Campaign group Global Witness today called on the UN body set up to promote education, science and culture (UNESCO) to cancel the inaugural UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences, proposed in recognition of "scientific achievements that improve the quality of human life". Global Witness dismissed the prize as a reprehensible attempt at reputation-laundering by the corrupt President Obiang of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea.
"UNESCO has become a by-word for blue-rinse reputation laundering for the world's despots and dictators," said Global Witness Director, Simon Taylor. "Following the scandals of arms dealer Pierre Falcone obtaining UNESCO diplomatic status, and UNESCO awards being presented to Uzbek dictator Karimov, this prize hits new heights of hypocrisy. What was the Executive Board thinking when they agreed to co-host an award with a despotic kleptocrat whose corrupt behaviour has condemned his citizens to dire poverty?"
With nominations due to close by the year-end, the prize is scheduled to be announced and presented early in 2010. While Global Witness accepts that there are good grounds for an award celebrating achievements in the life sciences, the prize's association with one of the world's most ruthless dictators is untenable: it should be cancelled with immediate effect.
Global Witness recently published a briefing paper, ‘The Secret Life of a Shopaholic', detailing evidence from confidential US documents suggesting that President Obiang's son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, known as Teodorin, purchased a $33 million private jet, a $35 million Malibu mansion, speedboats and a fleet of fast cars using corruptly acquired funds.
The report explains how, despite the ample evidence against Teodorin, and American law that requires the State Department to deny visas to foreign officials involved in corruption, Obiang's playboy son continues to be allowed into the US.
As a way of highlighting the hypocrisy and inappropriateness of the prize, Global Witness has submitted a spoof nomination for Teodorin to win the UNESCO-Obiang prize.
"We decided to nominate Teodorin for ‘bettering the quality of his own life.' His achievements are all the more extraordinary, when considered against the opportunities available to most Equatorial Guinean citizens; 60% of whom live on less than US$1 per day," said Taylor.
Notes to editor:
- Global Witness has written an open letter to the UNESCO Executive Board, demanding the cancellation of the UNESCO-Obiang Award.
- Global Witness has submitted an official nomination form for Teodorin Obiang.
- To receive copies of these documents and for further information contact Amy Barry, Head of Communications, +44 207 4925858; +44 7980 664397, firstname.lastname@example.org or Simon Taylor (Director), +44 7957 142 121