[Washington Babylon ]Pay-to-Play at UNESCO | Harper's Magazine

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[Washington Babylon]

Pay-to-Play at UNESCO


Is there a slimier United Nations department then UNESCO? In 2006, UNESCO awarded Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov with a medal for preserving Uzbekistan’s cultural heritage. Human Rights Watch said that UNESCO’s decision to honor Karimov was “a bad joke,” “absolutely scandalous,” and “incomprehensible in the face of his government’s serious violations of human rights.” Those violations include the death of one prisoner who was tortured, among other ways by having boiling water poured over his body.

A few years before that, Angola named an international arms dealer, Pierre Falcone, as its ambassador to UNESCO, which allowed him to claim diplomatic immunity and avoid prosecution (until recently) in France.

Now I see that UNESCO has established the UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences, which is named for the dictator of Equatorial Guinea, who funded the award to the tune of $3 million. “The purpose of this Prize is to reward the projects and activities of an individual, individuals, institutions, other entities or non-governmental organizations for scientific research in the life sciences leading to improving the quality of human life.”

That’s ironic, to put it mildly, since Obiang is best known for stealing hundreds of millions of dollars in oil revenues from his country’s treasury and crushing his political opponents. Meanwhile, his own people continue to live in misery, and the Obiang government spends virtually nothing on health care, education, or housing.

What’s next? The UNESCO-Saudi award for religious freedom? Or the UNESCO-North Korean medal for free and fair elections?

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