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Following Outcry by Human Rights Groups, Mugabe Removed as WHO Ambassador

"Sanity restored," but Human Rights Watch calls for WHO to go further in fighting corruption in healthcare

The World Health Organization revoked a title it had given Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe earlier this week, infuriating the international community which has accused him of human rights abuses. (Photo: Al Jazeera English/Flickr/cc)

Heeding the international outcry that resulted from the appointment of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Sunday that Mugabe's title would be rescinded.

The decision by WHO's director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was commended by Human Rights Watch, which had been sharply critical of Mugabe's appointment.

WHO's ambassador roles are honorary and are meant to draw global attention to health issues; Mugabe's was focused on non-communicable diseases. Critics called the appointment "deeply disappointing," "offensive," and "bizarre" due to widespread reports his human rights abuses in Zimbabwe as well as his government's decimation to the country's economy, impacting its healthcare system.

In a 2008 report, Physicians for Human Rights found that "The government of Robert Mugabe presided over the dramatic reversal of its population's access to food, clean water, basic sanitation and health care. Mugabe's policies led directly to "the shuttering of hospitals and clinics, the closing of its medical school and the beatings of health workers."

Mugabe has been accused of intentionally suppressing reports of a cholera epidemic in the country and blocking delivery of food and humanitarian aid in poverty-stricken areas.

As the Guardian reported, the Zimbabwean leader was head of the African Union when it endorsed Tedros's appointment as director-general of WHO earlier this year, leading some in the international medical community to believe he was returning the favor.

Human Rights Watch head Kenneth Roth called on the WHO to go beyond simply revoking Mugabe's title and fight abuses like those of his government.

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