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Equatorial Guinea: Oil but No Rights, 2

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Feb 1, 2011 (110201)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Obiang's eldest son, Teodorin, bought a $35 million property in California in 2006. In 2004, he spent about $8.45 million for mansions and luxury cars in South Africa. His only known income was a $4,000 monthly salary as a government minister. His $43.45 million in spending on his lavish lifestyle from 2004 to 2006 was more than the $43 million the government spent on education in 2005." - Human Rights Watch

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains excerpts from a report on economic and social rights in Equatorial Guinea, by the Center for Economic and Social Rights, and the press release for a comprehensive 2009 report from Human Rights Watch on Equatorial Guinea.

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out by e-mail today, and available on the web at, contains the country summary on Equatorial Guinea from the Human Rights Watch World Report 2011, and excerpts from a December 2010 article by Abena Ampofoa Asare in Foreign Policy in Focus, on President Obiang's strategies for promising reform and evading international criticism.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Equatorial Guinea, and other related links, see

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note++++++++++++++++++++

Equatorial Guinea

Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) individual submission to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the occasion of the sixth session of the Universal Periodic Review December 2009

A selective submission on compliance with economic, social and cultural rights obligations

Center for Economic and Social Rights

[Excerpts. Full report with footnotes available on]

I Introduction

1. The Center for Economic and Social Rights (an ECOSOC accredited nongovernmental organization) hereby contributes this individual submission to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the occasion of the Universal Periodic Review of Equatorial Guinea's fulfillment of its human rights obligations.

2. This submission focuses in particular on Equatorial Guinea's compliance with its obligations in relation to the fulfillment and realization of economic, social and cultural rights (ESC rights). It presents and analyzes key indicators relating to the enjoyment of the rights to health, education, food, water and housing, as well as selected indicators of state policy efforts. The analysis highlights key areas of apparent noncompliance by the state of Equatorial Guinea with the principles of progressive realization according to maximum available resources, prioritization of minimum core obligations and the duty of non-discrimination.

This submission is based on the most accurate and up-to-date data available from both national statistical sources and international organizations, particularly the World Bank and UNICEF. It should be noted that the last comprehensive national household survey was carried out in 2000 and that no reliable national census has been conducted since 1994. The lack of up-to-date official data on key indicators relevant to ESC rights is itself a key concern which raises questions about the political will to address the economic and social rights situation in the country.

II Key concerns regarding economic and social rights

i) Progressive Realization of Rights According to the Maximum Available Resources

4. Equatorial Guinea has become the richest country in Sub-Saharan Africa, but the majority of its people remain extremely poor and retrogression in the realization of the rights to food, health and education is apparent. Since the discovery of oil and natural gas reserves in the 1990s, Equatorial Guinea has become the richest country in Sub-Saharan Africa, in terms of GDP per capita, which is now over US$26,000. Yet almost two-thirds of Equatoguineans still live on less than US$1 a day, insufficient to meet their minimum calorie requirements and basic non-food needs and compromising their right to food. Rather than improving economic and social rights outcomes, the country's increased wealth has instead been accompanied by a retrogression in the realization of the rights to health and to education, especially for the country's children.

Child survival is threatened as infant and child survival rates deteriorate. Between 1990 and 2006, the number of infants who survived their first year fell from 897 per 1,000 live births to 876 and the under-5 survival rate fell from 830 to 794. This suggests a retrogression even in the context of rising resources. A retrogression in the realization of the right to education is also evident, with a drop in the proportion of children receiving basic primary education, as primary school enrollment fell from 93.1% in 2001 to 87.1% in 2003.

5. Low government expenditures indicate a failure to invest the 'maximum of available resources' to realize economic and social rights and to meet core obligations regarding the rights to education and health. Levels of public expenditure on health and on education are much lower than the average expenditure of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2004, public expenditure on health made up 7% and on education 4% of total government expenditure, - much lower than the regional average of 10%
and 17% respectively.

Despite the constitutional promise of free basic education, government budget allocation to education is well below the regional average and insufficient to ensure universal access to primary education. Equatorial Guinea devotes one of the lowest proportions of total education expenditure on primary education of all countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (only 26.8%, whereas the average for all Sub-Saharan African countries is 46%), despite a rate of less than 60% of pupils finishing primary education. This suggests that the state is not giving priority to the minimum core obligation to ensure that its citizens achieve at least a primary education.

6. The lack of transparency in government revenues and expenditure heightens concerns that corruption is diverting resources away from economic and social rights fulfillment.

