Zimbabwe's Mugabe sidelined as WHO goodwill ambassador after outcry

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has been removed as a WHO goodwill ambassador, the World Health Organization said on Sunday following an outrage among donors and rights groups at his appointment.

Head of World Health Organization issues statement rescinding appointment

The head of the World Health Organization sidelined Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador after major Western donors and rights groups voiced outrage at the appointment. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has been removed as a WHO goodwill ambassador, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Sunday following an outrage among donors and rights groups at his appointment.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who made the appointment at a high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Uruguay on Wednesday, said in a statement that he had listened to those expressing concerns.

"Over the last few days, I have reflected on my appointment of H.E. President Robert Mugabe as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for NCDs in Africa. As a result I have decided to rescind the appointment," Tedros said in a statement posted on his Twitter account @DrTedros.

"I have listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns, and heard the different issues that they have raised. I have also consulted with the government of Zimbabwe and we have concluded that this decision is in the best interests of the World Health Organization," Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

Tedros, an Ethiopian who took up the post at WHO earlier this year, had said Mugabe could use the role "to influence his peers in his region."

The United States, Canada and a host of other countries, health and human rights leaders criticized the WHO appointment.

On Sunday, Canada's Global Affairs department issued a statement welcoming the change.

"We are pleased to see that the WHO has responded to the calls to rescind Robert Mugabe's appointment as goodwill ambassador, including from Canada," the statement read.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said it is "absolutely unacceptable, absolutely inconceivable that this individual would have a role as a goodwill ambassador."

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

In 2008, the charity Physicians for Human Rights released a report documenting failures in Zimbabwe's health system, saying that 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 health workers."

With files from The Associated Press