A tumultuous and divisive episode at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is set to come to a conclusion tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. in Paris, when the U.N. agency plans to give three researchers an award for the life sciences sponsored by Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the dictator of Equatorial Guinea. A broad coalition of human rights advocates, scientists, and health experts have fought until last week to prevent the ceremony from occurring. They say the award is an attempt by Obiang to buy credibility for his regime, which stands accused of human rights violations.
The winners of the prize are Maged Al-Sherbiny from Egypt, for his research on vaccines and diagnostics against hepatitis C and schistosomiasis; plant scientist Felix Dapare Dakora from Tshwane University of Technology, Pretoria, in South Africa for his work on legumes and soil bacteria; and Rossana Arroyo of the Centre for Research and Advanced Studies of Mexico's National Polytechnic Institute, who studies trichomoniasis, a parasitic disease.
Al-Sherbiny and Dakora plan to attend the award ceremony and are already in Paris, a UNESCO spokesperson says; Arroyo is scheduled to arrive tomorrow. Whether Obiang will be present was still uncertain today, the spokesperson says. Just last Friday, a French court issued an arrest warrant for Obiang's son Teodorin, who's suspected of money laundering and embezzlement. It's also unclear whether UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, who opposed the award, will attend. "She will make the decision herself tomorrow," says the spokesperson.