WHO reverses Mugabe position

Reactions of shock and horror followed the WHO's announcement that Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe was appointed as a goodwill ambassador.

23 October 2017 | Africa

The head of the World Health Organisation says he has reversed his appointment of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe as a “goodwill ambassador”.

In a tweet, Tedros Ghebreyesus said that “I'm listening. I hear your concerns. Rethinking the approach in light of WHO values. I will issue a statement as soon as possible.”
Late on Sunday, he announced a full reversal of the decision saying it is in the best interests of the WHO.

The appointment of Mugabe was met with widespread shock and condemnation, including from the United States, which sanctioned him more than a decade ago over his government's human rights abuses.

The 93-year-old Mugabe has been criticised at home for going abroad for medical treatment as his once-prosperous country's economy suffers.

“The decision to appoint Robert Mugabe as a WHO goodwill ambassador is deeply disappointing and wrong,” said Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, a major British charitable foundation. “Robert Mugabe fails in every way to represent the values WHO should stand for.”

Ireland's health minister, Simon Harris, called the appointment “offensive, bizarre.” 'Not the Onion,” tweeted the head of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, in a reference to the satirical news site.

With Mugabe on hand, WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia announced the appointment at a conference in Uruguay this week on non-communicable diseases.

Tedros, who became WHO's first African director-general this year, said Mugabe could use the role “to influence his peers in his region” on the issue. He described Zimbabwe as “a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies.” A WHO spokesperson confirmed the comments to The Associated Press.

Two dozen organisations — including the World Heart Federation, Action Against Smoking and Cancer Research UK — released a statement slamming the appointment, saying health officials were “shocked and deeply concerned” and citing his “long track record of human rights violations”.

The groups said they had raised their concerns with Tedros on the sidelines of the conference, to no avail. The UN agencies typically choose celebrities as ambassadors to draw attention to issues of concern, but they hold little actual power.

Zimbabwe's government has not commented, but the state-run Zimbabwe Herald newspaper called the appointment a “new feather in president's cap”.

The 93-year-old Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, has come under criticism at home for his frequent overseas travels that have cost impoverished Zimbabwe millions of dollars. His repeated visits to Singapore have heightened concerns over his health, even as he pursues re-election next year.

The US in 2003 imposed targeted sanctions, a travel ban and an asset freeze against Mugabe and close associates, citing his government's rights abuses and evidence of electoral fraud.

NAMPA/AP

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