US silence enabling human rights abuses in Philippines
The US is enabling human rights abuses in the Philippines to persist by failing to forcefully call Manila over these issues, Human Rights Watch said. File
"The Trump administration has not been promoting human rights in the Philippines, and where it has, behind the scenes, it has not been with as much energy as any of the previous four presidential administrations," John Sifton, the Asia Advocacy Director at HRW, told Philstar.com.
This trend is not just seen in the Trump administration's treatment of the mounting cases of alleged extrajudicial killings in the country, according to Sifton.
This trend can be seen "across the world," Sifton noted, and Trump is not the only leader guilty of this more muted approach.
"[T]he US is not alone at fault in this regard. The Japanese government too has been muted, and that has enabled Duterte," he said.
The Philippine leader recently visited Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe from whom he was able to get more details about Japan's financial pledges to fund an ambitious infrastructure program and the rehabilitation of war-torn Marawi City.
During the visit, HRW called on the Japanese government to use its influence over Manila to end Philippines' "murderous campaign" against illegal drugs.
Sifton said that in this regard the European Union, which has been at the receiving end of the Philippine leader's tirades, has been better.
However, he urged the bloc to be more forceful about its critique of Duterte's programs that had trampled the basic rights of Filipinos.
READ: Duterte to EU envoys: Leave in 24 hours
Trump's toned down treatment of rights abuses in country starkly contrasts with his vociferous condemnation of unfriendly nations such as Venezuela and Syria based on this issue.
When asked about the differences in approach to these countries, Trump's National Security Adviser HR McMaster told journalists in the White House that it didn't help to "yell" over these issues.
"How much does it help to yell about these problems? It hasn't really delivered in recent history anyway," McMaster said, arguing that what the American leader has been doing is being effective.
Trump is on a five-country, 12-day tour of Asia that will bring him to capitals jittery not just about North Korea's missile and nuclear programs but also about the American commitment to the region as the US leader puts flesh into his more inward-looking "America First" philosophy.
He has withdrawn Washington from the Trans-Pacific Agreement concluded during the term of former US President Barack Obama and is threatening to torpedo a free trade deal with South Korea.
Sifton said that world leaders gathering in Manila for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the ASEAN-East Asia Forum should "press" Duterte to stop his war on drugs and to begin steps to hold those responsible behind thousands of unexplained deaths accountable.
"This is not simply the responsibility of the US president, but any and all visiting heads of government concerned about human rights, including Prime Minister Abe of Japan, and the visiting head of the EU, Donald Tusk," he said.
Duterte recently transferred the primary responsibility in waging the anti-narcotics campaign of the government from the Philippine National Police to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency amid criticisms of his policies.
Sifton said that Trump could point to the US government's own campaign on anti-narcotics enforcement, which had been within the "confines" of the law despite being aggressive.
"Moreover, in the context of the US opioid crisis, the US government is now starting, slowly, to move more toward treatment-oriented approaches, and away from enforcement," the HRW Asia Advocacy Director added.
Trump could also drew from his sensitivity to his brother's bout with alcoholism to talk with Duterte on a more "personal" level and convince his Philippine counterpart that "treatment, not homicide" was the better approach to the problem of addiction.
"There is a growing awareness, not just in the US but worldwide, that people with addictions need second chances, and that addiction is less of a law enforcement issue than a treatment issue, and is at core a health issue," he said.
As chairman of the ASEAN this year, Duterte should also lead an effort to "pressure" Myanmar on the Rohingya crisis which has seen hundreds of thousands of Muslim minority residents in the country's north pour into neighboring Bangladesh because of a campaign that the United Nations itself described as ethnic cleansing.
"If President Duterte wanted to be useful, and take a moment away from promoting mass killing and instead help promote human rights, he would use his chairmanship of ASEAN this year to lead an effort to pressure Burma on the Rohingya crisis," Sifton said.
"ASEAN leaders--including President Duterte--should be pressing Burma to agree immediately to meet in urgent high-level consultations with relevant UN agencies and key international and regional actors to discuss how to address the displacement crisis," he added.
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