The University of Edinburgh's decision to strip Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe of an honorary degree could be followed by other universities. From London, Tendai Maphosa has more in this report for VOA.
The Senate of the University of Edinburgh made the decision to revoke the honorary degree conferred on President Robert Mugabe in 1984. The University had honored Mr. Mugabe on the recommendation of then British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington.
The decision to strip Mr. Mugabe of the degree follows a petition by the Edinburgh University Students Association. University secretary Melvin Cornish told VOA the students' association based its complaints on the ongoing human rights abuses Mr. Mugabe is presiding over.
The petition also brought up the issue of the massacres in Zimbabwe's Matabeleland province, which were happening at the time Mr. Mugabe was honored. During that period it is alleged that the Zimbabwean army killed thousands of civilians for allegedly supporting an armed insurgency.
Cornish defended the University's honoring Mr. Mugabe while the massacres were in progress.
"It is now clear the most awful things were happening in Zimbabwe at that time and the university understands and acknowledges that," he said. "At that time in mid 1984 it is as clear to us as it can be that the people then making the decision were not aware of the sort of things that we now know."
Cornish said that the revocation of Mr. Mugabe's degree is the first in the institution's 430-year history. He said Mr. Mugabe would be given the right to appeal the university's decision.
Other universities could follow Edinburgh's action. The University of Massachusetts and Michigan State University in the United States are also considering revoking honorary degrees they awarded Mr. Mugabe.
There have also been calls in both houses of the British parliament to strip Mr. Mugabe of the honorary knighthood bestowed on him in 1994. Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett is quoted in the Daily Mail newspaper as having answered one such call by saying she is more concerned about the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe than an honor Mr. Mugabe is "not entitled to".
Earlier this year, Zimbabwe government publicity secretary George Charamba told the state-owned daily newspaper, The Herald, that Mr. Mugabe would not lose any sleep over threats to strip him of honorary degrees.
Charamba said Mr. Mugabe studied for and has seven degrees and that the honorary degrees were unsolicited. He added that the Western universities improved their profile by associating themselves with Mr. Mugabe.