Duterte tells Suu Kyi rights activists are 'just a noisy bunch'

Philippine leader, chided by rights groups for anti-drug drive, says he pities Nobel laureate

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte made the remarks on Friday at the Philippines-India Business Forum in New Delhi, where he and Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi are attending a summit of South-east Asian countries.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte made the remarks on Friday at the Philippines-India Business Forum in New Delhi, where he and Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi are attending a summit of South-east Asian countries. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi - heavily criticised abroad for failing to stand up for largely stateless Rohingya Muslims - that she should not bother about rights activists as they are "just a noisy bunch".

Mr Duterte said he made the remarks in a speech at the Philippines-India Business Forum in New Delhi where he and Ms Suu Kyi are attending a summit of South-east Asian countries.

"We were talking about 'our country', the interest of 'our country'... and I said 'do not mind the human rights' (activists), they are just a noisy bunch actually," Mr Duterte said in his speech at the forum on Friday.

Ms Suu Kyi is facing international criticism for failing to address the plight of the Rohingya, more than 655,500 of whom have fled to Bangladesh to escape a crackdown by the Myanmar military.

Many people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar regard the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The United Nations described Myanmar's crackdown as ethnic cleansing, which Myanmar denies.

Said Mr Duterte: "I pity her because she seems to be caught in the middle of being a Nobel Prize winner for peace and this is now the ruckus, she is heavily criticised."

Human rights groups have also strongly criticised Mr Duterte's anti-narcotics campaign, during which more than 3,900 suspected drug users and peddlers have been killed in what the police called self-defence after armed suspects resisted arrest.

Critics dispute that and say executions are taking place with zero accountability, allegations the police reject.

Meanwhile, veteran United States mediator Bill Richardson said Ms Suu Kyi remains Myanmar's best hope for change, days after he got into a fight with the Nobel laureate and quit an international panel advising her government on the Rohingya crisis.

Mr Richardson said Ms Suu Kyi - whom he described as a long-time friend - had developed a "siege mentality" in her position as Myanmar's State Counsellor, the country's civilian leader, but added that Western governments should continue to engage with her.

Mr Richardson said he resigned from the advisory board last Wednesday, during its first visit to troubled Rakhine State, saying it was conducting a "whitewash".

Ms Suu Kyi's office said last Thursday her government had asked Mr Richardson to step down and accused him of pursuing "his own agenda".

Mr Richardson said: "I think the Myanmar military is to blame a lot and the only person that can turn them around, I believe, is Aung San Suu Kyi, and she should start doing that."

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 28, 2018, with the headline Duterte tells Suu Kyi rights activists are 'just a noisy bunch'. Subscribe