LONDON (TrustLaw) – The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on Tuesday deferred any action on reinstating a prize funded by the president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, due to 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. The government of Equatorial Guinea petitioned to have the prize reinstated in May, but their plea fell on deaf ears. This week’s deferral is the third time in a year that the UNESCO executive board has refused to come to a decision as to the future of the prize.
“Concerned diplomats prevented this latest effort to grant President Obiang the undeserved distinction of an international prize in his name,” Tutu Alicante, executive director of human rights and governance advocacy group EG Justice, said in a Wednesday statement issued by seven different civil society organizations.
“But 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,” he added.
The director-general of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, called for Obiang to withdraw the prize. But in a Monday statement, the government of Equatorial Guinea said that it would continue to push for the award to be issued.
Obiang took control of West Africa’s Equatorial Guinea in a coup over 30 years ago and has since faced criticism by human rights, freedom of press and anti-corruption groups for alleged abuses.
The groups calling for the prize’s cancellation include EG Justice, Association SHERPA, Committee to Protect Journalists, Global Witness, Human Rights Watch, and Open Society Justice Initiative.
(Editing by Rebekah Curtis)
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