GENEVA — The United Nations' human rights chief suggested Friday that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte "needs to submit himself to some sort of psychiatric evaluation" over his "unacceptable" remarks about some top human rights defenders.
Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein demanded that the Human Rights Council, which counts the Philippines among its 47 member countries, "must take a strong position" on the issue, and insisted "these attacks cannot go unanswered."
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, the rights chief referred to a court petition filed last month by Duterte's government accusing the U.N. rapporteur on indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, and others of being members of a key communist rebel group.
Human Rights Watch says the allegations, which Tauli-Corpuz has denied, have put her and some 600 other people in danger.
The Filipino leader also has repeatedly insulted the U.N. expert on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, lashing out at her for raising alarm over the thousands of suspects killed under his anti-drug crackdown. He has also taken aim at International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who announced last month that she was opening a preliminary examination into alleged extrajudicial drug killings.
In a speech Wednesday, Duterte insulted the international court's justices as "dumb" and "evil," and said Callamard was "thin" and "undernourished."
Using an expletive, he warned, "Don't (mess) with me, girls."
Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano blasted Zeid's remarks as "irresponsible and disrespectful" and said the "unmeasured outburst" demeaned the Philippine president and should not be repeated.
He said Tauli-Corpuz and the others were named in the court petition "because of their membership in or association with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army as reported over the years" by the Philippine police and military. If they are innocent, it is a chance to prove their innocence in court, he added.
"The world actually needs more Dutertes," Cayetano said, describing the Philippine president as a leader with empathy who's ready to sacrifice his life to protect the people.
International rights groups and local critics have accused Duterte of drifting toward authoritarianism after declaring martial law in the south during a major attack by pro-Islamic State group militants last year. He has overseen a drug war marked by thousands of killings of mostly poor suspects.
Referring specifically to Duterte's comments about Callamard, Zeid said: "This is absolutely disgraceful that the president of a country could speak in this way, using the foulest of language, against a rapporteur that is highly respected."
"Really it makes one believe that the president of the Philippines needs to submit himself to some sort of psychiatric evaluation," he said.
Zeid, a Jordanian prince who goes by his first name, has become increasingly outspoken after announcing plans not to seek a new term after his current one ends in August.