The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) was yesterday forced to deny reports that it had appointed President Robert Mugabe as tourism ambassador following worldwide condemnation.
On Tuesday, the UN body endorsed Mugabe with Zambian President Michael Sata after they signed an agreement to co-host the UNWTO General Assembly in August 2013 in Victoria Falls and Livingstone.
Newspapers from across the world carried stinging editorials saying it was difficult to reconcile Mugabe’s human rights record with the “surprise honour”.
“Mugabe over the years has landed on ‘worst dictators’ lists compiled by Forbes and Parade magazine,” the New York Daily News wrote.
“The surprise honour, while slammed by human rights groups, is also a head scratcher since the 88-year-old despot is banned from even travelling to Europe.”
UNWTO secretary-general Talib Rifai paid tribute to Mugabe and Sata for their role in tourism development.
However, United States House Foreign Affairs chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a statement said the UN had hit “a new low”.
“The UN has hit a new low with naming Mugabe as a UN tourism envoy as if North Korea chairing the Conference of Disarmament and Cuba serving as vice-president of the Human Rights Council had not been enough,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.
“The continued rewards the UN bestows upon the world’s dictators has reached the point of absurdity. An organisation devoted to world peace and stability is propping up and aiding the very regimes that oppose such ideals.”
But UNWTO spokesperson Sandra Carvao said the protests were not justified as Mugabe had not been made an official UN ambassador or given a tourism-related title.
She said Mugabe and Sata were presented with “an open letter which calls for them to support tourism as means to foster sustainable development in their countries to benefit their people”.