UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Agnes Callamard and former Special Rapporteur on Situation of Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst held a virtual meeting with human rights advocates in Manila late Friday afternoon.

The two spoke before participants of the #NoLockdownOnRights webinar hosted and organized by the EcumenicalVoice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice).

Callamard said the Covid-19 pandemic made lives for the vulnerable sectors of society more difficult. Police violence against those in need of basic services and food have been reported.

“You cannot stay home if you don’t have a home. You can’t be under lockdown or quarantine if you don’t have what you need for your family and you can’t observe physical distancing if you live in an urban slum,” Callamard said.

She lamented that none of those conditions were integrated in the Covid-19 measures taken by governments.

“Even in a state of emergency, the right to life is non-derogable. Law enforcement should be guided by Human Rights principles. In countries like the Philippines, law enforcement is already acting beyond international law and allowing the use of force, so you can imagine what those additional powers are during the state of emergency,” Callamard said.

The UN special rapporteur said it was “unconscionable that people should die because they are looking for food, are looking for work, because they are fleeing violence at home.”

“Unfortunately, it is the reality all over the world,” she said.

Forst said human rights advocates were not consulted by states on emergency laws being implemented. Special rapporteurs had proposed guidelines on upholding human rights amid the pandemic.

Edita Burgos, convener of the web event, said the global pandemic had severely affected health systems and economies worldwide as some political leaders were tempted to forego respect for human rights.

“The Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines provides us with a venue where we explore together our cooperation through the United Nations Human Rights Council to take stock of the challenges faced by ordinary Filipinos as well as human rights defenders, lawyers, and the poor, where widespread human rights violations have only exacerbated a disheartening pandemic response,” she said in her remarks.

She added her group’s engagement with the United Nations was important because next month, during the 44th session of the UN Human Rights Council, a comprehensive written report on the Philippines would be presented by the UN Office of the High Commission on Human Rights in compliance with the Human Rights Council Resolution 41/2 request.

“We will not be bullied into silence nor provoked into violence by a president and his recycled military generals now occupying high-level civilian posts,” Burgos said.

Lawyer Edre Olalia, chairman of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), also shared his views on the human rights situation in the country. (Melo M. Acuña)