x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 November 2017

Trudeau raises human rights issues as Asia summit winds down

The Canadian prime minister met with Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and alluded to plight of Rohingya refugees

Philippine's president Rodrigo Duterte gestures while walking with Canada's prime minister Justin Trudeau after their family photo during the ASEAN-Canada 40th anniversary commemorative summit in metro Manila, Philippines on November 14, 2017. Romeo Ranoco / Reuters
Philippine's president Rodrigo Duterte gestures while walking with Canada's prime minister Justin Trudeau after their family photo during the ASEAN-Canada 40th anniversary commemorative summit in metro Manila, Philippines on November 14, 2017. Romeo Ranoco / Reuters

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau raised the plight of Rohingya refugees and extrajudicial killings in the Philippines at a summit of Asian and western leaders on Tuesday, the human rights issues skirted by almost all the others.

There was no pressure from US president Donald Trump on the Philippines' bloody war on drugs during a meeting on Monday with president Rodrigo Duterte during the summit.

A joint statement after the meeting said the two sides "underscored that human rights and the dignity of human life are essential, and agreed to continue mainstreaming the human rights agenda in their national programmes".

However, Mr Trudeau said that during his conversation with Mr Duterte in Manila, he "mentioned human rights, rule of law and specifically extrajudicial killings as being an issue that Canada is concerned with".

"The president was receptive to my comments and it was throughout a very cordial and positive exchange," Mr Trudeau said.

More than 3,900 suspected drug distributors and users have been killed in the war on narcotics that Mr Duterte declared when he took office last year. His government said the police act in self-defence, but critics said killings are taking place with no legal accountability.

Mr Duterte cursed Mr Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, last year for raising concerns about the war on drugs and he declared that he was breaking with the United States, a close ally of the Philippines since the Second World War. Mr Trump, by contrast, said on Monday he had a "great relationship" with Mr Duterte.

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Mr Trudeau said he also met Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and raised the plight of Rohingya refugees, although he did not mention the Muslim minority by name.

"This is a tremendous concern to Canada and to many, many countries around the world," he said.

The government in mostly-Buddhist Myanmar regards the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and does not recognise the term.

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh since military clearance operations were launched in response to attacks by Rohingya militants on August 25.

The plight of the Rohingya has brought outrage from around the world, and there have been calls for democracy champion Ms Suu Kyi to be stripped of the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1991 because she has not condemned the military's actions.

Some countries in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), particularly Muslim-majority Malaysia, have voiced strong concern over the issue.

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However, in keeping with Asean's principle of non-interference in each others' internal affairs, it appeared to have been put aside at the summit, which brought South-East Asian nations together with the United States, Japan, China, India, Australia and Canada.

The summit ends on Tuesday, also bringing to a close Mr Trump's marathon trip to Asia that took him to Japan, South Korea, China and Vietnam as well as the Philippines.