WORLD leaders on Tuesday expressed concern over allegations of extrajudicial killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, even as the administration denied that human rights were discussed in his meeting with US President Donald Trump.
But in a joint statement released Tuesday, a day after Duterte and Trump met, the two leaders declared that human rights and the dignity of human life are “essential.”
The two sides also said that illegal drug use “is a problem afflicting both countries” as Trump committed to help the Philippines address the global menace.
“The two sides underscored that human rights and the dignity of human life are essential, and agreed to continue mainstreaming the human rights agenda in their national programs to promote the welfare of all sectors, including the most vulnerable groups,” the joint statement said.
Duterte and Trump, according to their statement, agreed “to share best practices in the areas of prevention, enforcement, including capacity-building and transparency in investigations and rehabilitation.”
Trump, criticized at home for not giving priority on the human rights issues in the Philippines, has been strongly urged to confront Duterte on his brutal drug war—a policy censured by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
Angered by Obama’s criticisms, Duterte lashed out on the US and even threatened to cut ties with its long-time ally.
But Trump was amiable with Duterte, heaping praises on the maverick leader, saying they have a “great relationship.”
The US, along with the European Union and the United Nations, have expressed concern on the wave of killings of drug suspects since Duterte came into power on June 30 last year. At least 3,967 have reportedly been killed in the government’s bloody anti-drug war.
While they support the country’s campaign against illegal drugs, the EU, UN and the US maintained that due process and human rights must be observed by Philippine authorities in carrying out its operations.
On Tuesday, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau added his voice to the growing number of leaders who have spoke up about the bloody war on drugs.
“I also mentioned human rights, the rule of law, and specifically extrajudicial killings as being an issue that Canada is concerned with,” Trudeau told reporters in Manila, recounting a conversation with Duterte.
“I impressed upon him the need for respect for the rule of law.”
Ahead of a regional summit in the Philippines, rights groups had urged world leaders to challenge Duterte over what they say are gross abuses.
The 72-year-old overwhelmingly won elections last year vowing to eradicate drugs through a campaign that would see up to 100,000 people killed.
Since he took office, police have reported killing 3,967 people in the crackdown.
Another 2,290 people have been murdered in drug-related crimes, while thousands of other deaths remain unsolved, according to government data.
Rights groups say Duterte may be presiding over a crime against humanity.
On Tuesday, Trudeau said Canada had earned a reputation for discussing human rights and the rule of law with other nations.
Asked how Duterte responded, Trudeau said: “The President was receptive to my comments and it was throughout a very cordial and positive exchange.”
“This is something that is important to Canadians, and it’s important to the world and I will always bring that up,” Trudeau said, referring to human rights.
The Canadian prime minister added he offered support to Duterte “as a friend to help move forward on what is a real challenge.”
Duterte is hosting world leaders as the Philippines holds the rotating chair of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc.
Trudeau’s comments were a rare sour note for Duterte during a summit that has been largely silent on the issue.
Trump garnered headlines on Monday for his show of camaraderie with Duterte, a man who last week boasted of having personally stabbed someone to death as a teenager.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque repeatedly insisted Monday that human rights had not come up during their summit talks, although the White House said they had done so “briefly.”
The European Union, which has been outspoken on the allegations of extra-judicial killings, said it would continue to enhance relations with Asean members as long as the member-states remain committed to human rights and the rule of law.
“The European Union fully supports Asean’s efforts and its mission,” said European Council President Donald Tusk. “We are working towards a strategic partnership to encompass not only trade, investment and sectoral cooperation but also more security cooperation. The new Asean-EU plan of action contributes to this goal,” Tusk said, despite the tirades of Duterte against the EU over the issue of human rights.
“We remain committed to a strong and cohesive Asean developing in its own character, in the best interest of regional prosperity, stability and security. Further enhancing our relations based on common interests and shared values of democracy, human rights, and rule of law is a priority for the EU,” he added.
In previous speeches, Duterte said the European Union could “go to hell” if it would not accept his explanation as regards the thousands of extrajudicial killings blamed on his war on drugs.
Duterte made the remarks after an EU report on human rights and democracy for 2016 found that a culture of impunity remained in the Philippines and that the human rights situation worsened in the second semester of the previous year.
Tusk is in Manila to attend the Asean-European Union commemorative summit, while Duterte meanwhile is the outgoing Asean chair.
Tusk is pushing for “greater engagement” between the Asean and the EU blocs, expected to further strengthen security cooperation to thwart terrorism and violent extremism.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, meanwhile, said she would insist that there were too many killings in the administration’s war on drugs when she gets an opportunity to meet with Duterte.
Addressing New Zealand media gathered in the Philippines for an Asean leaders’ conference, Ardern said the number of deaths “certainly requires investigations and oversight at the very least.”
She said there have been various attempts at establishing oversight of the executions.
When asked whether she would say to Duterte if there have been too many killings, the Prime Minister gave a definitive “yes.”