UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings unable to visit Philippines as death toll rises

Association

As we previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, since President Rodrigo Duterte took office on 1st July, local groups estimate that more than 6,000 people have lost their lives through extrajudicial killings as part of the state's all out assault on drug crime. In this context, civil society groups had welcomed a proposed visit to the Philippines by Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings. However, on 14th December, Filipino authorities announced they had cancelled Ms. Callamard's visit because she had declined to accept a series of preconditions. The authorities' conditions included:

  • That there be a public debate between Ms. Callamard and President Duterte;
  • That Duterte be allowed to ask questions to her and anyone he deemed appropriate;
  • That Ms. Callamard first take an oath to confirm her intention to be truthful;

In statement on the 16th December, the Special Rapporteur urged the government to reconsider the conditions placed upon her visit, and noted: 

'I deeply regret the Government’s position and urge the authorities to reconsider their demands...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...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.'

Many civic groups have claimed that the Filipino authorities' unwillingness to cooperate is indicative of their increasingly brazen disregard for international commitments on human rights. Even without the visit from the UN Special Rapporteur, activists have created several new initiatives to respond to the rise in extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses. For instance, activists have created Task Force for Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), a nonprofit which advocates for for independent investigations, documents human rights violations and supports  victims and their families. In addition, about 30 human rights groups have launched the In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDefend), to provide legal services to families of victims of extrajudicial killings. In late November, activists formed the Network Against Killings in the Philippines (NAKPhilippines), which aims to take a firmer, stronger and principled stand against extrajudicial killings and the continued erosion of universal human rights in the Philippines.

Expression

On 19th December, Larry Que, publisher of the Catanduanes News Now newspaper was shot dead by an unidentified person after writing a column criticising local officials for alleged "negligence" over an illegal drug factory. He is the first journalist killed since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in June. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) condemned the murder, and drew attention to the increasing threats against journalists who are critical of the government. In a statement, President of the NUJP, Dabet Panelo said: 

'We call on this administration to walk the talk and prove its professed respect for press freedom, not only by quickly solving these brazen assaults on press freedom but, just as importantly, by ending its penchant of falsely blaming media for deliberately misinterpreting its often inconsistent and incoherent messages and instead working on making its communications crystal-clear.'

On 6th January, a second journalist called Mario Contaoi was gunned down in Vigan city. Mr. Contaoi, was a well-known former radio presenter and a prominent environmental activist on issues related to the Ilocos region. While the motive for his killing remains unclear, local environmental group Defend-Ilocos, commented on the killing in a recent statement:

'The authorities must not discount his previous stint as radio commentator and his sharp commentaries on environmental issues as possible reasons for his murder.'

Calls for an expedient and thorough investigation have been echoed across the Philippines from freedom of speech groups. The killings come just a few weeks after President Duterte announced the creation of a Presidential Task Force on Violations of the Right to Life, Liberty and Security of the Members of the Media. The task force was given the duty of ensuring a safe environment for media workers.

Peaceful Assembly

To mark international human rights day, civil society groups coordinated protests against the violations committed under President Duterte's administration. On 10th December, thousands of people protested across the Philippines against the government's worsening human rights record. In a showing of opposition to the government, people burnt a monstrous effigy that aimed to draw attention to the authoritarian tendencies of President Duterte. Protesters also piled fake dead bodies at the base of the effigy to symbolise the culture of impunity in the Philippines.