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UNESCO snubs Equatorial Guinea president prize again

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 13 May 2011 16:27 GMT
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LONDON (TrustLaw) – A prize funded by the president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, has been rejected for the second time in seven months by the U.N.’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) amid international concern about the country’s poor human rights record.

UNESCO suspended the $3-million Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences in October 2010, after global condemnation of the award. On May 4 the government of Equatorial Guinea petitioned to have the prize reinstated but UNESCO’s executive board has refused to lift the suspension.

“With this decision, UNESCO has sent a strong signal to President Obiang that it will not ignore serious human rights and governance concerns.”  Tutu Alicante, executive director of human rights and governance advocacy group EG Justice, said in a Thursday statement issued by seven different civil society organizations.

“To improve his international standing, President Obiang should focus his efforts on improving the lives of ordinary Equatoguineans rather than on funding symbolic prizes,” he added.

Now that UNESCO has rejected the prize for a second time, Alicante has called for the board to “go further and cancel the prize outright so that the issue never again resurfaces.”

Obiang took control of West Africa’s Equatorial Guinea in a coup over 30 years ago and has since faced criticised by human rights, freedom of press and anti-corruption groups for alleged abuses.

In the last decade, Equatorial Guinea has become one of the largest producers of oil in sub-Saharan Africa. However, most of its population lives on less than a dollar a day.

“Obiang would be better spending his time and money on helping the people of Equatorial Guinea, the majority of whom live in dire poverty, despite their country's massive oil wealth,” Simon Taylor, a director of the resource transparency organization Global Witness told TrustLaw.

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