we like the Philippines, because we want to protect the Filipino people, and because we believe that the Philippine government can still shift the policy and the strategy that is killing so many people," she said.

The tough-talking Duterte has in the past repeatedly lashed out at the UN and human rights groups for criticizing his drug war, which according to government data has left at least 6,600 suspects dead in police operations since he took office in July 2016. The country's independent Commission on Human Rights as well as international human rights groups have estimated the deaths at more than 27,000 that are filed by the police as "homicides under investigation."

The police are claiming most of those who died in drug operations resisted arrest and fired first.

The Duterte government has argued it does not need the international community to intervene because it can investigate and prosecute erring police officers, noting the murder conviction of three cops in the slay of then 17-year-old Kian delos Santos in a police operation in 2017. But human rights groups are saying it is not enough assurance justice will also be served in the cases of thousands of other victims.