The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will reconsider awarding a controversial life sciences prize funded by the president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang, in an editorial board meeting to be held next week in Paris.
UNESCO pulled the plug on the prize last year after a successful campaign by human rights groups that condemned the organization for burnishing “the unsavory reputation of a dictator,” as human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu put it in a letter to UNESCO on June 2010. Not only has Obiang’s government been accused of human rights violations, corruption, and rigging elections, but the $3 million-a-year for five years that Obiang has pledged for the prize is said to be money stolen from state funds, according to New Science Journalism.
In response to the criticism, President Obiang told ScienceInsider in a written statement: “The Government of Equatorial Guinea understands that it is far from perfect and that it still has a great deal of work to do to further improve the lives of its people. The UNESCO prize is a part of that work.”
Despite the controversy, the African Union has decided to back the prize this year at a meeting held in Equatorial Guinea in June, noting that the prize would be the first African program prize in the history of UNESCO with objectives of reinforcing the life sciences in Africa. UNESCO remains undecided, but plans to discuss the prize at the Paris meeting next week.