OTTAWA, June 1 (UPI) -- Canada formalized its withdrawal from the U.N. tourism body after it invited Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to become a global leader.
Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird resigned from the U.N. World Tourism Organization Thursday after learning Mugabe was invited to become a global leader in the sphere Tuesday, The Guardian reported.
Baird called the praise of Mugabe and the president of Zambia for their role in tourism at Victoria Falls the "last straw" in Canada's participation in the U.N. body.
Mugabe, 88, is under a U.S. and U.N. travel ban for alleged human-rights abuses in Zimbabwe.
"After [Baird] heard that [Mugabe] was honored at an event, after he was invited to join this global leaders group, he signed the order in council almost immediately," said Joseph Lavoie, a spokesman for Baird, adding, "They were legitimizing him by enlisting Mugabe to promote tourism."
Zimbabwean Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi responded to Canada's withdrawal by calling the country a "small player in the global tourism industry," NewZimbabwe.com reported.
"Does Canada capture your imagination? We do not even use their currency," Mzembi said. 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 [United States] and Britain are not members."
The U.N. body also criticized Canada's move by saying it doesn't actually have an ambassadorial program.
The presidents of Zimbabwe and Zambia were given an Open Letter on Travel and Tourism by the UNWTO in recognition of a three-part agreement with both countries on the hosting of the 20th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in Victoria Falls, which is on the border between the two countries.
The letter was also given out to leaders of other countries, UNWTO said.
"The receiving of the Open Letter implies no legal commitment or official title attribution to the country or the recipient," the body said in a statement.