(Washington, DC) – Latin American and African dignitaries gathering in Equatorial Guinea for a cross-regional meeting should press their host, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasago, on his human rights record, EG Justice and Human Rights Watch said today. Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota of Brazil, among other officials, is scheduled to attend the Africa-South America Summit taking place from November 22 to 25, 2011.
The summit is being held less than two weeks after Obiang secured 97.7 percent approval for constitutional changes designed to strengthen his near-absolute hold on power in a discredited November 13 vote. His government used heavy-handed tactics to intimidate individuals and opposition parties campaigning against the reforms, including the arbitrary arrest of an opposition party member and civil society activist.
“President Obiang hopes to polish his tarnished image and rebrand himself as a reformer,” said Tutu Alicante, executive director of EG Justice, a nongovernmental group that promotes good governance in Equatorial Guinea. “Foreign dignitaries should press President Obiang to explain why his government assaults civil liberties and neglects the rights of the poor.”
President Obiang’s government, which currently holds the rotating African Union chairmanship, spent more than $830 million to construct the luxury complex where the meeting will take place outside the nation’s capital, Malabo. Most citizens of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea remain mired in poverty, many without access to reliable electricity or running water.
President Obiang’s 32-year rule has been marred by severe repression and rampant corruption. The United Nations and other human rights monitors have repeatedly condemned the government for its use of torture and arbitrary and incommunicado detention. Investigations into official corruption by the Obiang family are ongoing in France, Spain, and the United States (US). In October, the US Department of Justice moved to seize more than $70 million in assets belonging to President Obiang’s eldest son and presumed successor, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue.