Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Decision Time at UNESCO"

There is an important Special Report in The American Spectator by Louise Oliver, the former U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO. The article summarizes the controversy over the proposed "UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences." While the UNESCO Executive Board agreed to accept a donation from Equatorial Guinea to fund a major prize, the decision was opposed by several members during the debate (including by Ambassador Oliver who at the time was on the Executive Board), and was greeted by an outpouring of criticism by non-governmental organizations and others who felt that UNESCO should not honor "Obiang, the president of Equatorial Guinea, (who) is thought to be one of the most corrupt dictators in Africa" by attaching his name to a UNESCO prize. (See for example this posting by the Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.) Director General Bokova suspended the award earlier this year, requesting that the Executive Board reconsider its decision. The Board is about to meet with the opportunity to do so.

Ambassador Oliver concludes:
If the Executive Board is serious about using prizes to enhance UNESCO's visibility and prestige, it must reverse its earlier decision and reject the Obiang prize. It should also encourage Equatorial Guinea to spend the $3 million it has allocated for the prize on improving the lives of the suffering people in its own country -- which ranks near the bottom of the UN human development report, and where 20 percent of the children die before reaching the age of five. 
Ms. Bokova is right: UNESCO's reputation is on the line. If the Executive Board does not reject the prize at its October meeting, it will forfeit the respect of the international community. This should be an easy one, but the Executive Board's tradition of consensus and collegiality will make taking a principled stand difficult. Will they do it? Don't hold your breath.

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