UN appoints ‘Tourism Ambassador’ banned from travelling for his misdeeds

UN appoints 'Tourism Ambassador' banned from travelling for his misdeeds

The UN has often suffered from a ‘credibility’ issue because of its choice of appointments (see previous AIJAC blog post), and the latest appointment of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe by the UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) as “Leader for Tourism” illustrates once again why.

That’s right, UNWTO has selected Mugabe despite the fact that he is widely accused of ethnic cleansing, rigging elections, terrorising opposition, suppressing media freedom and presiding over a collapsed economy (including destroying Zimbabwe’s once vibrant tourism sector). The appointment as a ‘Leader for Tourism’ becomes even more bizarre when it is recalled that Mugabe is under a travel ban! EU and US sanctions prevent Mugabe and his allies from travelling to EU countries.

Then again Mugabe’s appointment is not that surprising when you consider that Iran currently sits on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, and Libya was on the UN’s Human Rights Council in the midst of the Gaddafi regime’s attack on civilians.

However, the UNWTO’s move has shocked human rights campaigners, as the Guardian reported:

“Kumbi Muchemwa, a spokesman for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said: ‘I can’t see any justification for the man being an ‘ambassador’. An ambassador for what? The man has blood on his hands. Do they want tourists to see those bloody hands?’

Meanwhile, British MP Kate Hoey, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Zimbabwe, said: ‘It is an absolute scandal – and an affront to the people of Zimbabwe, who didn’t vote for Mugabe as their president but had him imposed because he used violence and the armed forces to hang onto power in defiance of the democratic will of the people of Zimbabwe…

‘The UN is losing credibility in this process. Does it think people should go to a country where the law is not obeyed? An MDC activist was murdered last Saturday. Zimbabwe is doing things which don’t encourage the arrival of tourists.’…

‘It sends the wrong message to Mugabe that he is now acceptable to the international community. This is the same guy who last week was bashing gays and lesbians, who he says are worse than dogs.'”

Mugabe’s appointment is strange not only because he is accused of human rights abuses but also given that Mugabe is considered to have ruined the Zimbabwe tourism industry.  John Makumbe, a politics professor at the University of Zimbabwe, told the Guardian of Mugabe’s appointment:

“I think it’s ridiculous because Zimbabwe is one of the countries least used by tourists…Tourism is at its lowest level because of the political and economic crises it’s gone through. Tourists really wish Victoria Falls was in another country, like South Africa… Robert Mugabe will do more damage to international tourism than good. His image is in tatters, his country is an international pariah.”

UNWTO later claimed that it has not awarded Mugabe and Zambian President Michael Sata an official title, but rather “an open letter which calls for them to support tourism as a means to foster sustainable development in their countries to the benefit of their people and consequently ask them to support the sector in this respect.”

Nevertheless, the move by UNWTO appears to undermine the UN’s commitment to human rights, as Mugabe can now claim that his UN honour is evidence that opponents and media have exaggerated the country’s problems.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has announced that it is training troops in advance of a Syrian peace keeping mission – presumably under UN auspices. That’s right, the UN apparently believes that the solution to the Assad regime using its armed forces to oppress and murder its own people is to send “peacekeepers” from the armed forces of another regime infamous for doing the same thing.

On this issue, noted Middle East commentator Michael Rubin writes in Commentary Magazine:

“I’m sure the Syrian people, in desperate need of protection from a regime gone wild whose forces rape and pillage, will be grateful the United Nations is sending a force best known for its rape and pillage.”


Sharyn Mittelman