The United Nations’ special rapporteur for extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard has claimed that the Philippine government has been acting beyond international law even before the global pandemic on the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
This, Callamard said, as she slammed governments, including that of President Rodrigo Duterte, as supposedly using the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to implement “excessive force” on its citizens.
Callamard expressed fears that the “additional powers” given to authorities in countries that have declared a state of emergency due to the pandemic would only contribute to more violence and human rights violations.
“Of course, in a country like the Philippines, as many other countries, law enforcement is already acting beyond international law, beyond a standard allowing for the use of force,” Callamard said at a webinar hosted by rights group Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines titled “#NoLockdownOnRights.”
“So you can only imagine what those additional powers under state of emergencies are doing to their conduct,” Callamard said.
Long before the COVID-19 crisis, Callamard had criticized the Duterte administration’s “war on drugs,” which she makes the problem on illegal substance worse, instead of solving it.
Callamard said the State has a legally binding obligation to ensure the right to life and security of every person in the country, whether suspected of criminal offences or not.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government Undersecretary for Barangay Affairs Martin Diño said in a radio interview that human rights are suspended during a state of emergency.
However, DILG spokesman Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said that Diño could have been misquoted or his comments were taken out of context, as he ensured human rights of every Filipino citizen will surely be respected in the implementation of enhanced community quarantine.
In mid-March, Duterte placed the Philippines under a state of calamity due to the COVID-19 crisis.
He tasked all law enforcement agencies, with the support from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, “to undertake all necessary measures to ensure peace and order in affected areas, as may be necessary.”
During the webinar, Callamard cited “alarming” reports of people becoming more vulnerable to police violence amid the global pandemic.
“Whenever people find themselves in situations of breaching regulations such as those related to curfew quarantines, those related to freedom of their movement, the response of the police is neither necessary nor proportionate to the crime being committed,” Callamard said.
“We know now from examples from around the world that COVID-19 measures are resulting into increased state of systemic violence at the hands of the police. Law enforcement institutions have too often used the excuse of COVID-19 measures such as curfews and quarantine to engage in excessive use of force,” Callamard added.
“The measures taken by governments are often very broad and specific, they attribute large powers to the police without sufficient scrutiny and mitigation,” Callamard said.
Callamard said the current situation should be a reminder that the right to life is “non-derogable,” even in state emergencies, which should be strictly limited. Law enforcement should also continue to be guided by the same principles in place before the state of emergencies are enacted.
“We need to use platforms to denounce the places of people who are being arrested outside the law, who are being arrested because they need food, they need work, we need to denounce the fact that governments failed to mitigate the lockdown, the confinement, the quarantine measures,” she said.
“We need to denounce the fact that governments failed to include into those measures the consideration for the vulnerability of the poorest,” Callamard added.
Several groups have earlier condemned what they said was the prevailing “kill, kill, kill” mentality and draconian measures of law enforcers during the quarantine period, and cited Duterte’s instruction for authorities to shoot to death people violent people breaking quarantine rules./Stacy Ang