Human Rights Activists Decry “False Legitimacy to Brutal Regime”
GENEVA, October 19, 2017 – The non-governmental human rights group UN Watch joined NGOs worldwide in expressing “grave concern” at the U.N. health body’s appointment of Zimbabwe’s dictator as a goodwill ambassador on health, even as his policies have devastated Zimbabwe’s once-prosperous economy, leaving a crumbling health system while Mugabe obtains his own medical assistance outside the country.
“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 basket-case. The notion that the U.N. should now spin this country as a great supporter of health is, frankly, sickening,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.
“Amid reports of ongoing human rights abuses, the tyrant of Zimbabwe is the last person who should be legitimized by a U.N. position of any kind,” said Neuer. Over the past decade, UN Watch has brought numerous Zimbabwean human rights activists to testify on the sidelines of UN conferences.
Speaking on October 18 in Uruguay, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “honored to announce that President Mugabe has agreed to serve as a goodwill ambassador.” He praised Zimbabwe for “placi[ng] universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies to provide health care to all.”
Tedros in August also thanked Mugabe for his “strong commitment to health.”
Rights activists are outraged.
“Given Mugabe’s appalling human rights record, calling him a Goodwill Ambassador for anything embarrasses WHO and Doctor Tedros,” Iain Levine, program director at Human Rights Watch, commented on Twitter.
A coalition of 24 NGOs 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. Given these systematic abuses and his approach to NCDs and tobacco control in the past,” said the coalition, “President Mugabe’s appointment as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for NCDs cannot be justified.”
“When Mugabe flies to Singapore for special medical treatment, he leaves behind poorly funded health services, which most of their citizens have to rely on,” said Neuer. “It’s a disgraceful show of support — and a terribly-timed award of false legitimacy — for a brutal, corrupt and authoritarian regime.”
In Zimbabwe, state-run hospitals and clinics often run out of basic medicines like painkillers and antibiotics, according to Zimbabwean health watchdog Citizens Health Watch. It says that the public health care system “continues to deteriorate at alarming levels” with lack of money being the main problem.
“Zimbabwe’s healthcare system, like many of its public services, has collapsed under Mugabe’s authoritarian regime, with most hospitals out of stock of essential medicines and supplies, and nurses and doctors regularly left unpaid,” reports AFP.
Shame on you, @WHO, for legitimizing brutal tyrant Mugabe, who devastated the health system of Zimbabwe & flies abroad for his health care.
— Hillel Neuer (@HillelNeuer) October 20, 2017
FM HAILS COUP FOR ZIMBABWE”
Foreign Affairs minister Walter Mzembi hailed the appointment as “a major health diplomacy coup for Zimbabwe.”
“New feather in President’s cap,” blared the headline of Zimbabwe’s Herald, one of many local newspaper to extol the U.N. appointment.
“It’s outrageous that the UN is allowing itself to be used like this as a propaganda tool,” said Neuer, “The decision to honor Mugabe despite his long history of human rights abuses brings discredit upon the UN.”
“The good name of the world body is being used to legitimize Mugabe’s massive abuses of civil liberties which contravene U.N. human rights conventions. How can someone who violates core U.N. principles be elevated as a kind of example to the world?” Neuer asked.
He added: “If this is the stance of the United Nations, then where else can Zimbabweans turn to for human rights protection?”