By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, Oct 21 (Reuters) - The appointment of Zimbabwe's
President Robert Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador of the World
Health Organisation (WHO) has been denounced by human rights
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced
the appointment at a high-level meeting on non-communicable
diseases (NCDs) in Uruguay on Wednesday.
The meeting was attended by Mugabe, 93. He is blamed in the
West for destroying his country's economy and numerous human
rights abuses during his 37 years leading the country as either
president or prime minister.
In a speech, Tedros praised Zimbabwe as "a country that
places universal health coverage and health promotion at the
centre of its policies to provide health care to all".
The former Ethiopian health and foreign minister, who was
elected last May as WHO's first African director-general, added:
"Today I am also honoured to announce that President Mugabe has
agreed to serve as a goodwill ambassador on NCDs for Africa to
influence his peers in his region to prioritize NCDs."
Iain Levine, deputy executive director for programmes at
Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter: “Given Mugabe’s appalling
human rights record, calling him a goodwill ambassador for
anything embarrasses WHO and Dr Tedros.”
WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said the WHO chief was
seeking broad support for the agency's work.
"Tedros has frequently talked of his determination to build
a global movement to promote high-level political leadership for
health," he said by e-mail.
Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based group
UN Watch, issued a statement late on Friday criticising the
choice by WHO, a United Nations agency.
"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
"The notion that the U.N. should now spin this country as a
great supporter of health is, frankly, sickening," Neuer said.
He noted that Mugabe himself had travelled to Singapore for
medical treatment three times this year rather than in his
Western diplomats also voiced surprise at the appointment
and said they were unaware of the "decision-making structure"
(Reporting and writing by Stephanie Nebehay; additional
reporting by Ben Hirschler in London; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)
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