Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte fuelled an extraordinary war of words with the United Nations by saying that their human rights team should be fed to crocodiles if they came to investigate his controversial war on drugs.
It followed a week in which he had called Agnes Callamard, UN Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, “undernourished” – while UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein remarked publicly that Mr Duterte needed to consult a psychiatrist.
His latest outburst was made as he addressed soldiers in the southern city of Zamboanga and attempted to justify his order for the police to ignore inspectors who wanted to investigate his war against drugs, which human rights groups allege has claimed over 12,000 lives.
“If these fools come here, are there crocodiles here? The ones that eat people? Throw those sons of b****** to them,” he said, according to the Philippine Star.
According to official statistics, about 4,000 Filipinos have been killed by the police in a nationwide crackdown on drugs dealers and users since Mr Duterte came to power in mid-2016. Thousands more have been executed on the streets by masked assassins.
The police have repeatedly claimed they only fire on those resisting arrest; claims that are often disputed by witnesses.
President Duterte has ordered officers to refuse to answer questions by investigators on summary executions, so that they do not incriminate themselves.
“If you answer their questions, it will be freewheeling, it is recorded,” he said. “So the best way is to just keep silent. Just tell them: ‘We have a commander-in-chief.’ Haven’t I told you? I take full responsibility,” Mr Duterte said.
The president’s brazen style and alleged support for the flouting of the rule of law has put him on a collision course with international institutions, particularly those tasked with upholding human rights.
Mr Zeid’s comments on Friday come amid deteriorating relations between Manila and the UN, and followed the government’s decision to include a UN special rapporteur on a list of 600 people they want to class as “terrorists.”
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, a UN expert on the rights of indigenous peoples, was included on the list of alleged communist guerrillas. If enforced, the government would have the power to closely monitor all of those listed and to limit their resources.
In an interview with The Telegraph, Ms Tauli-Corpuz, who is based in the Philippines and has been in her post since 2014, said she now feared for her life.
While vowing to continue her work and remain in the country, she cautioned that in the current climate of lawlessness, the inclusion on a list could act as a green light for would-be assassins.
“There are parallels between what has happened on the drugs war and the drawing up of this list,” she said.
Lawyers and activists observing the war on drugs have alleged that some victims surrendered in a government amnesty only to end up on so-called “kill lists” that directed gunmen on who to assassinate.
Ms Tauli-Corpuz said that she and other high profile critics of Mr Duterte’s regime were being harassed by the “creeping fascism” of the administration.
Observers claim the “hit list” is linked to a renewed hardline campaign by President Duterte against communist rebels in a long-running insurgency in the south of the country after peace talks failed.
Ms Tauli Corpuz has been branded a member of a communist militia called the New People’s Army, an allegation which she denies. In her UN post she has been outspoken about the rights of ethnic minorities living in areas where the NPA is active.