Washington Babylon — June 15, 2010, 10:08 am

UNESCO Tables Grotesque Obiang “Prize”

In the face of a huge international uproar, I’m told UNESCO has decided today not to allow itself to be used (at least for the time being) by Teodoro Obiang, the dictator of Equatorial Guinea, who wanted to endow a prize in his honor.

The U.S. finally came out against the prize yesterday. Here is a statement issued today by the U.S. mission to UNESCO:

The damage being done to UNESCO’s reputation is serious. Numerous human rights organizations, the international scientific community, former UNESCO Prize recipients, and Members of the United States Congress are calling the credibility of UNESCO into question.

As you know, U.S. Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Sub-Committee responsible for appropriating money to the State Department for UNESCO wrote to you in protest. Media freedom groups are united in their concern that UNESCO’s association with the Obiang Prize will undermine its ability to promote freedom of expression. These groups are usually supporters of UNESCO. There is a real risk that this organization could find itself friendless.

Gavin Hayman of Global Witness, one of the groups that has been working to oppose the prize, alerted me to this statement that came from Irina Bokova, the head of UNESCO:

“I have heard the voices of the many intellectuals, scientists, journalists and of course governments and parliamentarians who have appealed to me to protect and preserve the prestige of the organization,” Irina Bokova told the Board. “I have come to you with a strong message of alarm and anxiety. I am fully aware that the Executive Board made a decision two years ago (to establish the prize), but I believe that given the changing circumstances and the unprecedented developments of the past months, we must be courageous and recognize our responsibilities for it is our organization that is at stake. Therefore I will not set a date for awarding the UNESCO-Obiang Prize for the Life Sciences.”

From what I understand, Equatorial Guinea has had little support during the controversy, save for a few African countries (like the Democratic Republic of Congo, quite the role model). The U.S. and the European Union came out against the award, as did a number of major countries from Latin America and Asia. It was not a North-South split, as some had feared.

Still, it remains to be seen what UNESCO will do down the road and if the “consultations” it is calling for will allow Obiang to get his prize later. For now, it’s a big victory for the coalition that came together to oppose the prize and an embarrassing black eye for the Obiang regime.

Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada



September 2014

Israel and Palestine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Washington Is Burning

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On Free Will

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

They Were Awake

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content


Arab artists take up — and look past — regional politics
“When everyday life regularly throws up images of terror and drama and the technological sublime, how can a photographer compete?”
“Qalandia 2087, 2009,” by Wafa Hourani
“There was torture by the previous regime and by the current Iraqi regime,” Dr. Amin said. “Torture by our Kurdish government, torture by Syrians, torture by the U.S.”
Visiting His Own Grave © Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
The Tale of the Tape·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Heroin isn’t the weakness Art Pepper submits to; it’s the passion he revels in.”
Photograph (detail) © Laurie Pepper
The Soft-Kill Solution·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Policymakers, recognizing the growing influence of civil disobedience and riots on the direction of the nation, had already begun turning to science for a response."
Illustration by Richard Mia
New Books
New Books·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Almond insists that watching football does more than feed an appetite for violence. It’s a kind of modern-day human sacrifice, and it makes us more likely to go to war.”
Photograph by Harold Edgerton

Chance that a movie script copyrighted in the U.S. before 1925 was written by a woman:

1 in 2

Engineers funded by the United States military were working on electrical brain implants that will enable the creation of remote-controlled sharks.

Malaysian police were seeking fifteen people who appeared in an online video of the Malaysia-International Nude Sports Games 2014 Extravaganza, and Spanish police fined six Swiss tourists conducting an orgy in the back of a moving van for not wearing their seatbelts.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!


In Praise of Idleness


I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today