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Calls to Scrap UN Prize Funded by Equatorial Guinea's Leader

  • Lisa Bryant

Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. (file photo)

Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. (file photo)

Rights groups and Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu are calling on a U.N. body to scrap a prize bankrolled by Equatorial Guinea's longtime leader, Teodoro Obiang Nguema. The demand comes as officials probe property belonging to Mr. Obiang's family in France.

The Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO will discuss in the coming days whether to abolish the Obiang science prize that offers $300,000 to the winning researcher. Outrage is growing over the award, because it is named after and funded by Equatorial Guinea's autocratic and allegedly corrupt president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

South African Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu has joined seven rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, in demanding the award be abolished. Jean-Marie Fardeau is head of Human Rights Watch France.

"It's really a shameful regime which carries a lot of responsibility regarding the situation in its country," said Fardeau.

Resource-rich Equatorial Guinea is one of Africa's wealthiest countries in statistical terms, yet its population is largely dirt poor. UNESCO officials would not comment on the issue, pending a decision on the award.

But Fardeau says a number of UNESCO members want the prize abolished, amid a growing intolerance of corruption and dictatorship.

"It's not just a Western view," he said. "It really is from Equatorial Guinea - people are claiming to get back the money which was used in an unsatisfactory way by their president and his family, because the money is used in our countries, the money is put in our banks, there is now apparently a political willingness to fight this level of corruption."

The controversy coincides with a probe into property belonging to Mr. Obiang's family in France. Earlier this month, French police searched and seized property from the luxurious Paris residence of his son, Teodoro Obiang Mangue, who is Equatorial Guinea's deputy ambassador to UNESCO. In September, French officials also seized nearly a dozen luxury cars owned by the family.

Obiang family lawyer Olivier Pardo told France's RTL radio that the seizures violated international law. The family claims the Paris residence is used for diplomatic purposes.

The probe is part of a larger French investigation into luxury real estate and other property belonging to the families of several African leaders, including Mr. Obiang. Rights groups claim they used public funds from some of the world's poorest countries to pay for the goods.

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