UNESCO criticised for Equatorial Guinea-sponsored prize
PARIS (Reuters) – Rights groups said yesterday UNESCO’s decision to award a science prize sponsored by the president of Equatorial Guinea was “shameful and utterly irresponsible”.
The United Nations’ cultural and science body was due to hand out the prize today, defying campaigners’ calls not to do so because of corruption allegations against President Teodoro Obiang and members of his family.
“It is shameful and utterly irresponsible for UNESCO to award this prize, given the litany of serious legal and ethical problems surrounding it,” said a statement signed by seven groups, including Human Rights Watch.
“Beyond letting itself be used to polish the sullied image of Obiang, UNESCO also risks ruining its own credibility.”
Obiang has ruled the oil-rich former Spanish colony for more than three decades, making him the longest-serving African leader following the demise of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. Rights groups have long accused his government of corruption.
Authorities in France, Spain and the United States are investigating Obiang and family members on suspicion of corruption and money-laundering on a grand scale, and questions hang over the source of the $3 million in prize money.
Despite calls to abandon it, the governing council of Paris-based UNESCO voted by 33 to 18 with six abstentions to approve awarding what was originally called the “UNESCO-Obiang prize” but renamed the “UNESCO-Equatorial Guinea International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences”.
Obiang’s government says the prize is intended to contribute to efforts in scientific research targeting diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Rights groups said the prize was designed to improve the family’s standing on the global stage.