U.S. President Donald Trump repeatedly praised Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, virtually ignoring discussion of Duterte's human rights record in carrying out thousands of extrajudicial killings in his war against drug suspects.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said human rights “briefly came up in the context of the Philippines’ fight against illegal drugs” as Trump met for 40 minutes with Duterte in Manila.
But Duterte spokesman Harry Roque disputed that account, saying, “There was no mention of human rights. There was no mention of extralegal killings. There was only a rather lengthy discussion of the Philippine war on drugs with President Duterte doing most of the explaining.”
Rights groups had called on Trump to end his five-nation Asian trip with a statement condemning Duterte’s killing of drug suspects in a far-reaching campaign. Human Rights Watch says that since mid-2016 security forces and “unidentified gunmen” have killed at least 7,000 suspected drug users and dealers, with 3,116 of the killings carried out by police. By comparison, the death toll in a year under Duterte is higher than the number killed while dictator Ferdinand Marcos was in power between 1972 and 1981.
Ahead of their meeting, Trump said of Duterte, "We've had a great relationship.”
Trump praised Duterte for his organization of summits in Manila, saying he handled them "beautifully. I've really enjoyed being here."
‘Not a priority’
In Washington, Republican Senator John McCain, a frequent Trump critic, said in a Twitter comment, “Human rights obviously not a priority in @POTUS’s meeting with Duterte – again, sad.”
A joint statement by the U.S. and the Philippines said, “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 communique said the two countries “discussed the ongoing campaign in the Philippines against criminality including illegal drugs. Both sides acknowledged that illegal drug use is a problem afflicting both countries and committed to share best practices in the areas of prevention; enforcement, including capacity-building and transparency in investigations; and rehabilitation.”
Before Trump was elected, Duterte attacked former U.S. president Barack Obama as a “son of a whore” last year after the Obama administration criticized Duterte’s human rights record.
Ahead of Monday’s meeting with Trump, Duterte said if the U.S. leader brought up human rights he would tell him to “lay off.”