Letter to UNESCO: Cancel UNESCO-Obiang Prize

Letter to UNESCO: Cancel UNESCO-Obiang Prize

August 12, 2010
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A letter from concerned global citizens to UNESCO, asking the organization to cancel the UNESCO-Obiang prize.

Dear Members of the Executive Board:

We understand that, as a result of a June 15 informational meeting held in Paris, the Executive Board will be addressing the UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences at its next session in October. We write to urge you to use that upcoming opportunity to cancel the prize definitively.

We appreciate the action taken on June 15 by UNESCO's leadership, including Director-General Irina Bokova and the members of the Executive Board, to delay the awarding of the UNESCO-Obiang prize and allow for further consultation, in light of concerns and objections raised by scientists, press freedom advocates, scholars, public health professionals, Nobel laureates, UNESCO prize winners, governments, parliamentarians, and global civil society.

A prize in President Obiang's name or supported by money provided by him offends the very standards and goals UNESCO promotes and, in particular, those it sets out for its prizes.

According to a 2005 UNESCO report on prizes, "[e]ach UNESCO Prize carries a moral and symbolic value" and communications about prizes should "help enhance the Organization's profile, prestige and impact." Yet President Obiang's dismal record on human rights, press freedom, and development is well documented by organs of the United Nations and other credible sources.

President Obiang's government has been roundly condemned for its abuse of human rights, including the systematic use of torture in detention documented by the UN special rapporteur on torture. It is equally notorious for its control of the press; official prepublication censorship, as well as self-censorship resulting from ongoing monitoring and pressure on journalists and media outlets, denies people basic information about their government's functioning. The Obiang government's reputation for corruption is supported by findings of several foreign government investigations. Despite Equatorial Guinea's vast wealth from natural resources-which gives it the highest per capita GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa-it has shockingly low health and development indicators, on par with some of the poorest countries in the region and world. Moreover, UNESCO noted in its 2010 "Education for All" report that, while most countries have improved access to education, Equatorial Guinea's net primary school enrollment rates declined, from 89 percent in 1999 to 67 percent in 2007.

It would be indefensible for UNESCO to proceed with a prize that bears President Obiang's name or benefits from money that may be illegitimately derived from the natural resources in the country. Under human rights standards including the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, the country's wealth should be used to the benefit of its people. Yet President Obiang and his circle of family and close associates enjoy lives of luxury financed with the proceeds of natural resource exploitation while the great majority of Equatorial Guinea's citizens live in dire poverty.

The undersigned therefore call on you to make every effort to abolish the Obiang prize and to decline any alternative proposal that contemplates establishing a different prize associated with President Obiang's name or financed with money from him. We further urge you to help UNESCO ensure that the $3 million offered by President Obiang is instead used to address the education, health, and other basic rights of the people of Equatorial Guinea. Such spending must be carried out through a clear and transparent mechanism, given high levels of official corruption in the country.

We note Ms. Bokova's June 15 reference to a Working Group established to recommend amending criteria for prizes, on which she will report at the October session of the board. In this regard we strongly encourage you to use this time of consultation to reform the prize establishment process generally, so that any prize inconsistent with UNESCO's mission-including its work to promote human rights-cannot go forward.

Thank you for your consideration and ongoing service to UNESCO and the ideals it aspires to achieve.

Yours sincerely,

Carlos Gomes N'Gondi Sucami, General Director
Acção para o Desenvolvimento Pesquisa e Cooperação Internacional (Angola)

Tamara M. Kaleeva, President
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech (Kazakhstan)

Gerald LeMelle, Executive Director
Africa Action (United States)

Tatsuo Hayashi, President
Africa Japan Forum (Japan)

Rev. Dr. James A. Kirkwood, Administrator
AfricaFiles (Canada)

Alicia Campos Serrano, Research Director
African Studies Group of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain)

Nkolo Ayissi Ernest, Deputy Chairman and Founder
AGAGES Management Consultants (Cameroon)
and National Coordinator
Publish What You Pay-Cameroon (Cameroon)

Sohaila Abdulali, Director of Communications
AIDS-Free World (United States)

Lida M. Núñez, Executive Secretary
Alliance of Social Organizations for Cooperation for Peace and Democracy in Colombia (Colombia)

Dr. Bruno Rakotoarison, Secretary General
Alliance Pour L'Education des Citoyens (Madagascar)

Agnès Callamard, Executive Director
Article 19 (International)

Wong Kai Shing, Executive Director
Asian Legal Resource Center (Hong Kong)

Veridiana Sedeh, Executive Manager
Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo (Brazil)

Fatima Proença, Director
Associação para a Cooperação Entre os Povos (Portugal)

Wesley Gibbings, President
Association of Caribbean MediaWorkers (Trinidad and Tobago)

William Bourdon, President
Association Sherpa (France)

Nabeel Rajab, President
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (Bahrain)

Jeremie D. Smith, Director of the Geneva Office
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (Egypt)

Annie Game, Executive Director
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (Canada)

Robert Russell, Executive Director
Cartoonists Rights Network International (United States)

Ignacio Saiz, Executive Director
Center for Economic and Social Rights (International)

Dr. Robert S. Lawrence, Director
Center for a Livable Future, John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (United States)

Malcolm W. Joseph, Executive Director
Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (Liberia)

Dr. Chris Beyrer, Director
Center for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins University (United States)

Prof. Frans Viljoen, Director
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria (South Africa)

Ileana Alamilla, Director
Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala (Guatemala)

Brisa Maya Solis Ventura, Director
Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social (Mexico)

