Human Rights Watch: Duterte's Hitler remarks 'obscene'

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – International watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) said President Rodrigo Duterte's recent comments referencing Hitler and the Holocaust "are on their face obscene".

"But the lesson of the first 3 months of Duterte's presidency is that we should not underestimate the impact of his statements on police and others with firearms to lawlessly slaughter their fellow Filipinos without fear of arrest," HRW deputy Asia director Phelim Kine said in a statement Saturday, October 1.

During his arrival speech on Friday, September 30, Duterte drew parallelisms between Hitler's annihilation of 3 million Jews and his controversial campaign against drugs. (READ: Duterte: I'm being portrayed as a 'cousin of Hitler')

"Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. Now there [are] 3 million drug addicts….I'd be happy to slaughter them," he said.

The President added: "At least if Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have, you know, my victims. I would like to be – all criminals to finish the problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition." 

From July 1 till the 4th week of September, the Duterte administration's campaign against drugs has already seen at least 3,556 personalities killed both from legitimate police operations and extrajudicial or vigilante-style killings.

On Saturday, HRW described the killings as a "human rights calamity that the Duterte government has applauded rather than responded to as a national emergency requiring urgent and impartial investigation."

The group said these killings "are nothing less than mass killings disguised as 'crime control'."

"Duterte has been consistent in pronouncing that his 'war on drugs' will continue, that the police have effective license-to-kill criminal suspects, and that his administration will turn a blind eye to the shooting of alleged drug users and dealers," the statement read.

HRW said the United States and the European Union – foreign donors that provide technical and financial assistance to Philippine security forces – must urgently send a strong message to the Philippine government "that it risks an immediate suspension of that aid unless the abusive 'war on drugs' and its skyrocketing death toll comes to a halt."

"More broadly, they should be clear that if Duterte's assault on some of the country's poorest and most vulnerable citizens continue, their longstanding close relationship with the Philippines will be at risk," the group added in its statement.

The United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention on Genocide, Adama Dieng, likewise expressed alarm over Duterte's remarks. 

In a note to correspondents, Dieng qualified Duterte's statement as "deeply disrespectful of the right to life of all human beings," also pointing out that the Holocaust was one of history's darkest periods. "Any glorification of the cruel and criminal acts committed by those responsible was unacceptable and offensive," he said.

The President's statements, Dieng added, was also "undermining the efforts of the international community to develop strategies to prevent the recurrence of those crimes, to which all countries around the world should be committed to." 

Dieng called on Duterte to exercise restraint in the use of language "that could exacerbate discrimination, hostility and violence and encourage the commission of criminal acts which, if widespread or systematic, could amount to crimes against humanity."

He also asked the President to support the probe into the reported rise of killings in the context of his "war on drugs" campaign.

'Two entirely different things'

Early Saturday, October 1, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said Duterte's reference to Hitler and the Holocaust "was an oblique deflection of the way he has been pictured as a mass murderer, a Hitler, a label he rejects."

According to Abella, Duterte was just addressing this negative comparison.

"He likewise draws an oblique conclusion, that while the Holocaust was an attempt to exterminate the future generations of Jews, the so-called 'extra-judicial killings', wrongly attributed to him, will nevertheless result in the salvation of the next generation of Filipinos," Abella said in a statement.

He said Hitler's murder of 3 million innocent civilians and Duterte's "willingness to kill" 3 million criminal drug dealers "to save the future of the next generation and the country" are "two entirely different things."

"The Philippines recognizes the deep significance of the Jewish experience especially their tragic and painful history. 

We do not wish to diminish the profound loss of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust - that deep midnight of their story as a people," he said.

Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr also came to the defense of the President, calling the news on Duterte's remarks "a malicious spin to sow hatred, against President Duterte and destabilize the country."

In a Facebook post early Saturday, Yasay said Duterte "clearly and contextually" assured the people he was not waging war against illegal drugs to exterminate more than 3 million drug users in the country the way Hitler's Nazis exterminated Jews during World War II.

"His avowed goal and promise to the people for which he was voted into the highest office by an overwhelming mandate was to eliminate illegal drugs that has spawned further heinous acts of criminality and widespread corruption in all levels of government and make our communities safe, secure and productively," he added.

The German government also called Duterte's recent remarks "unacceptable." The country's foreign ministry had asked the Philippine envoy "to come to the ministry for a discussion on the issue." – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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