Equatorial Guinea tests Obama vow to hold African leaders accountable
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo – who today pardoned British mercenary Simon Mann – is widely seen as one of Africa's most corrupt leaders. But will oil interests prevent a shift in US policy?
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United Nations investigations in 2007 and 2008 reported human rights abuses including secret detentions, kidnappings of opposition leaders in neighboring countries, political prisoners being held incommunicado for years at a time, and torture being used to extract confessions. According to Human Rights Watch, some prisoners they visited had been tied with rope and hung from bars with their wrists, ankles, and shoulders often dislocated as a result.Skip to next paragraph
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Government: Order more important than rights
Vice President of the National Commission for Human Rights Carmelo Mocong says the government does respect human rights, just in its own way.
"We have signed four international accords on human rights and we are obligated to respect those," Mr. Mocong said from a sparse government building that he shares with one secretary. "What we don't want to accept is a decree from certain countries saying Equatorial Guinea is violating human rights and this and that and so on. There is no unique formula."
Obiang has said that he has kept the country peaceful and orderly. He says the country is developing both its economy and democracy, and that it's better to do this deliberately, rather than risk chaos and civil war.
In 2008 legislative elections, the president's party won 99 out of 100 seats, amid accusations of fraud and intimidation. In one case reported by human rights organizations, a member of a banned opposition party was arrested in the lead up to the election and later found dead in his prison cell. Officials labeled it a suicide, saying the man had plunged to his death by jumping off the top of a bunk bed and fracturing his own skull. The government refused appeals from the man's lawyer for an investigation.
Oil: A blessing and a curse?
Since discovery of oil in the 1990s, the GDP per capita has shot up to more than $39,000 a year according to some economists, which is on par with Italy and Spain. But Human Rights Watch says this is because of a huge imbalance between the few who are very close to the president – and are getting extremely rich – and the rest of the population, which is getting little oil benefit.
From 2004 to 2006, Obiang's son is reported to have spent $43.45 million on luxury cars and mansions, while the total education budget for the country in 2005 was $43 million.
Unusual transfers of large sums of money tied to the Obiang family also led to a 2004 US Senate sub-committee investigation into the Washington-based Riggs Bank where the family had held balances of up to $500 million.
The investigation found that millions of dollars in cash had been brought into the bank in plastic wrap and suitcases to be deposited into the Obiang accounts with few questions asked, according to the Department of Justice records. Riggs pled guilty for failure to report suspicious transactions involving the government of Equatorial Guinea as well as former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and was fined $16 million, the largest penalty ever levied under the Bank Secrecy Act.