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UN Criticized for Turning 'Blind Eye' to Equatorial Guinea's Rights Abuses

The former U.N. special investigator for Equatorial Guinea is criticizing the U.N. Human Rights Commission for turning a blind eye to what he calls continuing abuses in the west African country.

U.N. special investigator Gustavo Gallon has insisted that the human rights situation in Equatorial Guinea is still serious and deserves close monitoring. He said the country has been carrying out massive detentions of political opponents since last month.

But last week, the U.N.'s top human rights body backed an African proposal to remove Equatorial Guinea from the list of the worst human rights offenders. It also voted to end the mandate of the U.N. special investigator for the country. The Equatorial Guinea probe was the oldest U.N. human rights investigation for an individual country, lasting 23 years.

Mr. Gallon said nothing has changed in Equatorial Guinea to justify an end to close scrutiny of its rights record. The only thing that has changed, he adds, is the membership of the commission.

"He said that Equatorial Guinea has wanted for a long time to stop special investigations of human rights in the country. And now current members on the U.N. Human Rights Commission have allowed this to happen," Mr. Gallon said.

Commission member Nigeria argued on Friday that the former Spanish colony has improved its rights record.

But human rights groups said that dozens of opponents of President Teodoro Nguema, in power since 1979, have been arrested following an alleged coup attempt in mid-March.

Human rights has advocated also say Equatorial Guinea is using the recent discovery of sizeable oil reserves in the country as a lever to discourage a thorough review of the country's rights record.

Mr. Gallon did say, however, that Equatorial Guinea may accept a U.N. mission to visit prisoners next month.