Group blasts UNESCO over Equatorial Guinea link

AP News
Posted: Dec 23, 2009 2:47 PM

A human rights watchdog group said the U.N.'s culture and education agency is being hypocritical by collaborating with Equatorial Guinea's dictator.

In a statement Tuesday, Global Witness called on UNESCO to cancel the $300,000 UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences, to be awarded for this first time next year. UNESCO's Web site says the prize was founded to recognize scientific research that leads to "improving the quality of human life."

Rights activists accuse Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, also known as Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, of enriching himself, his family and his cronies while his people become more impoverished.

UNESCO spokeswoman Sue Williams, saying in an e-mail Wednesday that officials connected with the prize were on vacation and unavailable for comment, directed a reporter to a statement issued when plans for the prize were adopted in 2008. According to the document, Equatorial Guinea's president made the proposal in a speech to UNESCO in 2007, offering to deposit $3 million in a special account for UNESCO to administer the prize and to fund the annual awards.

"This prize hits new heights of hypocrisy," said Simon Taylor, director of Global Witness, calling Obiang "a despotic kleptocrat whose corrupt behavior has condemned his citizens to dire poverty."

Human Rights Watch also has taken note of the prize. It said in a report earlier this year on corruption and mismanagement in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea that UNESCO's partnership with Obiang's foundation was "a troubling and ironic development considering the Equatoguinean government's lack of investment" in its own citizens.

Other U.N. agencies report infant mortality has increased and education enrollment decreased since oil was discovered in Equatorial Guinea in 1994.

Late last month, Obiang, in power for 30 years, was declared the winner with 95.37 percent of the votes in an election opponents and international human rights groups denounced as a fraud.

His government also is accused of trampling human rights _ subjecting citizens to torture, arbitrary arrest and severe restrictions on speech.

Paris-based UNESCO, or the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is charged with promoting international collaboration on education, science and culture.