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:
More alarmingly, in what seems an effort to systematically undermine the traditional democratic checks and balances to his authority, Duterte has threatened to shut down the legislature if it hinders his plans, invoked the specter of martial law when criticized by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and insulted concerned foreign ambassadors. [...] And he has warned that members of the media are not protected from assassination: “The Constitution can no longer help you,” Duterte told reporters, “if you disrespect a person.”
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:
Priebus is "not so sure" the invitation "is a matter of honoring" Duterte, he said. But foreign leaders covet presidential invitations to D.C.; receiving them has long been regarded as a sign that a leader is in Washington's good graces. And there's little indication that the conversation in which Trump invited Duterte to Washington was anything but friendly. Trump had a "very friendly conversation with Mr. Duterte," according to a statement issued by the White House Saturday evening. The two presidents "discussed the fact that the Philippines is fighting very hard to rid its country of drugs," the statement said.
Watch the interaction with Priebus below:
Karl keeps pressing Priebus on whether Trump said anything about Duterte's human rights record on their phone call. He dodges every time. pic.twitter.com/bn1Ams78wg
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— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) April 30, 2017
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.
"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:
— Phelim Kine 林海 (@PhelimKine) April 30, 2017
— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) April 30, 2017
Over last two weeks, Trump:
* invites murderer Duterte
* boosts fascist LePen
* congratulates Erdogan on dictatorship
* praises Kim Jong Un https://t.co/WKgN0KQNyb
— Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) April 30, 2017
I wonder how Duterte scored that White House invite... pic.twitter.com/2NAXjD8wYr
— jarais (@jarais) April 30, 2017
Trump marks his historic 100 day failure by decrying US constitution & inviting shoot-to-kill Duterte to WH - it can always get much worse.
— Philip Gourevitch (@PGourevitch) April 30, 2017
Trump praises China & Russia dictatorships, flatters Erdogan & Duterte, calls US archaic. Reveals his aspirations. https://t.co/zr201xXDPN
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) April 30, 2017
Admin attacks crime approach of NYC - America's safest large city - then invites admitted killer, Philippine Pres Duterte, to White House. https://t.co/ov3QHLaxbw
— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) April 30, 2017