Cayetano confident Iceland will change mind on human rights situation

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Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano invites Iceland Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson to visit the Philippines so he could see for himself the human rights situation in the country. The two foreign ministers met on the sides of the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday.

MANILA, March 1, 2018 — Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano is confident Iceland Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson will change his views about the human rights situation in the Philippines if he gets to visit the country.

Cayetano made the assessment after he met with Iceland’s top diplomat a day after he called on the United Nations to investigate the Philippines because of the alleged widespread human rights violations related to its ongoing campaign against illegal drugs.

“After explaining why the Philippines has to undertake the campaign against illegal drugs, I told Foreign Minister Thórdarson not to take my word for it and that it would be best if he could come and visit so he could see the situation for himself,” he said.

The two foreign ministers met on the sides of the High-Level Segment of the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council shortly after Secretary Cayetano warned the 47-member body against efforts to politicize and even weaponize human rights.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano (right) and Iceland Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson.

Cayetano said during their meeting, he conveyed his serious disappointment to Foreign Minister Thordarson over the remarks the latter made on Monday in which he said Iceland takes pride in leading 40 countries in calling out the Philippines over alleged human rights violations committed in the course of its campaign against illegal drugs.

In his remarks before the Council, Thordarson also urged the Philippines to allow UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard to visit without any precondition or limitation so she could conduct an objective assessment of the human rights situation in the country.

Citing the strong bilateral ties between Manila and Reykjavik, Cayetano said he told Thordarson the Philippines would have appreciated it if Iceland first reached out to hear its side before arriving at such a conclusion.

“I am sure your society also has its own challenges but if our situation were reversed, you would feel the same way we feel right now,” Cayetano said as he shared with his Iceland counterpart how the Philippine government’s campaign against illegal drugs has been politicized by critics of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Cayetano said Manila actually shares Iceland’s recommendations for the conduct of an independent and impartial assessment of the human rights situation in the Philippines.

He said the Philippine position is actually not new as he had personally conveyed Manila’s willingness to cooperate with the UN during his meeting with Secretary General Antonio Gutteres in New York in September.

Cayetano, however, made it clear that despite this openness to receive independent experts, Manila will still not be able to accept Callamard because of her “biased and antagonistic stance towards the Philippine government.”

Ambassador Evan Garcia, Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, who was present during the meeting, reiterated Manila’s policy on this matter.

“The basic stance of the Philippines is that while its human rights policies and practices are an open record, the country would not accept biased and politically motivated accusations,” Ambassador Garcia said.

According to Garcia, Cayetano requested the meeting with Thordarson to allow him to see the Philippine perspective.

“Secretary Cayetano’s demeanor during the bilateral meeting with Iceland clearly demonstrates the positive attitude of the Philippines towards meaningful and mutually beneficial engagement on the human rights situation in the Philippines,” Garcia said.

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