Equatorial Guinean dictator’s promises of reform ring hollow, say Global Witness

Today's announcement by the President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang, of a comprehensive reform package comes across as a cynical piece of spin by a dictator more interested in lining his own pockets than tackling corruption and human rights abuses, said campaign group Global Witness today.

In a speech to business and political leaders in Cape Town, Obiang announced a ten year programme, "turning the page" on transparency and human rights in Equatorial Guinea. However, this is at odds with the President's appalling record during his thirty years as dictator of the oil-rich country.

"Obiang is a brutal dictator who is desperately trying to launder his reputation", said Robert Palmer, a campaigner with Global Witness. "While Global Witness always welcomes countries that promise good governance and transparency, we are highly sceptical that Obiang's public relations drive will translate into real reform."  

According to the U.S. State Department, Obiang's regime is guilty of torture, rigging elections and arbitrary detention, as well as restrictions on freedom of speech and persecution of ethnic minorities. Since discovering lucrative oil deposits in the mid-1990s the quality of life for ordinary citizens has actually declined. Despite oil riches, more than one in ten children die before their fifth birthday.

Obiang's five-point reform programme includes improving human rights protection, greater transparency over oil revenues, and anti-poverty measures. "This will amount to little more than spin, as long as the President continues to disregard the rule of law and break his previous commitments," said Palmer.  

Obiang has promised to unilaterally comply with the requirements of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a multi-stakeholder attempt to bring more transparency to the flow of payments to governments from oil, gas and mining companies. However, Equatorial Guinea was kicked out of the scheme this April for failing to fulfil the initiative's most basic obligations.

Participation in the EITI would require respect for the participation of local civil society, in contrast to the current policy of brutal retaliation against opposition. The government should also publish asset declarations of their senior officials, launch independent corruption investigations and provide information on who owns companies involved in oil exploitation.

Obiang and his family are currently under investigation in a number of countries for pillaging millions of dollars from state coffers. Global Witness has exposed how Obiang's son was able to bring $75 million into the U.S. to fund a luxury playboy lifestyle, despite only earning a salary of a few thousand dollars a month.

"President Obiang can rest assured that Global Witness will continue to criticise his regime as long as he continues to put enriching himself and his family above the interests of his people," said Palmer.  "If Obiang is serious about reform he should waive the confidentiality clauses in the country's oil deals today; transparency doesn't take ten years."

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Contact: Robert Palmer on 0207 4925860 or Amy Barry on 0207 4925858; 07980 664397