Zimbabwe’s outspokenly anti-gay president Robert Mugabe has slipped into Italy for the inauguration of Pope Francis despite a European Union (EU) travel ban due to his abuse of human rights.
Mugabe, banned since 2002 due to allegations of vote rigging and human rights abuses, was whisked today (19 March) directly from his plane at Rome international airport to the Vatican.
A priest greeted the 89-year-old president, his wife and son at the airport saying: ‘On behalf of Pope Francis, welcome to the Vatican, welcome to the Holy See’.
President Mugabe along with his wife Grace were seated as guests of honor at the VIP front row during the Pope’s inauguration ceremony and mass, reported the portal New Zimbabwe.
After the mass, Mugabe and his wife were seen shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with Pope Francis, who is on record saying gay adoption constitutes child abuse.
Vatican officials tried to down play the EU travel ban breach.
‘The Holy See informs everyone that this event is taking place. There are no invitations. There are no privileges and no one is refused. While one country may have problems with someone else, we invite no one. This must be made clear’, a Vatican spokesman said.
During Zimbabwe's annual independence celebrations in 1995 Mugabe proclaimed that homosexuality ‘degrades human dignity’, ‘unnatural’ and ‘worse than dogs and pigs.
‘What we are being persuaded to accept is sub-animal behavior and we will never allow it here. If you see people parading themselves as lesbians and gays, arrest them and hand them over to the police!’
Since then, President Mugabe has increased the political repression of Zimbabwe’s LGBT community.
The country’s LGBT rights organization Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) has been repeatedly subjected to harassment, beatings and arrests.
Chesterfield Samba, chair of GALZ told Gay Star News that he hope this could be a chance for an open dialogue: ‘We hope that the Pope could commend president Mugabe for adopting a new constitution and remind the president that despite the inclusion of the prohibition of same-sex marriages, the constitution provides that the rights of LGBT persons should be protected, same as everyone else’.
Samba also added: ‘The Pope should encourage president Mugabe to uphold the central values which underlie the new constitution – justice, human dignity, equality, freedom and the universality of human rights’.
Veteran human rights advocate, Peter Tatchell criticized the Pope for meeting Mugabe saying: ‘The idea that the Vatican did not invite Mugabe is absurd. He was given a ticket to the VIP enclosure and was seen on TV meeting and chatting with Pope Francis.
‘No one gets a one-on-one meeting with the Pope without official Vatican approval.
‘The Pope has made a huge error of judgment by inviting and greeting the Zimbabwean President.
'He should have shunned Mugabe as a public rebuke for his crimes and as a signal of solidarity with his victims.
‘President Mugabe belongs in the dock at the International Criminal Court, not in the Vatican being feted by the Pope.
‘It is outrageous that the Italian government which is a signatory to UN human rights conventions, is not enforcing the EU travel ban on Mugabe'.
Peter Tatchell has twice attempted a citizen’s arrest of the Zimbabwean dictator on charges of torture: in London in 1999 and again in Brussels in 2001.
In Brussels he was beaten unconscious by President Mugabe’s bodyguards, resulting in brain and eye injuries.