Bernd Nilles, Secretary General
CIDSE (Belgium)

Agnès Ebo'o, Coordinator
Citizens Governance Initiatives (Cameroon)

Gustavo Gallón, Director
Colombian Commission of Jurists (Colombia)

Hugo Castelli, Publish What You Pay Coordinator
La Comisión de Movimientos Sociales de Iglesia de Base de Madrid (Spain)

Guy Aurenche, President
Comité Catholique Contre la Faim et pour le Développement ‐ Terre Solidaire (France)

Brice Mackosso, Permanent Secretary
Commission Diocésaine Justice et Paix Pointe Noire (Republic of the Congo)

Joel Simon, Executive Director
Committee to Protect Journalists (International)

Modeste Gonda, President
Conseil Inter ONG en Centrafrique (Central African Republic)

Bubelwa Kaiza, Executive Director
Concern for Development Initiatives in Africa (Tanzania)
and Coordinator
Publish What You Pay -Tanzania (Tanzania)
and Coordinator
Tanzania Transparency Forum (Tanzania)

Andrew Feinstein, Founding Director
Corruption Watch (United Kingdom)

Togzhan Kizatova, Chairperson
Demos (Kazakhstan)

Ka Hsaw Wa, Founder and Executive Director
EarthRights International (Thailand and United States)

Tutu Alicante, Executive Director
EG Justice (United States)

Kifle Mulat, President
Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (Ethiopia)

Masako Tsuchiya, Representative of Harmony Productions
FAN3-fan saba (Japan)

Leonie Kiangu, National Coordinator
Femme et Justice Economique (Democratic Republic of Congo)

Emira Woods, Co-Director
Foreign Policy in Focus (United States)

Andrés D´Alessandro, Executive Director
Foro de Periodismo Argentino (Argentina)

Moussa Iboun Conté, President
Forum des Editeurs Guinéens (Republic of Guinea)

Seetha Ranjanee, General Secretary / Acting Convener
Free Media Movement - Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka)

Paula Schriefer, Director of Advocacy
Freedom House (International)

Martine Laplante, President
Friends of the Earth-France (France)

Andrés Morales, Executive Director
Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (Colombia)    

José Julio Martín-Sacristán Núñez, General Director
Fundación Sur (Spain)

Maria Koulouris, Director of the Natural Resources and Human Rights Initiative
Global Rights (International)

Simon Taylor, Director
Global Witness (International)

Javier Azpur, Executive Coordinator
Grupo Propuesta Ciudadana (Peru)

Mila Rosenthal, Executive Director
HealthRight International (International)

Kikue Sugimoto, Program Officer
Human Network Mali (Japan)

Eric Stover, Faculty Director
Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley (United States)

Kazuko Ito, Secretary General
Human Rights Now (Japan)

Kenneth Roth, Executive Director
Human Rights Watch (International)

Anna Ognyanyk, French and English Editor
Institute of Mass Information (Ukraine)

Ricardo Uceda, Executive Director
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (International)

Julio E. Muñoz, Executive Director
Inter American Press Association (International)

Pascal Touoyem, PhD., Director
Interdisciplinary Centre for Development and Human Rights (Cameroon)

Aidan White, General Secretary
International Federation of Journalists (International)

Alison Bethel McKenzie, Interim Director
International Press Institute (International)

Andrew Grant-Thomas, Deputy Director
Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity (United States)

Ernest Mpararo, President     
La Ligue Congolaise de Lutte contre la Corruption (Democratic Republic of the Congo)

Chris Warren, Federal Secretary
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (Australia)

Kwame Karikari, Executive Director
Media Foundation for West Africa (Ghana)

David Makali, Director
The Media Institute (Kenya)

Mamadú Queta, Vice-president
Movimento Nacional da Sociedade Civil para a Paz (Guinea-Bissau)

James A. Goldston, Executive Director
Open Society Justice Initiative (International)

Owais Aslam Ali, General Secretary
Pakistan Press Foundation (Pakistan)

Mousa Rimawi, Director
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (Occupied Palestinian Territories)

Bernard Taylor, Executive Director
Partnership Africa Canada (Canada)

Max M. de Mesa, Chairperson
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (Philippines)

Frank Donaghue, Chief Executive Officer
Physicians for Human Rights (United States)

Marat Tokoev, Chairman
Public Association "Journalists" (Kyrgyzstan)

Christian Mounzeo, President
Rencontre pour la Paix et les Droits de l'Homme (Republic of the Congo)

Jean-François Julliard, General Secretary
Reporters without Borders (International)

Toshiyuki Takabayashi, Chief Researcher
Research Center for Western Sahara Affairs (Japan)

Dr. Alfredo González-Ruibal, Staff Scientist
Spanish National Research Council (Spain)

Caroline Morel, Director
SWISSAID (Switzerland)

Shigemi Yagi, Director
Tama African Center (Japan)

Paul Cook, Advocacy and Media Director
Tearfund (United Kingdom)

Maurice Ouma Odhiambo, Programmes Officer
Ujamaa Center (Kenya)

Ndey Tapha Sosseh, Coordinator of the Capacity Building Project
West African Journalists Association (International)

Steve Buckley, President
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (International)

Christoph Riess, Group Chief Executive
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (International)

Eric Sottas, Secretary General           
World Organisation Against Torture - OMCT (International)

Ronald Koven, European Representative
World Press Freedom Committee (International)

Barbara Nöst, Programme Manager
Zambian Governance Foundation (Zambia)

Prof. Chris Maina Peter, Chairperson of the Board
Zanzibar Legal Services Center (Tanzania)

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