World leaders and their dance around Duterte
CONTROVERSIAL FILIPINO LEADER ARRANGED FOR TRUDEAU INVITE
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has sanctioned a bloody drug war that features extrajudicial killing. He called Barack Obama a “son of a whore.” Last week, he boasted that he murdered a man with his own hands.
But that doesn’t mean world leaders have been calling the Philippine strongman to account over human rights abuses.
Human rights came up only briefly when Donald Trump had a 40-minute meeting with the Philippines’ leader, said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday. Although even that appeared to conflict with the Philippines’ version of the meeting. Harry Roque, a spokesman for Duterte, said “there was no mention of human rights. There was no mention of extra-legal killings. There was only a rather lengthy discussion of the Philippine war on drugs with President Duterte doing most of the explaining.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has hinted he might bring up the issue of human rights with Duterte, if he gets the opportunity.
“There are a range of issues that I could bring up with him, that I may bring up with him, if we have an opportunity,” Trudeau said Saturday in Danang, Vietnam. “There’s always human rights concerns to bring up with a wide range of leaders.”
It remains to be seen if Trudeau will challenge Duterte face to face over his violent drug war. The leaders have no one-on-one meetings planned during summits in the Philippines related to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
However, thanks to Duterte’s effort, Trudeau will have a coveted opportunity Tuesday to participate in a working lunch in Manila ahead of an ASEAN-affiliated meeting known as the East Asia Summit. Trudeau will join leaders from 18 countries, including China, Russia and the United States, to discuss security issues.
Trudeau’s ticket to Tuesday’s luncheon is a breakthrough because no other Canadian prime minister has ever been invited. He’s expected to discuss North Korea and the violent attacks on Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. Eventually, Canada hopes to become a permanent member of the East Asia Summit.
Trudeau will also be the first Canadian leader to participate in a one-hour exchange at the ASEAN summit, during which members will ask him questions and debate the depth of Canada’s co-operation in the region.
The opportunity arrives at a time when Trudeau is making efforts to raise Canada’s international profile and demonstrate it can wrestle with complicated challenges, at home and abroad.
Without the invitation from Duterte, the summit’s chair, Trudeau wouldn’t have made it through the door.
“It is the prerogative of the chair each year of ASEAN to invite guests,” said one senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Traditionally, there have been very few of those, so in a way the Philippines have gone out on a limb, let’s say.”
Carlo Dade of the Canada West Foundation, a Calgary think-tank, said joining the group would mean a longterm commitment.
“It also has the Canadian PM sitting around a table where he or she will be called upon by Canadian human rights groups to yell and point fingers with a group that doesn’t want to discuss human rights issues and certainly doesn’t want to be lectured by Canada,” Dade said in an email.
He said sitting with Duterte could mean political headaches, especially for a prime minister who has tried to stress human rights.
“This makes a mockery of (the Liberal government’s) whole ‘progressive’ agenda,” he added.
Dade said he thinks Canada should join the group, “but only if doing so does not do more harm than good.”
Duterte’s war on drugs has alarmed human rights advocates who say it has allowed police officers and vigilantes to ignore due process and take justice into their own hands. Government officials estimate well over 3,000 people, mostly drug users and dealers, have died in the crackdown. Human rights groups believe the victim total is far higher, perhaps closer to 9,000.
Late last year, Duterte bragged that he killed three people years ago while serving as mayor of Davao City. And last week, while in Vietnam for an international summit, he said he took his first life years earlier when he stabbed someone to death at the age of 16 over a “look.”
Trump’s public silence on the abuses of Duterte’s regime has dismayed human rights groups who believe the spotlight an American president can shine on human rights abuses overseas can rally pressure on an authoritarian government to change its ways.
“In the old days, we used to call on the U.S. government to raise human rights issues during these trips,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. But given the administration’s lack of credibility in raising human rights abuses, he said, they have pivoted to a different tack, focusing on international attention.
“We haven’t given up,” Sifton said.
WE USED TO CALL ON THE U.S . ... TO RAISE HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at the Southeast Asian Nations Summit.
Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, left, U.S. President Donald Trump and Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte join hands during the 31st Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Manila Monday. World leaders are in the Philippines’ capital for two days of summits.