Canada is withdrawing from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) in protest over Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s recognition as a tourism ambassador by the world body.
This follows the presentation of an open letter to President Mugabe and his Zambian counterpart Michael Sata on Tuesday after they signed a tripartite agreement to co-host the UNWTO general assembly in Victoria Falls in August next year.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs minister John Baird told his country’s House of Commons that the Zimbabwean leader’s appointment “symbolises what is wrong with the UN”.
He said Canada would withdraw from the UNWTO this month.
But the UN body insisted President Mugabe had not been made an ambassador as claimed, in a statement released on Thursday.
“The receiving of the Open Letter implies no legal commitment or official title attribution to the country or the recipient,” the agency said.
President Mugabe’s alleged appointment has also dominated world news headlines, with many newspapers saying the 88-year-old leader was not fit for the role, because of his human rights record.
He is currently under US and European Union travel ban for alleged electoral fraud.
Zimbabwe’s Tourism minister Walter Mzembi claimed Canada’s withdrawal was inconsequential.
“They want to take advantage of the Mugabe brand to be on the global map,” he told the state owned Herald newspaper.
“Does Canada capture your imagination? We do not even use their currency. It is not a player in the tourism sector. It wants to leverage on the Mugabe brand,” she said.
The UNTWO congress would be the biggest event Zimbabwe has held since the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government meeting hosted in Victoria Falls two decades ago.
Zimbabwe has already invested heavily on infrastructure in the resort town and expects to create hundreds of jobs.