Equatorial Guinea today called for a United Nations life sciences prize it has offered to sponsor to go into effect immediately, saying the current deferral is only occurring because the award is the initiative of an African leader.
Pastor Micha Ondo Bile, Foreign Minister of Equatorial Guinea, told the General Assembly’s annual high-level debate that the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is obliged to proceed with the awarding of the prize.
The UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences, named after the President of Equatorial Guinea, was created in 2008 and aims to reward the projects and activities of individuals, institutions or other entities for research that improves the quality of human life.
The prize is designed to be an annual accolade, with up to three laureates chosen each year and granted $300,000 between them, and focuses on efforts to find remedies or solutions to major illnesses and pandemics.
But representatives of some countries have accused the Government of Mr. Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power since 1979, of widespread human rights abuses and said UNESCO should not agree to award such a prize.
In June, UNESCO’s Executive Board endorsed a proposal from the agency’s Director-General Irina Bokova to defer awarding the prize while consultations continue with all concerned parties. The board is expected to consider the issue at its next meeting, scheduled for October.
Mr. Micha Ondo Bile described the situation as “unprecedented and therefore disturbing” and said some NGOs were being racist.
“We ask ourselves if science, the continent or the borders have colours. If the ones that gave their contribution or shall contribute to the progress of science shall only come from personalities of selected continents or from perfect people,” he said.
“And, if it is the case, who are these saints who have reserved themselves the exclusive right to the promotion of the life of other people? And why do these saints allow that each year more than 20 million African people die from AIDS, paludism [malaria] or other endemic diseases?”
He said it was especially disturbing because the prize had such potential to lessen the suffering of people worldwide, and particularly in Africa.