Duterte tempers his first UN speech

President Rodrigo Duterte defended his drug crackdowns in the country and dismissed criticism from human rights advocates as the sometimes aggressive critic of the United Nations addressed its annual gathering of world leaders for the first time.

But with Covid-19 taking a human and economic toll on the Philippines, the often brash Duterte also struck a somewhat conciliatory tone about the organisation he has often criticised and at times threatened to leave.

“The Philippines values the role that the United Nations plays in its fight against the pandemic, ” Duterte said in a pre-recorded video, the meeting’s format this year because of the pandemic.

He welcomed the UN’s launch of a relief fund and called on the international community to make sure potential vaccines are accessible to all.

At the same time, Duterte highlighted Filipino healthcare workers’ contribution to the virus fight at home and abroad.

The controversial leader, who took office in 2016, often lashes out at what he decries as international meddling in Philippine domestic affairs.

Western governments and human rights groups see it as expressing justifiable alarm about an anti-drug crusade that has left more than 5,700 mostly poor suspects dead.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in June that the Philippines’ “campaign against illegal drugs is being carried out without due regard for the rule of law, due process and the human rights of people who may be using or selling drugs.”

Bachelet’s office called on the government to end all violence targeting suspected drug offenders.Duterte denied authorising extrajudicial killings but has repeatedly and openly threatened drug dealers with death.

Just this month, he publicly ordered the country’s top customs official to shoot and kill drug smugglers.

The International Criminal Court opened a preliminary probe in February 2018 into complaints about the killings; Duterte’s government responded by withdrawing from the court. — AP

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