Robert Mugabe’s appointment as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations’ World Health Organisation (WHO) has been cancelled.
In a statement the head of the WHO said the decision was in the organisation’s “best interests”.
WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Over the last few days, I have reflected on my appointment of H.E. President Robert Mugabe as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for NCDs in Africa. As a result I have decided to rescind the appointment.
“I have listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns, and heard the different issues that they have raised. I have also consulted with the Government of Zimbabwe and we have concluded that this decision is in the best interests of the World Health Organisation.
“It is my aim to build a worldwide movement for global health. This movement must work for everyone and include everyone.”
He added: “I thank everyone who has voiced their concerns and shared their thoughts. I depend on constructive debate to help and inform the work I have been elected to do.”
The Zimbabwean president, who is accused of human rights abuses and ruining his country’s economy in his 37 years in power, was announced as the WHO’s ambassador for non-communicable diseases in Africa on Saturday.
The move prompted a huge backlash, including from Downing Street, which described the decision as “surprising and disappointing”.
Tedros had earlier said he was “rethinking” the appointment.
He went on to confirm that this was in relation to the decision on Mugabe.
The 93-year-old, who regularly travels overseas for medical treatment, has been accused of “trashing” his country’s health system.
A spokesman for the main opposition party said: “The Zimbabwe health delivery system is in a shambolic state. It is an insult.
“Mugabe trashed our health delivery system. He and his family go outside of the country for treatment in Singapore after he allowed our public hospitals to collapse.”
Tedros, who became WHO’s first African director-general this year, said Mugabe could use the role “to influence his peers in his region” on the issue of non-communicable diseases.
According to the Associated Press, he described Zimbabwe as “a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies.”
MP Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, said Mugabe’s “version of goodwill is corruption, murder, and dictatorship”.
He told Sky News: “He has caused famine in one of the most productive lands in the world. It’s hard to see how this aligns with the values the WHO purports to hold.
“There are many other excellent people across the continent of Africa who have done so much for others it is wrong that one of history’s greatest thieves should be so honoured.”
More than 20 organisations, including Cancer Research UK, also slammed the decision, saying health officials were “shocked and deeply concerned” and citing his “long track record of human rights violations.”
They said they had raised their concerns with Tedros on the sidelines of the conference, to no avail.