Activists Praise Trudeau’s Comments About Duterte Crackdown

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah attend the APEC-ASEAN dialogue, on the sidelines of the APEC summit Friday in Danang, Vietnam. Photo: Jorge Silva / Associated Press

MANILA — An international rights group praised Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday for publicly expressing concerns about the Philippine president’s deadly crackdown on illegal drugs, saying the “quiet diplomacy” adopted by U.S. President Donald Trump and other world leaders won’t stop the drug killings.

Trudeau told reporters in Manila on Tuesday that he raised concerns about rights abuses and extrajudicial killings in President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug campaign when he met the Philippine leader ahead of an annual summit with Southeast Asian counterparts.

Trudeau was the only one among 20 heads of state who traveled to Manila for the summit meetings who publicly said he conveyed concerns to Duterte about the drug crackdown.

Asked to comment on Trudeau’s remarks, Duterte said he was angered and insulted.

Phelim Kine of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said Trudeau’s decision to speak publicly about his comments to Duterte was “deliberate, strategic and principled.”

More than a year into Duterte’s crackdown, in which thousands of people have died, “no foreign leader, including Donald Trump and ASEAN heads of state, can reasonably be still under the illusion that soft-pedaling concerns about the ‘drug war’ will prod Duterte to stop the killings and take meaningful moves toward accountability,” Kine said.

“Instead, such approaches provide foreign leaders a cynical veneer of substantive engagement while in reality merely providing Duterte the reassurance that the international community isn’t serious about accountability and that the killings can, therefore, continue,” Kine said.

It was not clear what Trudeau exactly told Duterte. Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, told reporters Thursday that he was “confident that beyond stating that Canada is firmly committed to human rights, nothing else was said in the private and very short talk between President Duterte” and Trudeau.

“I think you saw how emphatic he was that he will not tolerate states interfering in what the president perceives as purely domestic affairs,” Roque said of Duterte.

After Trump met Duterte in Manila on Monday, they issued a joint statement praising their countries’ enduring treaty alliance.

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,” said the statement, which did not specifically mention the drug killings.

ASEAN leaders also did not express public concern about the killings in the Philippines. The 10-nation bloc has a rule of non-interference in each member’s domestic affairs, a policy that has been used by member states to parry criticism and has allowed ASEAN to endure despite its diverse membership of nascent democracies, monarchies and authoritarian states.

Duterte is highly sensitive to criticism of his tough anti-crime methods and in the past called then U.S. President Barack Obama a “son of a bitch” after the State Department expressed concern over his anti-drug campaign.

Story: Jim Gomez

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