UNESCO: Cancel Dictator Prize

PARIS—UNESCO should use this month’s executive board meeting to cancel its prize named after and funded by Teodoro Obiang, the president of Equatorial Guinea, said the Open Society Justice Initiative and partner groups today.

“President Obiang’s record of gross human rights violations and large-scale corruption is antithetical to UNESCO’s mission and values,” said Tutu Alicante, executive director of the organization EG Justice. “This is money that should be benefiting the people of Equatorial Guinea, not endorsing a dictator who has trampled on their liberties and livelihoods.”

The $3 million UNESCO Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences was set up in 2008 but suspended in June after a global outcry. African notables, public health professionals, Nobel laureates, past UNESCO award winners, and rights groups from around the world have raised serious concerns about the prize, as have several governments.

“Investigations in Spain, France, and the U.S. have all connected the Obiang family to serious allegations of corruption,” said Ken Hurwitz, senior legal officer with the Open Society Justice Initiative. "There is a significant risk that UNESCO is accepting tainted funds with this prize.”

UNESCO has admitted that it lacks anti-money laundering safeguards and does not investigate the integrity of individual donors. This gap in oversight could leave the organization entangled in corruption.

Campaigners have pressed UNESCO to adopt international standards to prevent money laundering.

The UNESCO Executive Board is set to meet in Paris from October 5 to 21, 2010.

The statement above was released jointly by the Open Society Justice Initiative and the following groups:

Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de España
Center for Economic and Social Rights
EG Justice
Freedom House
Global Witness
Human Rights Watch