Cano laureates say no to UNESCO Obiang prize

By Joel Simon/Executive Director on June 11, 2010 10:27 AM ET

Cano winner Lydia Cacho signed a letter protesting the prize. (CPJ)Each year, UNESCO honors a courageous international journalist with the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, named in honor of the Colombian editor murdered in 1986 by the Medellín Cartel. The prize is chosen by an independent jury and over the years I've attended several moving ceremonies in which some of the most daring journalists of our generation have been honored. 

I have been inspired to see journalists like Geoffrey Nyarota from Zimbabwe and Raúl Rivero from Cuba receive their due. But the Cano prize is also an opportunity for UNESCO, the Paris-based U.N. agency created to promote culture, science, and education, to burnish its own image.

But that image is threatened by a plan to create a new prize for research in the life sciences named in honor of one of Africa's most notorious press freedom abusers--President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea. Last month, CPJ and 29 other press freedom organizations sent a letter to Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, outlining Equatorial Guinea's abysmal press freedom record and urging her to oppose the prize, which was authorized by UNESCO's 58-member executive council.

The fate of the prize is expected to be determined at a special meeting of UNESCO in Paris on June 15. Today, Cano laureates, including Moníca González from Chile, Lydia Cacho from Mexico, Nizar Nayyouf from Syria, Cheng Yizhong from China, plus Nyarota and Rivero, wrote to Bokova urging her to oppose the prize. The letter, below, speaks for itself (click to read PDFs in English, Spanish, and French). An organization whose mandate is to promote freedom of expression cannot also give a prize named in honor of one the world's worst abusers. 

Letter in English

Letter in Spanish

Letter in French


I am really outraged with the way UNESCO has allowed hypocrites to influence its decision on dropping MR Obiang Nguema Mbasogo science award. "The prize was created to find cures that preserve human lifes, there are diseases that people say they are incurable today, but I think no disease is incurable as is the case with HIV Aids, the scientist who discover the disease must also be able to find a cure for it, that is why we have allocated significant funding s for this price ,for scientists to conduct studies and so they have the resources they need to find cure for those diseases. The purpose of the price is to find scientific remedies that will preserve human life"We all know that Equatorial Guinea has made tremendous strides in all 15 years of them discovering oil. They have a high literacy rate and E.G President has fought hard to put his country on the map of the world, from being the poor relation of the Central Africa region...the country has now become a leading player in sub-saharan Africa, with it holding 50% of the BEAC Bank. What is wrong with him wanting to save life, and eradicate Aids. Aids knows no discrimination, nor does it chose who to attack... Therefore, why should he be vilified because he has decided to bring his participation to the scientific community. Mr Obiang has been accused of not tackling the problem of Hiv-Aids in his country, now that he is giving $3.000000 dollars to aid research is again seen as an attempt from him to sell himself. How contradictory is this! People are claiming that he is someone who does not respect human rights, I am asking Graca Machel if those people living in township with Aids would not welcome a cure to their plague, who is committing human rights violation? the people sleeping with babies in South Africa to cure themselves of Aids or someone wanting to dedicate time, effort and resources to find a cure...
The business of Aids is not only for Americans or Europeans to capitalize only, the different between all these hypocrites and president Obiang is that he puts his money where his mouth is. Had it been an hollywood star or a European president's wife people will find it legitimate. But the truth of the matter is, the cleavage between North and South is still very wide, therefore all these supposingly human rights activists do not want to recognize that something meaningful can come from Africa, so they hid behind nonsense such as dictatorship, lack of human rights and corruption, to undermine any good will emerging from Africa. Because they still live in colonial times. They think President Obiang should beg for their permission to want to help his people. When Macias Nguema was in power, he used to torture and kill people, nobody ever said anything. E.G was not a rich country. UNESCO has shown that they are just another manipulated organisation easily swayed by political motivated antagonism. We have witnessed countries such as China, Libya, Russia getting prices out there, they were considered as evil and now they are celebrated... Frederick De klerk received a nobel prize although he conducted an apartheid regime... him allowing nelson mandela out, does not take away the wickedness they inflicted on black South African. Please stop this vilification... This is all political manipulation and power struggle. When Nigerians such as Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe join to sign petitions against President Obiang, they have to remember about their own Delta, with the oil company that have been there for more than 40 years and still do not benefit the people from the delta state.

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