5 October 2011

UNESCO won't honour Africa's longest-serving dictator with namesake prize

IFEX members urged UNESCO not to reinstate a prize funded by the president of Equatorial Guinea
IFEX members urged UNESCO not to reinstate a prize funded by the president of Equatorial Guinea
Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr
UNESCO has once again announced it will not reinstate a life sciences prize funded by and named after Africa's longest-serving dictator, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, report Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The decision comes after passionate lobbying by IFEX members and other international and African rights groups. On 27 September, IFEX and 10 members and partners sent a letter to UNESCO director general Irina Bokova, urging her not to reinstate the UNESCO-Obiang prize given the "well-documented record of human rights abuse, repression of press freedom, and official corruption that have marked his rule."

On 3 October, prominent authors, scientists and other public figures, including Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and renowned Nigerian author Chinua Achebe, also sent UNESCO a letter decrying the prize and pointing out that it is likely funded by corruption, given criminal investigations in France and Spain into the source of the Obiang family's mass wealth, including luxury cars.

Due to international outcry, the prize has never been awarded since its launch three years ago, despite yearly efforts by Obiang and other African diplomats to have it reinstated. UNESCO has not yet taken the step rights groups would like to see, however, which is the final cancellation of the award.

As Tutu Alicante, executive director of the non-governmental group EG Justice, argues, "The UNESCO Board needs to end this debate once and for all by rejecting this prize outright. UNESCO delegates should not let themselves be bullied into backing a public relations campaign by President Obiang."

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