THE United Nations world tourism body said Sunday it has chosen Zimbabwe to lead its Commission for Africa, the continent-wide group for tourism development for the next two years.
The UN World Tourism Organisation said that conflict-troubled Mali also joins the African tourism commission.
Zimbabwe and Zambia are co-hosting the 155-nation tourism organisation’s summit, held every two years, at the Victoria Falls resort on the border between the two countries.
The six-day general assembly was to be formally opened by the two countries’ presidents, Robert Mugabe and Michael Sata later Sunday.
The United Nations said in a statement that July 31 elections in Zimbabwe, bitterly disputed over alleged rigging, “will be respected by the assembly.”
Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States have condemned Zimbabwe’s July 31 elections for breaches of democratic rights, but they are not members of the U.N.’s tourism organization.
Western governments are generally sceptical over the value of the biennial meeting attended mostly by developing nations with a poor record in tourism, conservation and political stability.
The two host nations automatically take over the presidency of the U.N. tourism organisation during the summit, which is expected to be attended by about 1,200 delegates from governments and tourism enterprises worldwide.
The last such gathering was held in South Korea in 2011. Cambodia and Colombia are on the short list to hold the next summit in 2015.
The U.N.’s decision to give Zimbabwe co-host status was criticised as a “disgraceful show of support and a terribly timed award of false legitimacy” for Mugabe’s rule, by the independent U.N. Watch human rights group on Friday.
“Amid reports of election rigging and continuing human rights abuses, Zimbabwe is the last country that should be legitimised by a U.N. summit of any kind,” said Hillel Neuer, head of the Geneva-based group founded to monitor adherence by the world body to its universal charter on democracy and human rights.
He said Mugabe’s propagandists sought gloss over the collapse of the economy, years of political turmoil and the persecution of opponents to “use the event to rebrand the post-election period.”
“The notion that the U.N. should spin this country as a lovely tourist destination is, frankly, sickening,” Neuer said.