Philippines president says US, Australia have ‘toned down’ human rights criticism

Rodrigo Duterte claims issue of thousands of drug war deaths was mentioned only in passing in meetings with Rex Tillerson and Julie Bishop

The US and Australia have considerably toned down criticism of a drug war in the Philippines in which thousands have been killed, according to the countrys president, Rodrigo Duterte.

During meetings at the presidential palace in Manila, US secretary of state Rex Tillerson and Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop raised the issue of human rights only in passing, Duterte said.

Mostly they have considerably toned down in human rights, he was quoted as saying by the state news agency.

A bloody drug war in which Duterte has said he is happy to slaughter millions of addicts and dismissed the deaths of children as collateral damage has become the most high-profile rights issue in southeast Asia since his inauguration a year ago.

The Philippine state news agency said both diplomats were welcomed back-to-back at the presidential palace on Monday on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meeting.

Duterte, nicknamed the Punisher by his supporters for his lethal approach to policing, said his discussion with the officials focused mainly on terrorism, without providing details.

The former prosecutor known for his profanity-laced diatribes in response to criticism has labelled the United Nations stupid and called former US president Barack Obama a son of a whore.

Donald Trump, however, has forged a friendlier relationship, praising Duterte for an unbelievable job in his anti-narcotics campaign.

Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop met Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte at Malacanang Palace in Manila. Photograph: Bullit Marquez/AP

The Australian foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The US department of state referred the Guardian to Tillersons remarks before the meeting in which he told journalists that the US had human rights concerns with respect to how they carry out their counternarcotics activities.

At Dutertes meeting with Tillerson, the highest-level audience to date with a member of Trumps administration, the two ignored shouted questions from reporters on human rights.

The Philippine president later said North Koreas nuclear programme was high on the agenda but reacted angrily when a journalist asked if rights concerns had come up.

Human rights, son of a bitch, Duterte said, switching the topic to the southern city of Marawi, where militants who claim allegiance to Isis have taken over neighbourhoods. Policemen and soldiers have died on me. The war now in Marawi, what caused it but drugs? So human rights, dont go there.

The US has provided Philippine forces with surveillance, training, planes and drones to help it fight the militants, gangs who have long fought the state and raised funds through kidnap for ransom. The government also accuses them of selling drugs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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