ZIMBABWE: Mugabe bows to pressure over degree

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe last week cancelled a trip to Ecuador to receive an honorary university degree in civil law after opposition to the honour mounted at home and abroad.

Prior to the UN global summit just ended in the US, Mugabe told the state newspaper The Herald, a mouthpiece for his ZANU-PF party, that after the meeting he would head to Ecuador to receive the award.

However the autocratic ruler, uninterrupted in power for the past 30 years following the country's independence from Britain in 1980, cut short his trip after threats were made to appeal against the conferring of the doctorate.

Mugabe's trip was premised on an invitation made last month during a visit to Zimbabwe by controversial Ecuadorian Bishop Walter Roberto Crespo, who invited Mugabe to that country to receive the degree from the Autonomous University of Quito, affiliated to the Anglican church.

This would have been Mugabe's 13th honorary degree. In recent years two other honorary degrees, conferred by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in the US and the University of Edinburgh in the UK respectively, were revoked on the grounds of his appalling human rights record.

In the latest incident, Professor Gregory H Stanton, president of Genocide Watch, sent a protest note to the university saying if the institution went ahead with the conferment his organisation would propose a resolution at the International Association of Genocide Scholars, due to meet in Buenos Aires in 2011, calling for this honorary degree for Mugabe to be cancelled.

"We strongly urge you to cancel your plans to award Mugabe this honor...Robert Mugabe is among the world's worst mass murderers. His Fifth Brigade massacred over 20,000 Matabele people in 1983-1984, a genocide that was thoroughly documented in the Gukurahundi report of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in 1997," read part of the protest letter.

"The crimes against humanity of this tyrant are well documented," said the letter, adding that Mugabe's human rights abuses have been denounced by the Commission for Human and People's Rights of the African Union. "It seems incredible to us that a Christian university with a high reputation like yours is planning to honor a world-class criminal like Robert Mugabe," the letter continued.

The Genocide Watch president also reminded the university that the honorary degrees awarded to Mugabe by the British and the US universities were withdrawn after they examined his crimes. "We do not want you to be put in a similar situation," Stanton wrote.

In support of the opposition on 24 September, the Anglican Diocese of Harare in Zimbabwe issued a press statement distancing itself from Crespo, and adding that he was a criminal.

"Information gathered from South American church leaders indicates that Dr Crespo is not in any way affiliated with the Episcopal Church's Dioceses of Littoral and Central Ecuador, the only Anglican dioceses in Ecuador. Instead the controversial cleric is head of his own self-styled Anglican province of Ecuador," read part of the statement issued by the Anglican Diocese of Harare.

"In 2002, [Crespo] was arrested by Ecuadorian police and imprisoned for almost three years in connection with the sale of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the principal rebel group in neighboring Colombia. This was his second arrest in four years. El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish language edition of the Miami Herald, reported in October 2000 that Dr Crespo brokered the deal to supply the rebels with the weapons."

When the University of Edinburgh stripped Mugabe of an honorary degree from that institution, his spokesperson George Charamba scoffed at the development saying:

"President Mugabe has read for seven degrees. He has honorary degrees from Africa, Asia, former Eastern Europe, Europe and America. Honorary degrees are exactly that, an unsolicited honor from the giver. The president did not accost anyone to confer the honor."