Philippine president threatens to leave U.N. following pressure on rights abuses

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte speaks before the protesting residents in 2009, when he served as Davao City Mayor. (Photo Credit: Keith Bacongco/flickr)

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, sometimes referred to as the ‘Donald Trump of the Philippines,’ is so upset at the United Nations’ critique of his government’s alleged human rights abuses he is threatening to quit.

Quit the U.N., that is. Duterte (who some say is much more of a threat than Trump could ever be) is unhappy that the United Nations has condemned the methods he favors in cracking down on the illicit drug trade, which has been accompanied by a significant increase in killings of suspected drug traffickers. He claims the killings are not a result of his government’s crackdown, even though he had campaigned on taking such aggressive actions.

“I will prove to the world that you are a very stupid expert,” Duterte said in a press conference late Sunday. “I do not want to insult you. But maybe we’ll just have to decide to separate from the United Nations. … Why do you have to listen to this stupid?”

Rights groups estimate that some 900 drug traffickers have died since Duterte won the presidential election in May. A new report from the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights characterized some of the killings as extrajudicial executions carried out by Philippine security forces. Two human rights experts with the U.N. who conducted the investigation into the killings called on Duterte’s government to end the practice.

Duterte has made bold public condemnations of drug trafficking in the Philippines. One of his top campaign platforms was to take an any-means-necessary approach to stopping the drug trade. He utilized violent rhetoric in the election and has continued since taking office in June, even suggesting that police could act with impunity. In July, the country’s Solicitor-General told the press that the more than 110 suspected drug dealers killed by police at the time was “not enough.”

His wish has been realized. Prior to Duterte winning the presidency, 39 people were killed by police during anti-drug operations. In the past month and a half, more than 650 people have been killed. Rights groups say that the acceleration in killings is the result of Duterte, who earned the nickname “The Punisher” during his 22-year tenure as mayor of the city of Davao, winning the presidency. And that is why there are major concerns coming from the U.N.

“Allegations of drug-trafficking offenses should be judged in a court of law, not by gunmen on the streets,” said U.N. Special Rapporteurs Agnes Callamard and Dainius Pūras, in a statement.

The pair did commend Duterte for publicly condemning vigilante justice, but the criticisms are what bothered the president most.  An invitation to U.N. investigators to look into the police was extended by Duterte, who went on to say that they would find nothing wrong. He criticized the U.N. for failures in Syria and Iraq, noting the inability to stop the bombing of civilians, and mocked the body for its failings, saying he didn’t “give a sh*t” if there were any consequences for his remarks.

“You know, United Nations, if you can say one bad thing about me, I can give you 10 [about you]. I tell you, you are an inutile. Because if you are really true to your mandate, you could have stopped all these wars and killing,” he said.

Despite the harsh rhetoric, Duterte has softened publicly in recent weeks. He called on police not to use deadly force if their lives were not in danger. Duterte also announced that his government would submit itself to an inquiry into the hundreds of deaths. The Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines launched its own investigation, and opposition Senator Leila de Lima is spearheading another one that is set to begin soon.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.

  • lily

    Perhaps UN agencies should harmonize their work on the ground, considering they work only with national governments (approval and in-partnership). For instance, there is the UNDOC which presence is most appropriate — considering this is the type of fire they should be putting out. With UNDOC assistance & advice far back as in a decade ago (before the problem has blown out of proportion), this international brouhaha would never have come to the fore at all, as the UNDOC does its part to assist everyone in keeping their noses and hands immaculately clean & within the bounds of international law. And consequently merit a satisfactory rating from the Rapporteurs. And more importantly, the rule of law to protect the citizenry from crimes resulting from any and all widespread illegal activities. Maybe the latter confer with the former how their technical assistance and advice could be maximize & put to better use on the ground? Meantime, are there drones the kind that the country could afford — to address the draconian menace to the society in clean surgical operations? (Easier to clean a machine?)