The decision by the World Health Organization (WHO) to appoint Zimbabwe President, Robert Mugabe, as a “good-will ambassador,” has provoked global outrage from medical professionals, rights groups, opposition leaders and several organisations including the British government.
The 93-year-old African leader had received the honor in Montevideo, Uruguay, this past week from the WHO’s Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in relation to fighting noncommunicable diseases in Africa.
— Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) October 21, 2017
The WHO leader, who was speaking at a global conference on noncommunicable diseases that ran from Wednesday to Friday, said he was “honored” to be joined by Mr. Mugabe, who could use the role “to influence his peers in his region.”
This has to be a sick joke. A murdering dictator a UN Goodwill Ambassador. How are the UN going to defend this? https://t.co/PsTRzGNRez
— Nyunggai W Mundine (@nyunggai) October 21, 2017
Dr. Tedros further commended Zimbabwe as “a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies to provide health care to all.”
— Dr Lauren Gavaghan (@DancingTheMind) October 21, 2017
However, Mr Mugabe’s appointment was met with a chorus of criticism.
The NCD Alliance, which works with the W.H.O. and other global groups to battle noncommunicable diseases, released a statement signed by 27 other health organizations — including the World Heart Federation — expressing “shock” at the appointment.
“Members of the NCD civil society movement present at the conference are shocked and deeply concerned to hear of this appointment, given President Mugabe’s long track record of human rights violations and undermining the dignity of human beings,” the statement said.
Shock and condemnation continues after Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe named WHO ‘goodwill ambassador’ https://t.co/dzGhZCdpEN
— The Associated Press (@AP) October 21, 2017
What criteria did you use to name President Mugabe a goodwill ambassador? And how dare you mock the health crisis in Zimbabwe. pic.twitter.com/YUfgqaKzk6
— Fadzayi Mahere (@advocatemahere) October 21, 2017
The British government said it was all the more surprising given US and EU sanctions against him.
“We have registered our concerns” with the director general, a spokesman said.
“Although Mugabe will not have an executive role, his appointment risks overshadowing the work undertaken globally by the WHO on non-communicable diseases.”
Iain Levine, the program director at Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter, “Given Mugabe’s appalling human rights record, calling him a goodwill ambassador for anything embarrasses WHO and Doctor Tedros.”
Mr. Mugabe, one of the world’s longest-serving rulers, has shown no signs of stepping down even as Zimbabwe has fretted over his increasingly frail health and he has traveled abroad for treatment.
Under his authoritarian rule, the country’s health care system, like many of its public services, has suffered badly, with hospitals frequently lacking essential supplies and nurses and doctors regularly left without pay.