MANILA, Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte raised the rhetoric over his bloody anti-crime war to a new level Friday, comparing it to Hitler and the Holocaust and saying he would be "happy to slaughter" 3 million addicts.
Duterte issued his latest threat against drug dealers and users early Friday on returning to his hometown in southern Davao city after visiting Vietnam, where he discussed his anti-drug campaign with Vietnamese leaders and ways for their governments to fight transnational crimes, including illegal drugs.
Duterte has said his public death threats against drug suspects are designed to scare them to stop selling drugs and to discourage would-be users. But his latest remarks took that crime-busting approach to a different level.
He said he had been "portrayed or pictured to be a cousin of Hitler," without elaborating.
Moments later he said, "Hitler massacred 3 million Jews ... there’s 3 million drug addicts. There are. I’d be happy to slaughter them."
He was referring to a Philippine government estimate of the number of drug addicts in the country. Historians say 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis under Hitler before and during World War II.
During the presidential election campaign earlier this year and during the three months he has held office, the tough-talking Duterte has threatened to drown drug suspects to fatten the fish in Manila Bay. He also threatened to execute drug traffickers by hanging — because he didn’t want to waste electricity on them — until their heads were severed from their bodies.
While Hitler’s victims were innocent people, Duterte said his targets are "all criminals" and that getting rid of them would "finish the (drug) problem of my country and save the next generation from perdition."
Germany’s government slammed Duterte’s comments as unacceptable, and called in the Philippine ambassador to the Foreign Ministry over the matter.
"It is impossible to make any comparison to the unique atrocities of the Shoah and Holocaust," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer in Berlin.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said Duterte’s remarks were "revolting" and demanded that he retract them and apologize.
"Drug abuse is a serious issue. But what President Duterte said is not only profoundly inhumane, but it demonstrates an appalling disrespect for human life that is truly heartbreaking for the democratically elected leader of a great country," Lauder said in a statement issued from Jerusalem, where he was attending the funeral of former Israeli leader Shimon Peres.
The U.S. State Department, which is looking to sustain its longstanding alliance with the Philippines, called the comments "troubling."
"Words matter, especially when they are from leaders of sovereign nations, especially sovereign nations with whom we have long and valued relations with," spokesman Mark Toner told reporters. He repeated U.S. calls for Philippine authorities to investigate any credible reports of extra-judicial killings.
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was more forthright.
"It is reprehensible and frankly disgusting that a democratically-elected leader is talking about the mass murder of his own people, with Hitler’s Holocaust as his inspiration no less," he said in a statement.
Philippine Rep. Teodoro Baguilat wondered if the president was suggesting that "it’s open season now for all addicts, no more rehabilitation, just kill them systematically like what the Nazis did with the Jews." He expressed fears that Jewish businesspeople might boycott the Philippines.
Also critical was Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director for Human Rights Watch, who said it was baffling why anyone would want to compare themselves to "one of the largest mass murderers in human history."
Robertson said that in today’s context, Hitler would be accused of crimes against humanity.
"Is that what Duterte wants? Does he want to be sent to the international criminal court? Because he’s working his way there," Robertson said.
Amnesty International said Duterte "has sunk to new depths" and urged governments around the world to condemn his "extremely dangerous outburst."
A spokesman for Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem-based world center for Holocaust research and commemoration, declined to comment on Duterte’s remarks.
Duterte’s campaign promise to end corruption and crime, especially illegal drugs, within six months of taking office on June 30 carried him to an overwhelming victory in May’s presidential election.
Since the vote, more than 3,000 suspected drug dealers and users have been killed and nearly 700,000 others have surrendered in his crackdown. Duterte has asked for a six-month extension to finish the job.
His supporters and many Filipinos exasperated with widespread crime have welcomed his tough approach, but a growing number of critics, including U.N. officials, the European Union and the United States, have voiced concerns over the widespread killings and human rights violations.
He reacted Friday by calling critics from the European Union a "group of idiots in the purest form."
Duterte lashed out at the U.S., his country’s longtime treaty ally, and the E.U. for finding fault with his methods, saying European countries were hypocrites for not doing enough to help the large numbers of refugees fleeing from the violence in the Middle East.
"There are migrants escaping from the Middle East. You allow them to rot and then you’re worried about the deaths of about 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 (people in the Philippines)," he said.