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In the face of intense pressure from human rights and advocacy groups and a barrage of bad publicity, the lunkheads who run UNESCO are apparently reconsidering their decision to allow a corrupt dictator to endow a prize in his own name. The story involves Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has ruled oil-rich Equatorial Guinea since 1979 and who has stolen just about every penny in the national treasury since then. He wants to give UNESCO $3 million to create the “Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences.”
Outside of UNESCO, the prize is a joke. In a May 20 letter to Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director general, Senator Patrick Leahy wrote: “I am concerned that by sponsoring this prize, UNESCO is associating itself with a dictator who has spent thirty years doing little more than consolidating his power and enriching himself and his family. It seems highly likely that the $3 million donated to UNESCO by President Obiang for the Obiang International Prize came from corruption, kickbacks or other theft from the public treasury.”
The Economist suggested that other international agencies follow suit, proposing the creation of the World Food Program “Robert Mugabe award for agricultural productivity,” the World Health Organization “Silvio Berlusconi medal in sex education,” and the International Atomic Energy Agency “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prize for the peaceful sponsorship of nuclear power.”
A group of scientists, public health organizations, and professionals called on UNESCO to abolish the prize, saying, “We believe the most perfunctory examination of President Obiang’s record on human rights and meeting the needs of the people makes it clear that he is cynically attempting to use UNESCO to legitimize his abusive regime.” A coalition whose members range from Human Rights Watch to EG Justice suggested that “the $3 million that UNESCO has accepted from President Obiang to be applied to the education and welfare of Equatoguineans, rather than the glorification of their president. We respectfully propose that these funds be used to provide rudimentary educational supplies for primary schools and to address other long neglected needs in Equatorial Guinea.”
I’ve been told that following recent urgent meetings in Paris, Bokova has decided to raise the matter at a June 15 “informational meeting” of the organization’s Executive Board. It appears that Bokova might be ready to back away from the prize — “The Director-General has expressed her serious concern over UNESCO’s prestige and has urged Member States to live up to their responsibilities and discuss the future of the prize,” reads press guidance that UNESCO HQ in Paris sent to the agency’s New York office a few days ago. But one source told me that despite the public flogging UNESCO is taking, Bokova will approve the prize unless the Board gives her clear guidance to do otherwise.
The Obama administration (and some European governments) have opposed the prize behind-the-scenes, but the U.S. hasn’t taken a public stance on the matter since objecting to the original decision to create it back in late-2008. If the U.S. and other governments don’t take more aggressive action before June 15, UNESCO will likely move forward with this travesty and confirm its reputation as an agency that sells itself to the highest bidder.
(Note: For those following this story, see the excellent coverage at the Turtle Bay blog.)
More from Ken Silverstein:
Commentary — November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm
The Clintons’ so-called charitable enterprise has served as a vehicle to launder money and to enrich family friends.
Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.
The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.
Number of Turkish college students detained in the last year for requesting Kurdish-language classes:
Turkey was funding a search for Suleiman the Magnificent’s heart.
A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”