View Full Version : Controversial UNESCO Prize Delayed.

06-05-2010, 06:03 AM

PARIS—UNESCO has halted preparations for a controversial $300,000 award in the life sciences named after Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the dictator of Equatorial Guinea, until after an Executive Board meeting in 10 days. That meeting may be the last chance for member states opposing the prize to speak up and stop the plan, human rights organizations say.

The jury for the Obiang prize has already made its choice, and on its Web site, UNESCO still says that it will be awarded "towards the end of June." But human rights activists, public health experts, and scientists have put pressure on the agency to reverse course, and in a recent statement, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova expressed "serious concerns over UNESCO's prestige" should the plan go through.

The decision, however, rests with the Executive Board, which approved the award in 2008. Many western countries oppose it, but they did not speak out during an April board meeting, apparently so as not to rock the boat. The African bloc, loath to be lectured about moral issues by western countries, has so far unanimously supported the prize.

Activists are now lobbying the 58 countries that sit on the board to speak out on 15 June-—including the 13 African nations, says Lisa Misol, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch in New York City. "Not all Africans support this award," she says. Several compromises have been floated behind the scenes, such as naming the prize after an uncontroversial African statesperson or a scientist. But UNESCO also needs to return the $3 million that the Obiang Nguema Mbasogo Foundation has donated to finance the award, says Misol: "Renaming the prize but keeping the money isn't enough."