Just a few weeks after he congratulated autocratic Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on a controversial referendum win, U.S. President Donald Trump invited Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte—who has presided over a violent “war on the poor” in his country and is the subject of a mass murder complaint before the International Criminal Court (ICC)—to the White House.
A statement from the White House Press Office said the two leaders spoke on Saturday but gave no indication of when the visit might occur.
Since his inauguration in June 2016, Duterte has overseen an anti-drug campaign dubbed “Operation Double Barrel” that, according to Human Rights Watch, “has targeted suspected drug dealers and users ostensibly for arrest but in practice has been a campaign of extrajudicial execution in impoverished areas of Manila and other urban areas.”
The rights group said last month that “Duterte’s outspoken endorsement of the campaign implicates him and other senior officials in possible incitement to violence, instigation of murder, and in command responsibility for crimes against humanity.”
Amnesty International also declared earlier this year that “[u]nder President Duterte’s rule, the national police are breaking laws they are supposed to uphold while profiting from the murder of impoverished people the government was supposed to uplift. The same streets Duterte vowed to rid of crime are now filled with bodies of people illegally killed by his own police.”
Manila resident Miguel Syjuco, an author and professor, wrote last August:
Duterte has in fact admitted to personally killing criminal suspects as mayor of Davao.
But such wrongdoing appears not to faze the Trump administration, which is defending its decision to host Duterte at the White House. When pressed on the subject on Sunday, Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus said the invitation was a sign that “the issues facing us, developing out of North Korea, are so serious that we need a cooperation at some level from as many partners in the area as possible.”
The Huffington Post reported:
Watch the interaction with Priebus below:
Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, pushed back against the White House’s position. “The facts of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s abusive war on drugs are not that he’s ‘fighting hard to rid [his] country of drugs,’ but that he’s pursuing a murderous war against the poor that has resulted in the brutally violent deaths of thousands of Filipinos,” Kine said Sunday.
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“Countries with close bilateral ties to the Philippines, particularly the United States, have an obligation to urge accountability for the victims,” he continued, “rather than roll out the red carpet for official state visits by its mastermind.”
Kine and others offered more thoughts on Twitter: