Organization revokes appointment of Mugabe

The head of the World Health Organization revoked his appointment of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe as a “goodwill ambassador” on Sunday after the choice drew widespread outrage and criticism. Zimbabwe’s government said it respected the turnabout and that the U.N. health agency “benefited tremendously” from the attention.

WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus last week told a conference in Uruguay on non-communicable diseases that Mugabe, who was present, had agreed to be a “goodwill ambassador” on the issue.

After the outcry by international leaders and health experts, Tedros said in a statement that he had reflected and decided to change his mind, calling it in the best interests of the U.N. health agency. Tedros said he had consulted with the Zimbabwe government about his decision.

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 and the country’s health care system deteriorates. Mugabe also faces U.S. sanctions over his government’s human rights abuses.

The United States had said the appointment of Mugabe by WHO’s first African leader “clearly contradicts the United Nations ideals of respect for human rights and human dignity.”

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.” The groups said they had raised their concerns with Tedros on the sidelines of the Uruguay conference, to no avail.

Zimbabwe’s government said it respected Tedros’ decision to withdraw Mugabe’s appointment.