Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter today to Irina Bokova, Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), requesting the Executive Board not implement the UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences. Congressman Berman explains in his letter that honoring Teodoro Obiang -- the longtime dictator of Equatorial Guinea -- would represent a deep blow to UNESCO's reputation and credibility because of the well-documented human right abuses Obiang's brutal regime has committed against the people of Equatorial Guinea.
The full text of the letter can be found below.
September 27, 2011
Ms. Irina Bokova
7, place de Fontenoy
75352 Paris 07 SP
Dear Director-General Bukova:
I am writing to express my deep concern over reports that the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) may soon vote on whether to endorse the implementation of the UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences. I strongly believe that a decision by the Executive Board to honor Teodoro Obiang -- the longtime dictator of Equatorial Guinea -- would represent a deep blow to UNESCO's reputation and credibility.
The Obiang regime's 30 year history of corruption, torture, violation of press freedoms and numerous other grave human rights abuses should preclude it from being honored by UNESCO with the establishment of this prize. Last year, after an outcry from human rights activists and many in the United States Congress, the Executive Board took the decision that UNESCO should not lend its name and legitimacy to the government of Equatorial Guinea's blatant attempts to whitewash its authoritarian reputation. There is no compelling reason for the Executive Board to reverse that principled decision.
Reports by credible organizations make clear that the Obiang regime is still responsible for serious and ongoing human rights violations. For example, Amnesty International reported that the regime banned demonstrations, arbitrarily arrested students and political opponents, and ordered news blackouts as it prepared to host the African Union summit this past July. That the UNESCO Executive Board would even consider honoring a dictator responsible for such grievous human rights abuses represents an affront to those who have worked to strengthen the U.S.-UNESCO relationship.
UNESCO's important work promoting international collaboration through education, science, and culture should not be diminished by the Obiang regime's attempts to flagrantly burnish its international standing by sponsoring this prize. I urge you to press the Executive Board not to consider approval of the Obiang Prize and do all you can to ensure the continued integrity of UNESCO's missions and activities.
HOWARD L. BERMAN