DA NANG, Vietnam—Two members of the US Congress are calling on US President Donald Trump to use his upcoming meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte to condemn the reported extrajudicial killings associated with the bloody war on drugs.
In a letter, Congressmen Randy Hultgren (R-Illinois) and James P. McGovern (D-Massachusetts), co-chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission asked Trump to “impress upon President Duterte the United States’ profound concern” over the drug war killings.
“Human rights are fundamental. Every government should afford their citizens the protection and due process of the law. The Philippines is a valuable ally of the United States and major recipient of US aid,” the solons told Trump in a letter dated Nov. 2.
“For these reasons, it is paramount that human rights violations not be the consequences of the Philippines’ war on drugs. It is the obligation of the United States to advocate for and defend those human rights as set forth in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” they added.
Trump and Duterte, best known for their vitriolic rhetoric, will be meeting for the first time today (Nov. 10) to participate in the 2017 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit held here.
Malacañang, however, said that they “will not comment on an internal US government matter.”
Instead, Palace spokesman Harry Roque flaunted how President Duterte and President Trump shared “warm rapport,” adding that both “can have candid and productive discussions on matters of shared interest.”
“We reiterate that our adherence to the rule of law remains as firm as ever, as is our commitment to the protection of human rights. The government is investigating allegations of so-called extrajudicial killings, including homicide cases with drug-related motives,”
Roque said the Philippines is working to ensure “that due process and the rule of law prevails despite the Philippines’ significant drug problem.”
In the same letter, both members of the US Congress raised concerns over the “strong evidence” linking the Philippine National Police in the killings of 7,000 alleged drug dealers and users without charges or trial, since the Philippine government launched its campaign against illicit drugs.
“According to the Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2016 by the Department of State, there has been a significant increase in the number of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights referred to the recent increase as an ‘appalling epidemic.’”
“At a Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing earlier this year, we were distressed to learn that police have killed 7,000 alleged drug dealers and users without charges or trial since the Philippine government launched its campaign against illicit drugs,” they added.
Before leaving the country on Wednesday, Duterte had already issued a warning for Trump to “lay off” any talk on how the country deals with alleged human rights violations that has haunted him since the start of his presidency.
“We are meeting there, we meet as sovereigns. But I will not go there as a subservient lackey of anyone. Including what you would like to hear from me, but which you cannot ask maybe or later on about human rights,” Duterte said.
Cutting off a reporter from speaking, Duterte said: “You want to ask a question? I’ll give you an answer. Lay off, that’s not your business--that is my business. I take care of my country, and I will nurture my country to health.”
“The Philippines is a sovereign state, I will not allow anybody to impose anything on my country. I will listen to you, but if it’s not for the best of interest for my country, I will ignore you.”
While any planned bilateral meeting will not happen between the two leaders at the sidelines of Apec summit, this could happen when Manila hosts the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit starting Nov. 13.
Trump, who has been on an Asian tour since the start of the month, is expected to raise concerns before Duterte over the rising tensions in the region over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and Chinese territorial sovereignty issues involving the South China Sea.
The US leader is likewise expected to reaffirm their unwavering commitment and friendship with the Philippines, which got badly strained by Duterte’s frequent cursing of Trump’s predecessor.
Human Rights Watch on Thursday said world leaders meeting for summits in Asia on Nov. 10 to 14, should address Burma’s Rohingya crisis and the deteriorating human rights situations in Vietnam, the Philippines, and Cambodia.
Heads of government from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, including the United States, China, Japan, Russia, Canada, Australia, and Mexico, will be meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam, on Nov. 10. Leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will be meeting in Manila, Philippines, on Nov. 12, along with associated Asean side-summits with the US, European Union, Japan, and South Korea, among others. Most of these leaders will then attend the annual East Asia Summit in Angeles, north of Manila, on Nov. 13-14.
Since Aug. 25, the Burmese military has carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine State. Security forces have committed massacres, rape, looting, and mass burnings of homes and property, causing the flight of more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh, the rights group said.
Human Rights Watch has determined that the atrocities amount to crimes against humanity. The campaign has led several countries to suspend military engagement with Burma and reimpose targeted sanctions and travel restrictions on high-level military leaders. Tougher measures are needed to press Burma to end the abuses, acknowledge rampant rights violations, ensure the safety of the internally displaced, and give access to independent fact-finders.
“The Rohingya crisis is among the worst human rights catastrophes in Asia in years and demands concerted global action,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “World leaders shouldn’t return home from these summits without agreeing to targeted sanctions to pressure Burma to end its abuses and allow in independent observers and aid groups.”