GC Posted On: Nov 01, 2017

The US president is being criticized for his eagerness to meet with Rodrigo Duterte, who is accused of presiding over mass killings in Philippine war on drugs

The White House has been condemned by human rights watchdogs after stating that Donald Trump enjoys “a warm rapport” with Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippine president whose war on drugs has led to thousands of extrajudicial killings.

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The US president is set to meet Duterte during a trip to Asia from 3 to 14 November that is likely to be overshadowed by the North Korean nuclear crisis.

“President Duterte, he’s spoken with, they’ve had exchanges of letters,” a senior administration official told reporters on Tuesday. “I think there’s a warm rapport there, and he’s very much looking forward to his first in-person meeting with President Duterte.”

Relations between the US and the Philippines are “still very robust”, the official added, including areas such as counter-terrorism and human rights. “And so the president will have frank and friendly discussions in his first meeting with Mr Duterte.”

Trump has long been criticised for betraying an apparent admiration for strongmen including Russian president Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

Duterte is accused of presiding over mass killings at the hands of vigilantes and state sanctioned death squads and once said: “Just because you’re a journalist, you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch.”

He is also notorious for his often expletive-laden tirades against the US, calling Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama a “son of a whore”.

Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said: “The US administration’s announcement suggests a stunning apathy toward the human rights calamity that Duterte has inflicted on the Philippines since taking office.

“Trump’s explicit eagerness to meet with the architect of a killing campaign that has resulted in the deaths of more than 12,000 men, women and children over the past 16 months is more than a grievous insult to injury for family members of victims.”

Amnesty International’s senior crisis adviser said: “This relationship between Presidents Trump and Duterte can’t serve as an excuse to turn a blind eye to the devastation that’s been wrought by the war on drugs in the Philippines, which has been marked by widespread extrajudicial executions, many of which directly implicated the Philippines police.”

He added: “There’s been some indication in reports that there are plans for President Trump to raise human rights issues in the meeting and that’s critical. Having a positive relationship could be something that would allow President Trump to raise these hard truths about the nature of what’s happening in the Philippines with the drugs war. But it’s crucial that he sends a clear message that these killings must end.”

Duterte recently ordered the police to halt activities in the war on drugs and leave all operations to drug enforcement agency, as police conduct came under intense criticism.

At Tuesday’s briefing at the White House, the administration official also said that Trump will not go to the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ) on the border of North Korea and South Korea, as had previously been reported. Instead he will visit Camp Humphreys, a military base about 40 miles south of Seoul, to meet American and South Korean service members.

“There is not enough time in the schedule,” he said. “It would have had to have been the DMZ or Camp Humphreys. No president has visited Camp Humphreys and we thought that that made more sense in terms of its messaging, in terms of the chance to address families and troops there, and to highlight – really, at President Moon’s invitation – South Korea’s role in sharing the burden of supporting this critical alliance.”

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US defense secretary Jim Mattis visited the DMZ last week and vice-president Mike Pence made the same trip in April, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also been. “It’s becoming a little bit of a cliché, frankly. And that’s why he’s going to be down at Humphreys.”

Trump’s trip will take in Hawaii, Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines and include two Asian summits. Officials said it will be the longest duration trip to Asia by any president since George HW Bush in December of 1991. There will also be an element of golf diplomacy: Trump will play a round with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe on 5 November.

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