CANADA has withdrawn from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) over the agency's appointment of President Robert Mugabe as a special tourism ambassador.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird confirmed the development Thursday.
Mugabe and Zambia’s Michael Sata were appointed tourism ambassadors by the UNWTO on Tuesday at a ceremony in Victoria Falls where the two leaders signed an agreement for the joint hosting of the organisation’s congress next year.
But the honour sparked protests from critics who accuse the Zimbabwean leader of human rights violations.
A spokesman for the Canadian foreign ministry said Mugabe’s appointment was the "last straw" for Canada's participation in the UNWTO.
"After (Minister Baird) heard that (Mugabe) was honoured at an event, after he was invited to join this global leaders group, he signed the Order in Council almost immediately," the spokesman said.
"They were legitimising him by enlisting Mugabe to promote tourism. In our view that makes him a small 'a' ambassador."
However, Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi said Canada’s withdrawal was inconsequential as the country was a “small player in the global tourism industry”.
“Does Canada capture your imagination? We do not even use their currency,” Mzembi said.
“It (Canada) is not a player in the sector. It wants to leverage on the Mugabe brand. They want to take advantage of the Mugabe brand to be on the global map.
“If they want to withdraw, let’s go ahead. They will not be the first to withdraw because countries such as the US and Britain are not members.”
“No one can doubt that President Mugabe has done a lot for the tourism sector than anyone else in the world.
“He has recognised tourism as a pillar of the economy and has dedicated a ministry to deal with that.”
The UN body also dismissed Canada’s reasons for the pull-out, pointing out that it doesn't actually have an ambassadorial program.
The UNWTO said it gave an Open Letter on Travel and Tourism to the presidents of Zimbabwe and Zambia on May 29, in recognition of a tripartite agreement with both countries on the hosting of the 20th Session of the UN General Assembly in Victoria Falls, which straddles the borders of both countries.
The agency added that the same letter had been given to leaders of other countries around the world.
"The receiving of the Open Letter implies no legal commitment or official title attribution to the country or the recipient," the agency said in a statement.