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U.N.'s Callamard: 'We must go on offensive' vs EJKs, attacks on free speech

MANILA, Philippines – With press freedom under threat and no end in sight to extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, United Nations (UN) special rapporteur Agnes Callamard urged defenders of the rule of law to “go on the offensive” to prevent conditions from worsening.

In an interview with Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa, Callamard said on Thursday night, April 25, that the fight to keep democracies intact around the world has revealed experts were “not very well prepared” to address the “weaponizaiton of law” against citizens.

“There are still extrajudicial executions and arbitrary detentions but a lot of this is being done through the so-called 'legitimate tools.' It is being done in the context of pseudo democracies, weak democracies and that, I think for these kind of challenges, we are not very well prepared,” Callamard said on the sidelines of an event launching justice platform #TrialWatch in New York City.

“We’ve got to really sharpen our understanding, sharpen our tools. Most importantly, we must move from being in a defensive, reactive, resisting mode to going on the offensive,” she added.

Callamard, the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, was among the UN experts who had condemned the “increasing levels of violence” in the Philippine government’s anti-illegal drug campaign.

Callamard herself had drawn the ire of President Rodrigo Dutete when she said in 2017 that his drug war should be investigated due to reports of state-sanctioned killings of drug suspects. The Philippine President had threatened to slap her if she investigated him.

Police estimated drug war deaths at over 5,000 lives since the start of the Duterte administration to 2018, though the UN human rights office pegged the number at 27,000 as of March 2019. (READ: Justice remains elusive 2 years into Duterte's drug war)

During the interview, Callamard – who had probed the murder in Turkey of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi – said those fighting for freedom and democracy could “no longer afford” to resist attacks.

“We can no longer afford to be pragmatic and say, ‘Oh no we can’t do this because international context and what.’ We cannot do that anymore. All of us, we must all understand that we must go on the offensive and we must disrupt what’s happening,” she said.

Callamard also expressed solidarity with Ressa, who faced a string of cases in the Philippines as the Duterte administration slammed Rappler for its critical coverage.

Ressa had so far posted bail 8 times and had been arrested twice since February. (READ: UN experts slam moves to shut down Rappler)

Callamard said: “Stand for Maria Ressa, for press freedom in the Philippines, for an end to the extrajudicial executions of the people of the Philippines. Stand for freedom and for the right to life.” – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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