Board Acted Following Global Protest Over Award Financed by Equatorial Guinea’s Leader
(Paris) - UNESCO's decision announced on October 21, 2010, to suspend indefinitely a prize funded by and named after President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea followed a global outcry from scholars and human rights defenders, Human Rights Watch and its partners said today. The decision followed objections to the prize by, among others, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of Cape Town, Nobel laureates, and more than 60 professionals from Equatorial Guinea.
The executive board's decision recognized the lack of consensus among member states to support the prize and highlighted the board's responsibility to "preserve the integrity, values and high status" of the organization. Critics of the prize, who have urged its cancellation, called the decision a positive move and thanked UNESCO members who had opposed the award. But they also reiterated their call for all member states to uphold the organization's primary mission to promote human rights.
"The way Teodoro Obiang has governed Equatorial Guinea undermines all the values UNESCO stands for," said Tutu Alicante, executive director of the organization EG Justice. "The suspension is a sign that the Obiang government cannot pull the wool over the eyes of the international community with empty human rights public relations campaigns. We will continue working for the prize's cancellation and expect the Executive Board to fulfill its commitment to protect the organization's integrity."
The $3 million UNESCO Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences was set up in 2008 but suspended earlier this year after widespread criticism. Prominent African leaders, Latin American literary figures, Nobel laureates, scientists and public health professionals, press freedom groups, Cano prize winners, human rights defenders and rights organizations from around the world have all protested plans to award the prize, which they said seriously undermined UNESCO's credibility. Public figures involved in the campaign included Nobel laureates Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Wole Soyinka, Mario Vargas Llosa, Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, and John Polanyi; the author Chinua Achebe; and the human rights advocate Graça Machel.
Equatorial Guinea's vast oil wealth gives it the highest per capita GDP in sub-Saharan Africa, yet its health and development indicators are on par with the poorest countries in the world.
"President Obiang has presided over an abysmal record of abuses and mismanagement in Equatorial Guinea for over 30 years," said Arvind Ganesan, business and human rights director at Human Rights Watch. "UNESCO should take the opportunity to create safeguards to avoid cause for embarrassment in the future and should go ahead and cancel the Obiang prize completely."