Shock as Mugabe Named WHO Ambassador 10/21 11:21
GENEVA (AP) -- Shock and condemnation continued Saturday after Zimbabwe
President Robert Mugabe was named a "goodwill ambassador" for the World Health
Organization by the agency's first African leader, with the United States
calling it "disappointing."
The 93-year-old Mugabe, the world's oldest head of state, has long been
criticized at home for going overseas for medical treatment as Zimbabwe's
once-prosperous economy falls apart. Mugabe also faces U.S. sanctions over his
government's human rights abuses.
"This appointment clearly contradicts the United Nations ideals of respect
for human rights and human dignity," the State Department said.
"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
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 center of its policies." A WHO spokeswoman confirmed
the comments to The Associated Press.
The WHO press office on Saturday indicated that Tedros was traveling and
could not be reached for further comment.
Two dozen organizations --- including the World Heart Federation and Cancer
Research U.K. --- 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 heads of U.N. agencies typically choose celebrities as ambassadors to
draw attention to issues of concern. The choices are not subject to approval by
the U.N. secretary-general or anyone else.
The ambassadors hold little actual power. They also can be fired. The comic
book heroine Wonder Woman was removed from her honorary U.N. ambassador job in
December following protests that a white, skimpily dressed American prone to
violence wasn't the best role model for girls.
Zimbabwe's government has not commented on Mugabe's appointment, but a
state-run Zimbabwe Herald newspaper headline called it a "new feather in
The southern African nation once was known as the region's prosperous
breadbasket. But in 2008, the charity Physicians for Human Rights released a
report documenting failures in Zimbabwe's health system, saying Mugabe's
policies had led to a man-made crisis.
"The government of Robert Mugabe presided over the dramatic reversal of its
population's access to food, clean water, basic sanitation and health care,"
the group concluded. Mugabe's policies led directly to "the shuttering of
hospitals and clinics, the closing of its medical school and the beatings of
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
The U.S. 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.