Activists rally against Africa dictator’s UN prize

Feb 26, 2012, 2:47 PM

Associated Press

JOHANNESBURG (AP) – Human rights groups are urging UNESCO to abandon a prize named after Africa’s longest-ruling dictator, one they say could be tainted by some of the millions he allegedly has looted from oil-rich but poverty-stricken Equatorial Guinea.

The board of the U.N. agency for education, science and culture meets Monday and is expected to discuss the $3 million UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences, which it accepted in 2008.

A chorus of outrage from around the world so far has delayed a decision on the prize that activists say should be quashed definitively.

Many ask how President Teodoro Obiang Nguema can offer such a prize while thousands of his people live without electricity or a clean water supply.

Railing against Obiang’s effort “to abuse the reputation and standing” of UNESCO, the New York-based Open Society Justice Initiative accused him of using the prize “to launder the image of his regime.”

Obiang has the support of African countries that form the biggest bloc in the agency’s 58-member executive board, with 14 seats compared to nine held by Western nations.

At last year’s board meeting, Obiang supporters seized the issue as imperiling the honor of Africa and turned the debate into one pitting developed countries against the G-77, according to a U.S. Embassy cable published by WikiLeaks.

It quoted UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova of Bulgaria as telling the U.S. ambassador to France that she had maneuvered a delay by arguing that UNESCO had not received enough applicants for the prize to award a winner.

She said there were only 14 applications _ with only five from Africa, and contrasted that to most UNESCO prizes receiving more than 60 applicants for purses much smaller than the $300,000 offered by the Obiang prize.

The cable quoted Bokova as warning: “I cannot ignore a board decision forever. I have given time for you to act.”

Ranged on the side of human rights activists are various governments and legislators, a coalition of human rights, press freedom, anti-corruption and public health organizations as well as several UNESCO prize winners and Nobel laureates.

South Africa’s retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu last year was among signatories to a letter saying they were “deeply troubled by the well-documented record of human rights abuse, repression of press freedom and official corruption that have marked his (Obiang’s) rule.”

Open Society Justice Initiative noted that Equatorial Guinea boasts Africa’s highest per capita gross national income of $17,608 a year, one of its smallest populations of about 700,000 and the most glaring disparity in the world.

“Yet under President Obiang’s rule, Equatorial Guinea has some of the lowest health and education levels in the world. Most of the population is mired in desperate poverty, with more than 60 percent living on less than $1 per day according to the U.N. Development Assistance Framework,” it said.

Equatorial Guinea was the worst governed country of all surveyed for UNDP’s 2011 Human Development Report, as measured by the disconnect between available wealth and development.

Monday’s meeting in Paris comes two weeks after Obiang’s son Teodorin used his new position as Equatorial Guinea’s deputy ambassador to UNESCO to try to prevent French police investigators from searching his luxury Paris home.

Instead, police seized tens of millions of dollars worth of antiques, art works and other luxury goods including a $2 million Louis XIV desk, Open Society said. The Avenue Foch mansion itself is reportedly worth more than $670 million, it said.

Obiang gave his heir-apparent the diplomatic post after French judicial officials in September seized 16 luxury “supercars,” including a Bugatti Veyron, as part of a money-laundering and corruption investigation.

A statement from Open Society said “the fact that he’s transparently using UNESCO to try to assert legal protection from a criminal investigation just reinforces the sense that the Obiang family has no regard for the organization’s mission _ only how they can benefit from associating themselves with it.”

Obiang is trying to salvage the prize with an offer to rename it.

But Human Rights Watch said that does not address “the serious concerns” about the source of its funding.

For years, Obiang has been accused of siphoning off his country’s bountiful oil revenue. Hundreds of millions of dollars from Equatorial Guinea improperly banked in the United States helped bring down the once-venerable Riggs Bank of Washington D.C. in 2005.

More recently, human rights groups in France and Spain have brought lawsuits demanding the seizures of luxury properties allegedly bought by Obiang family members with ill-gotten gains.

In October, U.S. authorities gave notice they intend to seize property in California bought with $70 million allegedly looted by Teodorin Obiang, who is also a Cabinet minister in his father’s government. The property includes a luxury Malibu mansion, an executive jet, sports cars and Michael Jackson’s crystal-covered glove from the “Bad” tour.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

World News

FILE - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during his first Cabinet meeting flanked by his ...
Associated Press

Rishi Sunak: UK’s ex-Treasury chief gets his shot at PM job

LONDON (AP) — Rishi Sunak ran for Britain’s top job and lost. Then he got another shot — and the chance to say “I told you so.” The former U.K. Treasury chief was runner-up to Liz Truss in the contest to replace the scandal-plagued Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader and prime minister. But Truss […]
1 month ago
Britain's Prime Minister Liz Truss addresses the media in Downing Street in London, Thursday, Oct. ...
Associated Press

Truss quits, but UK’s political and economic turmoil persist

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Liz Truss quit Thursday after a tumultuous and historically brief term marred by economic policies that roiled financial markets and a rebellion in her political party that obliterated her authority. After just 45 days in office, Truss became the third Conservative prime minister to be toppled in as many […]
1 month ago
People receive medical treatment at the scene of Russian shelling, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Oct. 1...
Associated Press

Russia unleashes biggest attacks in Ukraine in months

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia retaliated Monday for an attack on a critical bridge by unleashing its most widespread strikes against Ukraine in months, a lethal barrage that smashed civilian targets, knocked out power and water, shattered buildings and killed at least 14 people. Ukraine’s Emergency Service said nearly 100 people were wounded in the […]
2 months ago
This illustration made available by Johns Hopkins APL and NASA depicts NASA's DART probe, upper rig...
Associated Press

NASA spacecraft smashes into asteroid for defense test

A NASA spacecraft rammed an asteroid at blistering speed Monday in an unprecedented dress rehearsal for the day a killer rock menaces Earth.
2 months ago
In this Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Pres...
Associated Press

At least 9 killed as Iran protests over woman’s death spread

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Clashes between Iranian security forces and protesters angry over the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody have killed at least nine people since the violence erupted over the weekend, according to a tally Thursday by The Associated Press. The scope of Iran’s ongoing unrest, the worst in […]
2 months ago
Royal guards stand by the coffin of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, as members of the public pay thei...
Associated Press

Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral | Live updates

WINDSOR, England — Queen Elizabeth II has been interred together with her late husband, Prince Philip, at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, officials said. The royal family’s official website said the Dean of Windsor conducted a private burial ceremony late Monday at the King George VI Memorial Chapel, an annex inside St. George’s, a […]
2 months ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
Activists rally against Africa dictator’s UN prize