Press Release / Aug. 3, 2006

New U.S. Envoy to Equatorial Guinea Must Hold Government Accountable for Corruption and Human Rights Abuses

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Contact: Lynn Fredriksson at 202/544-0200
Wednesday, August 2, 2006 or Corinna Gilfillan at 202/721-5634

or Sarah Wykes at +44/7703/108449

(Washington, DC) -- Upon Thursday’s confirmation of a new U.S. ambassador to the West African oil exporting nation of Equatorial Guinea (EG) – the first in 11 years – U.S. policy must begin holding that country’s repressive government accountable for wholesale misappropriation of its oil wealth and lack of respect for human rights. The new embassy is being restarted as the EG exports 420,000 barrels of oil per day, mainly to the U.S. U.S. assistance – including new U.S. military aid budgeted for FY2007 – should be conditional on demonstrable progress on transparency and good governance.

EG’s dismal human rights record is well documented. In April, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called President Teodoro Obiang “a good friend” of the U.S., yet State Department reports have detailed how security forces under the direction of the President’s brother have tortured detainees, sometimes to death.

Amnesty International USA Advocacy Director for Africa Lynn Fredriksson said, “The appointment of Ambassador Johnson is a step in the right direction. But a new ambassador will only make a difference if U.S. policy is now built on concrete benchmarks for improving human rights conditions.”

EG is also mired in allegations of serious mismanagement of its oil revenues. With the second highest per capita income in the world ($50,200), the country ranks at the bottom of the UN Human Development Index—with 56% of its population unable to access potable water.

Global Witness U.S. Head of Office Corinna Gilfillan said, “Equatorial Guinea is the dictatorship that no one talks about. The government earns over $2.7 billion from oil annually, but the majority of its citizens live on less than $1 a day. The U.S. government and the U.S. oil companies that are the major investors should be advocating transparency and accountability but, up to now, they have done almost nothing.”

Since a 2004 U.S. Senate investigation on corruption revealed over $700 million of EG government money in Riggs Bank accounts, little has changed to combat corruption. U.S. companies still refuse to disclose the amounts they pay to the government and were reported to sign new confidentiality clauses with the EG government in June. The government still holds offshore treasury accounts worth $718 million, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Global Witness and Amnesty International USA believe that the U.S. should base its EG policy on a series of clear benchmarks for progress on democratization, human rights, and fiscal transparency. The EG government should:

1. publicly commit to implementing the recommendations of the 2005 IMF Fiscal Report on Standards and Codes and draw up a plan to implement an overall transparent revenue management system.

2. immediately commit to disclosing all revenues received from oil and gas companies and submit to independent audits of payments and receipts.

3. make the registration process for independent non-governmental organizations operating in EG easier, and allow organizations to operate without harassment.

4. As a first step to improving its human rights record, the government should allow the reinstatement of a Special Rapporteur from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with a mandate to monitor human rights conditions.