02:43 - Source: CNN
Zimbabwe's society struggles under Mugabe's rule

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The UN agency named him goodwill ambassador last week

"I have listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns," WHO director says

CNN —  

The World Health Organization is under fire after it selected Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador.

Days after the World Health Organization named him as a goodwill ambassador, a move that angered and stunned human rights activists, it rescinded the appointment.

“I have listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns, and heard the different issues that they have raised,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

“It is my aim to build a worldwide movement for global health. This movement must work for everyone and include everyone.”

Tedros said he consulted the Zimbabwean government and concluded it’s in the organization’s best interests.

The public health agency announced the decision this week, saying the African leader will focus on noncommunicable diseases such as heart attacks and strokes on the continent.

But Saturday morning, as public disapproval of the decision grew, WHO’s director-general said in a tweet he was “rethinking the approach in light of WHO values.”

“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,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, which monitors the performance of world body.

WHO is part of the United Nations and focuses on international public health. Mugabe has long been criticized for corruption and abuse of power.

Tedros, an Ethiopian and WHO’s first African director-general, previously said Mugabe will use his role to ensure other leaders on the continent make noncommunicable diseases a priority.

“Zimbabwe … places universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies to provide health care to all,” Tedros, who goes by his first name, said in making the announcement.

At 93, Mugabe, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980 with little opposition.

Along with his inner circle, he has been under US sanctions since the early 2000s over human rights abuses and the erosion of democratic institutions. President Barack Obama extended sanctions for another year before leaving office in January.

In 2009, Mugabe’s ruling party spent more than $250,000 on a lavish birthday party for the leader despite an ongoing food shortage and cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe.

Goodwill ambassadors for WHO are public figures appointed to two-year terms by the director-general. They work closely with UN officials to raise awareness of global health issues.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was named a global ambassador for noncommunicable diseases last year.

Last year, the United Nations stripped “Wonder Woman” of her role as a honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls. Many UN workers protested when the scantily clad comic book character was appointed a figurehead for the feminist campaign.

CNN’s Duarte Mendonca contributed to this report