Obiang Addresses UNESCO Prize Controversy

7 June 2010 6:03 pm

In a video posted today on Youtube, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea talks about the controversial life sciences prize named after him that UNESCO is slated to award soon. Obiang speaks of his hopes that scientists will find therapies for diseases, such as AIDS, that are currently seen as incurable. But he does not directly address human rights organizations' opposition to the award.

However, the president did acknowledge the controversy in a written statement, sent to ScienceInsider today by Qorvis Communications, a Washington, D.C.–based PR company reportedly paid $55,000 per month to represent him.

It quoted Obiang as saying:

The opposition to this prize is not because the award is not positive, it's simply because the international community does not want to advocate on behalf of 'President Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea'. But they have no reason to oppose the prize. We created the award with the goal of preserving human life. ...

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.

In the statement, Obiang appears to suggest that laureates will have to funnel the award money back into their research. "We have allocated significant funding for this prize in order for scientists to conduct studies and so they have the resources they need to find cures," he says. But actually, neither the prize's statutes nor its guidelines stipulate that the funds—$300,000, to be shared by up to three persons or institutions—is to be spent on science.

UNESCO's 58-member Executive Board is expected to discuss the issue again during a meeting on 15 June, and could yet decide to abandon the prize.