/ 13 June 2008

University of Massachusetts revokes Mugabe degree

The University of Massachusetts on Thursday rescinded an honorary law degree awarded 22 years ago to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, calling his politics ”egregious” and his leadership an ”assault on human rights”.

The state university has never before revoked an honorary degree in its 145-year history.

‘Rescinding an honorary degree is a step to be taken in only the rarest and most grievous of circumstances,” Robert Manning, chairperson of school’s board of trustees, said in a statement after the unanimous vote by the 22-member board.

”Robert Mugabe’s performance and policies in Zimbabwe are so egregious as to warrant this ultimate expression of disapproval,” he said.

Mugabe (84) led the nation to independence from Britain in 1980 but has become an international pariah, accused of human rights abuses and ineffective economic policies that have resulted in rampant inflation, food shortages and poverty.

Mugabe and his officials are accused of intimidating opponents since a poll in March in which opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won but fell short of the margin needed for outright victory, necessitating a runoff later this month.

”In 1986, Robert Mugabe appeared to represent the hope of a self-determined Africa. We have now learned, however, that the promise we saw in 1986 was false,” said Kevin Murphy, a Massachusetts lawmaker who urged the university to revoke the degree because of escalating state-sponsored violence.

United States-based Human Rights Watch said on Monday that a free and fair election scheduled for June 27 was impossible because of a systematic campaign of murder and brutality unleashed by Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party in which at least 36 people have died.

Mugabe was awarded the honorary doctorate of laws degree in October 1986 for his ”exemplary devotion to social justice”.

The university’s president at the time, David Knapp, said Mugabe’s ”gentle firmness in the face of anger and intellectual approach to matters which inflame the emotions of others, are hallmarks of quiet integrity”.

The school’s current president, Jack Wilson, said the university was compelled to take action because Mugabe’s ”transgressions have led the world community to condemn his government’s assault on human rights and on the rule of law.”

Under Mugabe’s 28 years in power, Zimbabwe has slipped into economic and political crisis, with deepening unrest between Mugabe’s security forces and opposition groups.

He blames deteriorating conditions on sanctions imposed by the West and regards opposition politicians as puppets of Western governments, led by Britain.

Last year, Edinburgh University withdraw a degree awarded in 1984 for Mugabe’s services to education, also citing human rights violations by his government. – Reuters