The Chinese alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize has gone to “a war-monger ... and a sadist who delights in the misery of the people”, said one critic of the award.
At an award ceremony held at a hotel in Beijing last month, which Mugabe did not attend, members of the Confucius Peace Prize committee lauded the Zimbabwean dictator for “working tirelessly to build the political and economic stability of his country, bringing peace to the people of Zimbabwe, strongly supporting pan-Africanism and African independence, and making unparalleled contributions for the renaissance of African civilisation”. Other candidates included Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
The Confucius Prize was established in 2010, the same year the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo.
Mugabe – who has had a close relationship with Beijing for decades – joins an eclectic roster of past winners, which includes Vladimir Putin and Fidel Castro as well as more mainstream figures such as Kofi Annan.
The committee praised Mugabe’s stewardship of the 54-state African Union after he became its chairman earlier this year. The award sparked criticism from human rights groups and opposition politicians.
“The rule of Mugabe is paved with blood, violence, arson and cruelty”, Gorden Moyo, the secretary general of the People’s Democratic party, claimed on theBulawayo 24 news website.
He has been accused of using systematic violence and torture to maintain his 35-year grip on power in Zimbabwe and has forced an estimated 700,000 people out of their homes.
The prize organisers, he added, “should hang their heads in shame for rewarding murderers who masquerade as peace makers”. The prize comes with an award of 500,000 yuan (Â£51,000) and a gold trophy of the ancient Chinese philosopher whose name it takes.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told AFP the Confucius prize was “not affiliated with the government”.
“China is a great nation that has been influenced by the Confucian concept of peace for a long time”, Tan Changliu, the chairman of the awards committee told CNN in 2010. “We want to promote world peace from an Eastern perspective”.