Cablegate: Unesco-Obiang Prize for Life Sciences

DE RUEHFR #0204 0531023
R 221023Z FEB 10



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. In October 2008, UNESCO's Executive Board approved creation of
the UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in
the Life Sciences. The action was controversial. EU members with
support from the United States delegation objected to naming a prize
after a noted human rights violator. Opponents of the move did not
have the support needed to prevail, however. The African Group
which was then under South African chairmanship stood firm, insisted
that the honor of Africa was at stake, and succeeded in turning the
debate into one pitting developed countries against the G-77. The
measure was adopted with France reading an explanation of position
against the measure on behalf of its partners.

2. The issue has not gone away, however. The U.S. and other
Western delegations have for some months been the object of a
letter-writing campaign by human rights groups demanding that action
be taken to rescind the prize. Responding to this pressure, newly
elected Director-General Bokova (Bulgaria) announced shortly after
taking office in November 2009 that she would freeze this and other
prizes pending a review.

3. Bokova told Ambassador Killion February 19 that she had delayed
the matter until at least May of this year (N.B. after the next
meeting of the Executive Board March 30-April 15). She said she had
told African states, who are still strongly supporting Equatorial
Guinea, that UNESCO does not have enough applicants for the prize to
award a winner. (Note: Bokova said she had 14 applications of
which only five are from Africa, a situation that contrasts with
most UNESCO prizes that have 60 or more applicants even when the
purse is much smaller than the $300,000 that is awarded the Obiang
Prize winner. End Note.) Bokova warned the Ambassador, however,
that she cannot delay things forever. "I am in the hands of the
Executive Board," she said. "I cannot ignore a Board decision
forever. I have given time for you to act."

4. Comment: Bokova is absolutely correct. She cannot ignore a
Board decision, nor would we want her to do so. If the U.S.
Government does not approve of this prize, this delegation will have
to work with other like-minded states to have the Board adopt a
decision amending or rescinding it. This could bring the U.S. into
conflict with African states and will obviously be opposed by the
Delegation of Equatorial Guinea. This Delegation would welcome
Department's instructions on whether to proceed to seek Board action
to revoke the prize.


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