Robert Mugabe named as 'goodwill ambassador' by UN's World Health Organisation

Cheryl Sanders
October 22, 2017

But the NCD Alliance, which represents 28 global health groups seeking to combat chronic diseases, said it was "shocked and deeply concerned" to hear of the appointment, given Mugabe's "long track record of human rights violations".

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has said he is "rethinking" his decision to name Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe a goodwill ambassador in the face of growing criticism over the move.

He had previously praised Zimbabwe for its commitment to public health.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he "thought it was a bad April Fool's joke", while the US State Department said it "clearly contradicts the United Nations ideals of respect for human rights and human dignity".

"The government of Robert Mugabe has brutalized human rights activists, crushed democracy dissidents, and turned the breadbasket of Africa - and its health system - into a basket-case", he said.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the United Nations health agency, had this week asked Zimbabwe's 93-year-old leader to serve in the role to help tackle non-communicable diseases like heart attacks, strokes and asthma across Africa.

"Robert Mugabe fails in every way to represent the values World Health Organization should stand for and those that Dr Tedros has stood for since becoming DG and has done over many years", Farrar said.

The WHO's new leader, the first from Africa, announced the appointment of Mugabe earlier this week.

The main MDC opposition party said the appointment was "laughable".

US-based campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it was an embarrassment to give the ambassador role to Mr Mugabe, because his "utter mismanagement of the economy has devastated health services".

The United States and a host of other countries, health and human rights leaders have criticized the appointment of Mugabe who has been always been accused of human rights violations.

The choice of an ambassador for the UN's agency looks odder year to year, say the health officials who were "shocked and deeply concerned" with that news.

"Dr. Tedros has frequently talked of his determination to build a global movement to promote high level political leadership for health", spokesman Christian Lindmeier said in an email.

He noted that Mugabe himself had travelled to Singapore for medical treatment three times this year rather than in his homeland.

UN Watch, a group primarily known for defending Israel at the world body, called the decision "sickening".

The naming Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador looks unusual because Mr Mugabe is subject to European Union economic and travel sanctions. Protests erupted past year over human rights abuses as the economy sank to new lows.

"Zimbabwe has ratified the WHO FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) in 2014 and the government has launched a levy fund for NCDs to generate revenues for health promotion, including NCD prevention and control", he added.

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