In Equatorial Guinea a small clique of ruling families reaps huge profits through corruption and monopoly control of the national petro-carbon industry, while leaving the ordinary people to live in poverty. This violates the right of the people to freely dispose of their natural wealth protected in the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.
Equatorial Guinea has a relatively small population of about 660,000. It has vast wealth from its natural gifts, above all its abundant hydrocarbon deposits, but also forestry, fishing, and undeveloped resources including titanium, iron ore, manganese, uranium, and alluvial gold. Unlike many of its neighbors, the country has also been spared the ravages of civil war and invasion, albeit under the reign of an oppressive regime.
Equatorial Guinea gained independence from Spain in 1968. Under its first President, Francisco Macias, the country’s economy collapsed amid a torrent of bloody repression and incompetent economic management. One quarter or more of the country’s population at the time fled or died in the terror.
The current President, Teodoro Obiang, seized power in a coup in 1979. Beginning in the early 1980s, President Obiang began to implement wholesale expropriations—without compensation—of rich agricultural farmland on Bioko Island, owned mostly by Spaniards but also by Equatoguineans. This was then distributed to members of his family and a small number of allied families, mostly from the president’s Mongomo region, known as the Nguema/Mongomo group. This pattern of appropriation continued in other areas including timber and even urban residential neighborhoods, all of which was undertaken without independent judicial oversight or meaningful compensation to owners, in violation of individual and collective property rights protected by the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.
When large deposits of exploitable petroleum and gas were discovered in Equatoguinean waters in the early 1990s, the ruling group used its previous acquisitions and political dominance to ensure itself control over the vast hydrocarbon resources, locking up for themselves the benefit of these new opportunities.
Despite this wealth, Equatorial Guinea remains at or near the bottom for every major development and governance indicator, far below countries whose per capita wealth should make them peers.
Together with the Spanish human rights organization Asociación pro Derechos Humanos de España (APDHE) and EG Justice, a U.S.-based rights organization, the Open Society Justice Initiative filed a complaint to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, arguing that this diversion of the oil wealth violates the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Spoliation. Article 21 of the African Charter grants the people of Equatorial Guinea the right to full and exclusive enjoyment of the country’s wealth. The Nguema/Mongomo group has for decades held a de facto monopoly on virtually all of the people’s natural resources and the economic opportunities resulting.
Corruption. In order to accomplish these violations, the Nguema/Mongomo group has established and maintains a far-reaching system of corruption affecting every sphere of life within Equatorial Guinea.
Control of the Judiciary. The government bolsters this system of corruption by control of the judiciary, using judges to implement and ratify the massive diversion of the people’s wealth, violating the duty to guarantee the independence of the courts, and the closely related duty to ensure the right of every individual to have his cause heard. The legal system in Equatorial Guinea is entirely subordinate to the will of the president and is regularly used to justify and directly enforce land expropriations.
Prohibition of Dissent. Protest and dissent are ruthlessly suppressed, and routine tools of governance include ignorance, censorship, fear, indefinite detention, kidnapping, torture, and extrajudicial execution.
October 12, 2007. APDHE, the Open Society Justice Initiative, and EG Justice submit an initial communication to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, requesting it to be seized of the case.
December 19, 2007. The Commission indicates that it has decided to be seized of the case; intends to take a decision on the admissibility of the communication at its next session in May 2008; and requests APDHE to provide its submission on the admissibility of the case by March 19, 2008.
March 19, 2008. Submission on admissibility of the case is filed with the Commission.
June 17, 2008. The Commission states that it will consider admissibility of the case in November 2008, in order to allow Equatorial Guinea to submit its arguments on admissibility.
October 22, 2008. The Commission states that it will defer a decision on admissibility until May 2009, in order to give Equatorial Guinea another chance to make its submission on admissibility.
March 26, 2009. The Commission states that it intends to make a decision on admissibility at its next session in May 2009. It deferred a decision on admissibility in May 2009.
June 3, 2009. The Commission forwards a preliminary objection made by the Equatorial Guinean government to the standing of APDHE as a non-African NGO. The Justice Initiative responded in August 2009.
December 3, 2009. The Commission affirmed our standing. Since then, the Commission has continued to defer deciding on admissibility in the May 2010, November 2010 and May 2011 sessions.
The case is currently being considered by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.