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Controversial science prize back on UNESCO’s agenda

Should an African dictator whose regime is widely viewed as corrupt and repressive be allowed to sponsor a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) science award? The Paris-based organization thought it had dismissed this question last year, but the dictator in question — who just happens also to be chair of the African Union — is refusing to take no for an answer.

Last October, the UNESCO executive board avoided accepting funds for a life-sciences prize supported by Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equatorial Guinea, by agreeing not to give out any money “until a consensus [was] reached” among delegate nations.

This diplomatic phrasing, amounting to an indefinite suspension, came after much lobbying and protest by horrified human-rights organizations (see ‘UNESCO puts controversial science award on ice’).

A year later, Obiang has got the question of his prize back into the spotlight. The African Union produced a resolution in June calling on UNESCO to reinstate the prize. (The New York-based Open Society Justice Initiative provides more details on the buildup to this.) That resolution is attached to an item in the provisional agenda of the UNESCO executive board’s meeting next week.

It’s not clear that anything will happen: one would hardly expect that UNESCO’s non-African delegate nations or its director-general Irina Bokova would change their stance on the matter. But the issue is slated for discussion on 29 or 30 September.


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