Lawyers group: ‘Palace blocking discussion on drug policies’
One of the groups that invited United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard to the Philippines for a conference on drug policies took the cudgels for the besieged envoy, after Malacañang criticized her for her “unannounced” visit and accused her of being “unprofessional.”
“As far as well know, [Callamard] followed all the protocols and procedures required including informing the Philippine government,” said Cookie Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) Anti-Death Penalty Task Force, in a press conference during the lunch break of the “Drug Issues, Different Perspectives” conference held at the University of the Philippines Diliman campus on Friday.
Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Summary or Arbitrary Executions, has been at loggerheads with the Duterte administration for her criticisms on and questioning of the government’s drug war.
Earlier in the morning, Callamard gave the keynote speech at the start of the two-day conference which was organized by FLAG, the UP-Diliman Office of the Chancellor, and the UP College of Law Institute of Human Rights at the GT-Toyota Asian Center auditorium. Callamard was introduced as having come to the Philippines in an unofficial capacity.
In her speech, Callamard made no direct reference to the Philippine government, but largely made pointed restatements of key points of the UN’s joint commitment last year to countering the world drug problem.
“What governments did not commit to last year was ‘the war on drugs’ approach,” Callamard said. “Quite to the contrary, they called for what amounts to a balanced, multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary approach, and they placed great emphasis on health, rights, and justice.
“They did not suggest that death penalty was an appropriate or effective response to drugs trafficking, let alone drug use; instead, they spoke about proportionate sentencing and alternative punishments,” Callamard said.
“In April 2016, the general assembly of the world’s government recognized explicitly that the ‘war on drugs’—be it community based, national or global—does not work. And further, that many harms associated with drugs are not caused by drugs, but by the negative impacts of badly thought out drug policies,” Callamard said.
Granting a brief ambush interview with the media after her speech, Callamard said the Philippine government was “entitled to monitor me absolutely.”
“I am here at the invitation of the University and the task force….I will participate in the discussion [in the conference] and that’s the only contribution and work I will be doing in the next two days,” Callamard said.
“I encourage all parties, including the government, to participate fully…on what is going to be discussed (in the drug policy forum),” Callamard said.
Diokno, explaining FLAG’s purpose for the forum, said “We organized this forum because we want to engage in meaningful dialogue to change the drug policy, figure out alternatives to what is happening outside.”
“So to see a reaction like that from the Palace….it seems to me the Palace is really the one that is blocking all discussion on the kind of drug policy this country actually needs,” Diokno said.
The conference, on its first day, hosted talks by Dangerous Drugs Board chair Benjamin Reyes, Columbia University neuropsychopharmacologist Dr. Carl Hart, and London School of Economics International Drug Policy Program director Dr. John Collins, among others.
Accusations of political motivations behind the conference were also belied in the noontime press conference.
When the international resource speakers were faced with a question from the media about public support for the Duterte administration’s drug war, a puzzled Hart pointed out: “You should know my expertise. I’m here to help Filipinos and those who attended this forum to understand what drugs do and what drugs don’t do…In terms of how people feel about their President, that is not my expertise, nor do I care to comment on it.”
Collins likewise explained his expertise in the conference was not on politicians or the government but on “policy response” to illegal drugs.
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