UNESCO Leader Should Boycott Award Ceremony

UNESCO Leader Should Boycott Award Ceremony

Human Rights Watch September 15, 2014
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"The dire conditions in Equatorial Guinea and the government’s record of high-level corruption, and human rights abuses should have dissuaded UNESCO from allowing President Obiang to preside over the award event."

(New York, September 14, 2014) – On September 15, 2014, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Irina Bokova is expected to attenda ceremony hosted by the longtime ruler of Equatorial Guinea, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, to jointly award a prize Obiang funded and sought to have named after himself. The ceremony for the UNESCO-Equatorial Guinea prize will take place at the lavish Sipopo conference center outside Malabo, Equatorial Guinea’s capital.

Bokova had previously tried to block UNESCO approval of the controversialaward. In the wake of an international outcry over UNESCO’s ultimate decision to proceed with the prize, neither Obiang nor Bokova attended the first award ceremony, in 2012. Originally named the UNESCO-Obiang prize, it was approved only after his name was dropped from the award. The prize is awarded for work in the life sciences to improve “the quality of human life.”

The Obiang government has publicly celebrated its improved ties with UNESCO, which had previously shunned him.
On September 12, the head of the ruling party issued a statement commending the president, who is the founder and head of the party, for his success and denouncing those who opposed the prize. He stated, “We must not forget the tenacity of the Head of State, not only in creating but also defending this award against those who wanted to divert the good intentions and turn them into bad ones.”

Life expectancy in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, which has a per-capita income equivalent to Portugal’s, is 53, compared with 80 in Portugal, according to World Bank statistics from 2012. The country also has very low vaccination rates, including the lowest polio vaccination rate in the world, according to the World Health Organization.

The dire conditions in Equatorial Guinea and the government’s record of high-level corruption, human rights abuses, and restricted press freedom should have dissuaded UNESCO from allowing President Obiang to host and preside over the award event, EG Justice, a group that monitors human rights in Equatorial Guinea, and Human Rights Watch said.

“It is offensive for Equatorial Guinea to host a UNESCO prize ceremony honoring improvements to the quality of life when its people live in unjustified squalor, journalists and civil society are hounded, and prisoners are tortured,” said Lisa Misol, senior business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Director-General Bokova should cancel her participation in this publicity event for the Obiang government and defend UNESCO’s principles by denouncing these abuses in Equatorial Guinea.”

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Equatorial Guinea, please visit:

For more information, please contact:In New York, for Human Rights Watch, Lisa Misol (English, Spanish): +1-646-515-6665 (mobile); or misoll@hrw.org. Follow on Twitter @LisaMisol
In Tampa, for EG Justice, Tutu Alicante (English, French, Spanish): +1-615-479-0207 (mobile); or tutu@egjustice.org. Follow on Twitter @EGJustice

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