Composed Callamard keeps cool considering cascade of criticism

April 3, 2018 - 3:50 PM
Agnes Callamard, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial summary or arbitrary Executions, speaks with reporters in Bangkok February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Marshall

MANILA, Philippines — It is the Filipinos who came up with the saying “Kapag binato ka ng bato, batuhin mo ng tinapay,” the age-old dictum on pacifism and diplomacy that translates to “If they throw stones at you, throw bread at them.”

But even as United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial summary or arbitrary Executions Agnes Callamard faces strong opposition in the Philippines, she chooses to keep her cool as she receives harsh criticism from the firebrand President Rodrigo Duterte.

Despite a spectrum of insults that has ranged from passive-aggressive to downright disparaging, Callamard has refused to reciprocate the venom, transmitting her dissent through subtle twits at the Malacanang through social media.

Callamard recently posted one of the award-winning photographs of Ezra Acayan, a photojournalist who has covered the war on drugs since President Duterte took office in 2016.

Acayan’s Instagram account is essentially a curation of the most vivid and most haunting images from Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.

The image posted by Callamard shows 21-year old Ginnalyn Soriano weeping over the body of her slain older brother Julius, her hands clasping his lifeless head. It won the Istanbul Photo Award in 2017.

In another upload of the prize-winning photograph on his personal Facebook account, Acayan relates how police claimed to have only killed Julius after the latter fought back during a buy-bust operation.

Despite the explanation given by the police, the family noticed cuff marks around Julius’ hands while surveying his body in the morgue.

They also found a bullet wound in his arms, suggesting that he had tried to shield himself from bullets with his cuffed arms.

Twitterspace has seen the rise of punditry critical of Callamard’s crusade against the killing phenomenon in the Philippines.

Some Filipinos have expressed support for Callamard’s campaign.

Despite being the frequent subject of heated tirades, Callamard’s feed does not seem to reveal any desire to fire back at her detractors.

Her feed consists mostly of retweets of threads discussing some of the human rights causes she champions, profiles of rights activists from around the globe, and updates on rights conflicts in various countries.

Even when striking back at her critics in the Philippines, Callamard appears to prefer answering with subtle and indirect deflections through UN official statements and rights group press releases.

Prior to her career with UN, Callamard has worked with rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Humanitarian Accountability Partnership, and Article 19, rising to the position of executive director in the latter two.

She is also the director of the Columbia University Global Freedom of Expression.

Through her work she has led investigations and studies of human rights conflicts around the globe, particularly in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

She earned her undergraduate degree in Political Science and International Relations from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Grenoble in her native France, master’s degree in International and African Studies from Howard University, and doctorate from the New School for Social Research in New York.