Duterte on hu­man rights scan­dals: Don’t go there

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte met yes­ter­day with Amer­ica’s top diplo­mat, where he voiced sol­i­dar­ity with the US amid global con­cerns over North Korea’s nu­clear pro­gram and an­grily dis­missed me­dia ques­tions about hu­man rights abuses by his gov­ern­ment. Duterte and US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son met in Manila at a re­gional Asia gath­er­ing. It was the high­est-level in­ter­ac­tion to date be­tween a mem­ber of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and Duterte, ac­cused by hu­man rights groups of fla­grant abuses in his bloody war against il­le­gal drugs.

If the two lead­ers dis­cussed those or other US con­cerns about Duterte’s gov­ern­ment, they didn’t do so in pub­lic. In­stead, the two fo­cused on the al­liance be­tween the two coun­tries and on the North Korea is­sue as re­porters were al­lowed in briefly for the start of their meet­ing. En­ter­ing an or­nate, wood-pan­eled hall in the Philip­pine leader’s palace, Tiller­son was in­tro­duced to mem­bers of Duterte’s Cab­i­net, shak­ing hands with each. Duterte wel­comed the Amer­i­can and said he said he knew the US was con­cerned about Py­ongyang’s mis­sile pro­gram. “You come at a time when I think the world is not so good, es­pe­cially in the Korean Penin­sula,” Duterte said.

Global ter­ror­ism threats

Ear­lier, as they shook hands, the two ig­nored a shouted ques­tion about whether they’d dis­cuss hu­man rights. And at a news con­fer­ence af­ter their meet­ing, Duterte bris­tled but didn’t an­swer di­rectly when asked whether hu­man rights had come up. “Hu­man rights, son of a b***h,” Duterte said, ar­gu­ing he shouldn’t be ques­tioned about al­leged vi­o­la­tions given the chal­lenges he’s fac­ing. “Po­lice­men and sol­diers have died on me. The war now in Marawi, what caused it but drugs? So hu­man rights, don’t go there.”

But ahead of the meet­ing, Duterte’s pres­i­den­tial spokesman, Ernesto Bella, said the topic would in­deed come up, along with other press­ing mat­ters such as global ter­ror­ism threats, eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion and se­cu­rity in Marawi, the city that has been un­der siege by pro-Is­lamic State group mil­i­tants for more than two months.

“We also wel­come the op­por­tu­nity to ad­dress con­cerns such as hu­man rights if and when raised,” Bella said in a state­ment. “We have al­ways in­cluded this is­sue in our dis­cus­sions and en­gage­ments with for­eign gov­ern­ments, par­tic­u­larly Western democ­ra­cies.” The US, too, said ahead of the meet­ing that hu­man rights would be among the topics on the agenda.

Hu­man rights groups have ques­tioned the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s will­ing­ness to en­gage with Duterte. But Tiller­son ar­gued there’s no con­tra­dic­tion pre­sented by the US de­ci­sion to help his coun­try fight the mil­i­tants, whose in­sur­gency in the Philip­pines has stoked global fears about the Is­lamic State group ex­port­ing vi­o­lence into South­east Asia and be­yond.

Nearly 700 peo­ple have died in the in­tense fight­ing, in­clud­ing 528 mil­i­tants and 122 sol­diers and po­lice­men, since hun­dreds of black flag wav­ing gun­men stormed into build­ings and homes in the busi­ness dis­trict and out­ly­ing com­mu­ni­ties of mosque-stud­ded Marawi, a cen­ter of Is­lamic faith in the south­ern third of the pre­dom­i­nantly Ro­man Catholic na­tion. —AFP

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