It took COVID-19 to enable Agnes Callamard, United Nations special rapporteur on Extrajudicial Summary or Arbitrary Execution, to speak to a gathering of Filipinos and people who care about the situation in the Philippines.
And she did not have to engage in a debate with President Duterte, as the condition set by the latter for her to visit the Philippines to conduct an investigation on the human rights situation in the country.
Callamard’s interaction with a group of Filipinos, mostly human rights advocates, took place via a Zoom webinar last May 29.
She was joined by former Special Rapporteur on Situation of Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst, Edre Olalia of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and Lisa Majumdar of CIVICUS, an international non-government organization.
Callamard heard the stories of those who have suffered during the lockdown, not because of COVID-19, but due to inhuman treatment of government authorities. One was Lean Porquia, son of slain Iloilo-based relief worker and environmental defender Jory Porquia. She also heard the story of Lita Malundas, one of the relief workers arrested for setting up a community kitchen.
Xandra Liza Casambre-Bisenio, daughter of detained peace consultant Rey Claro Casambre, spoke of the risks detainees are subjected, and Al Jazeera reporter Jamela Alindogan spoke about the closure of ABS-CBN as a blow to press freedom in the country.
Callamard said the reports coming from the Philippines about human rights violations of the people who are “living in the margins “and are most vulnerable during a crisis are “alarming.”
She said “the vulnerability of the people of the poorest individuals in our society, the homeless, those who live in a hand-to-mouth existence were not considered “in the implementation of measures to stop COVID-19 resulting in “increased systemic violence.”
”It is unconscionable that people should die because they are looking for food. It is unconscionable that people should die while looking for work. It is unconscionable that people should die because they are fleeing from violence at home,” she said.
She stressed that “The right to life is non-derogable. Even in a state of emergency, the right to life cannot be derogated.”
Olalia said, “The testimonies we heard are emblematic of the manifold violations of human rights and constricting democratic space in time of COVID-19. Some of these atrocities are unbelievable and horrendous.”
“Yet, there is no accountability and there is no official justification," he said.
He denounced the inconsistent standards in enforcing measures to address the pandemic” which agitate the people “while the high and mighty, the entitled and favored, hold birthday ‘surprises ‘and enjoy the so-called ‘good life.’”
The holding of the webinar that was titled “No lockdown on Rights” came a few weeks before the presentation by UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHRC) of a comprehensive written report on the Philippine situation during its 44th Session in June 2020.
Olalia said “UN human rights mechanisms and the UNHRC processes, despite their limitations, are unique, complementary and alternative platforms for seeking justice and ensuring that the standards for human rights are respected. They provide venues especially when domestic remedies and arenas are skewed, limiting, ineffective or even illusory to many.”
He added: “Recent experience has taught us that the UN human rights system – its special mechanisms, and mandates, its treaty-monitoring bodies, its complaints and communications procedures, its interim measures, opinions, views, and ‘asks,’ its moral suasion - can, together with other arenas and remedies, contribute over time in abating violations.”
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