Yesterday was United Nations Day, an event which is celebrated globally and serves as a reminder of the benefits of multilateralism.

Since joining the UN in 1955, Ireland has played an important role in that organisation, from the pioneering work of the late Deputy Frank Aiken, as Minister for External Affairs, on nuclear non-proliferation to the efforts of Defence Forces personnel in the service of blue helmet peacekeeping since 1958, including in such challenging locations as the Middle East, the Congo and west and north Africa.

Sometimes, however, the UN gets it wrong. Early last Saturday morning I read a headline proclaiming that Robert Mugabe had been named as goodwill ambassador by the UN’s World Health Organization, WHO. My first impression was that I must be reading an article on the Waterford Whispers News website or that it was some sort of sick joke.

In fact, it was true that the WHO’s Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebyreyesus, had made the announcement, remarking as he did: “Today I am also honoured to announce that President Mugabe has agreed to serve as a goodwill ambassador on NCDs [non-communicable diseases] for Africa to influence his peers in his region to prioritise NCDs.”

Fortunately, the WHO has, in the light of international opposition, rowed back from the appointment. The Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, was right to describe the news as “offensive and bizarre”.

Mr. Mugabe is in the same league of extraordinary dictators as Castro and Pinochet, people who did not believe in the UN Charter and who rounded up opponents, shot them or had them disappeared because those opponents disagreed with the ideology of the day.

What possessed the WHO to do this given the atrocities Mugabe has inflicted on his own people, brutalising human rights activists and democratic dissidents?

This incident with Mugabe is a stain on the proud history of the UN and the World Health Organization and one that should never be revisited.

Seanad Éireann 25th October 2017 

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