March 8, 2012
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UNESCO's Executive Board voted today to approve a renamed UNESCO prize sponsored and funded by President Obiang.

On March 8, UNESCO’s Executive Board voted to approve a renamed prize for “research in the life sciences” sponsored and funded by President Obiang and the government of Equatorial Guinea.

The Executive Board vote was deeply divided with 33 countries voting in favor of the renamed prize, 18 against, with 6 abstentions. Four representatives of civil society groups opposing the prize - Tutu Alicante of EG Justice, Lisa Misol of Human Rights Watch, Ronald Koven of the World Press Freedom Committee, and Andrew Feinstein of Corruption Watch – were scheduled to speak at the meeting, but proponents of the prize moved to close debate on the issue to prevent further dialogue before voting. One of UNESCO’s stated objectives is, “promoting the free flow of ideas and universal access to information.”

In November 2011, President Obiang proposed removing his name from the controversial UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize, following the defeat of a bid to reinstate the prize at UNESCO’s fall session.

Opponents of the prize, however, did not find the new name an acceptable solution. African press freedom groups, U.S. faith leaders, and civil society organizations sent letters to UNESCO, calling for the prize to be cancelled. Dr. Wenceslao Mansogo, an Equatoguinean doctor and prisoner of conscience, also sent a letter to the Executive Board from his jail cell, urging them to, “closely analyze the record of the Obiang government and carefully weigh the wisdom of honoring President Obiang with a prize for “research in the life sciences” when the actions of his government consistently contradict that endeavor.”

During UNESCO’s executive board session, delegates approved changing the name of the prize to the “UNESCO-Equatorial Guinea Prize.”

Shortly after the vote, UNESCO’s Director General Irina Bokova expressed her grave concern over the divided vote and the board’s decision to risk damaging UNESCO reputation by approving the controversial prize.

Despite the Executive Board vote, the prize may still not be implemented. On March 2, UNESCO’s Legal Office issued an opinion stating that the prize could no longer be implemented because of an inconsistency between the stated donor and the actual donor of the prize funds. According to the prize’s original statutes, the $3 million prize money was donated by the Obiang Foundation, but the government of Equatorial Guinea informed UNESCO in February 2012 that prize money came instead from the public treasury of Equatorial Guinea. The Director General has stated that she will seek further legal counsel if the board affirms its vote during a plenary session to take place on Friday, March 9.

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