The distribution of oil wealth is reportedly considered a "state secret." Numerous studies and several corruption investigations outside Equatorial Guinea have documented the alleged misappropriation of billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues by the ruling family with the collusion of foreign companies, including the documented diversion into secret bank accounts of at least $2.1 billion. There is also a clear lack of transparency in the government budget - according to the Open Budget Initiative of the International Budget Partnership, Equatorial Guinea scored 0 on the 2008 Open Budget Index and is one of the few countries in the world that did not publish its 2008 annual budget after approval by the legislature (along with China, Saudi Arabia and Sudan).

ii) The Right to Health

7. An apparent retrogression in the realization of the right to health of women and children appears linked to inadequate provision of child and maternal health care services. Equatorial Guinea now has a higher child mortality rate than four of SubSaharan Africa's poorest countries, with the number of children dying before they reach age five increasing significantly between 1990 and 2006 (from 170 to 206 children out of
1,000 live births). Equatorial Guinea also has the highest infant mortality rate of its region (124 per 1,000 live births) as well as high maternal mortality rates - both of which appear to be related to the lack of reproductive health services. Only 65% of women receive skilled assistance from a qualified health professional when giving birth, even though this assistance is key to ensuring both maternal and infant survival. This raises
serious concerns about the government's commitment to make adequate services essential for the health and survival of women and children available and accessible.

8. Most child deaths are due to diseases that are preventable and treatable, but access to preventive measures or treatment appears woefully inadequate. Malaria, which is both preventable and treatable, is a leading cause of child death, causing about 38% of infant deaths11 and 24% of under-5 deaths (compared to an average of 16% in Sub-Saharan Africa). About 98% of Equatoguineans live in areas with endemic risk of malaria, but only 1% of children under- sleep under insecticide-treated nets, far less than in other countries with similar malaria risk (in comparison Guinea-Bissau's population also lives predominantly in areas with endemic risk, but has an insecticide-treated net coverage of 39%). ...

iii) The Right to Education

9. Less than 60% of EquatoGuineans finish primary school, suggesting that Equatorial Guinea is not meeting its minimum core obligation to ensure a basic level of education for its citizens. ...

v) The Right to Water and Sanitation

11. Despite having the highest GDP per capita in Sub-Saharan Africa, less than half the population has access to safe water and only just over half has access to adequate sanitation. Less than half (45%) of Equatoguineans living in urban areas have access to an improved water source, which is the lowest proportion of any urban dwellers in all Sub-Saharan Africa, where the average is 85%. In rural areas, only 41% of the
population has access to safe water. ...

III Conclusions and Recommendations

12. Despite having the highest GDP per capita in the region, Equatorial Guinea is failing to meet the requirements to use "the maximum of available resources" to realize ESC rights, as required under Article 2(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The exploitation of the country's natural resources has brought great wealth and economic growth, yet the benefits are not being enjoyed by the majority of the population, two-thirds of which continue to live in extreme poverty with barely enough to eat. This demands that the government of Equatorial Guinea be fully held to account for its use and distribution of the country's wealth.


Equatorial Guinea: Account for Oil Wealth

Human Rights Watch

Here is a country where people should have the per capita wealth of Spain or Italy, but instead they live in conditions comparable to Chad or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Arvind Ganesan, director of the Business and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch

July 9, 2009

(Madrid)- The government of Equatorial Guinea has set new low standards of political and economic malfeasance in handling its billions of dollars in oil revenue instead of improving the lives of its citizens, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 107-page report, "Well Oiled: Oil and Human Rights in Equatorial Guinea," details how the dictatorship under President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has used an oil boom to entrench and enrich itself further at the expense of the country's people. Since oil was discovered there in the early 1990s, Equatorial Guinea's gross domestic product (GDP) has increased more than 5,000 percent, and the country has become the fourth-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time, living standards for the country's 500,000 people have not substantially improved.

"Here is a country where people should have the per capita wealth of Spain or Italy, but instead they live in conditions comparable to Chad or the Democratic Republic of the Congo,"* said Arvind Ganesan, director of the Business and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "This is a testament to the government's corruption, mismanagement, and callousness toward its own people."

For example, infant and child mortality actually increased from an already-dismal 103 deaths per thousand in 1990 to 124 per thousand in 2007. Similarly, under-5 mortality rates increased from 170 per thousand in 1990 to 206 per thousand in 2007. The government's failure to provide basic social services violates its obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Human Rights Watch said.

The country has had a series of corruption scandals involving government officials and their families. In 2004, a US Senate investigation into the country's dealings with the now-defunct Riggs Bank detailed how President Obiang used the country's oil wealth to finance numerous personal transactions, including spending $3.8 million to buy two mansions in a suburb of Washington, DC. That investigation led to one of the largest fines against a bank in US history, and ultimately the bank's takeover.

Obiang's eldest son, Teodorin, bought a $35 million property in California in 2006. In 2004, he spent about $8.45 million for mansions and luxury cars in South Africa. His only known income was a $4,000 monthly salary as a government minister. His $43.45 million in spending on his lavish lifestyle from 2004 to 2006 was more than the $43 million the government spent on education in 2005.

The people of Equatorial Guinea have no ability to hold their government accountable. The government severely curtails press freedom and independent civil society, and the political opposition is weak and faces constant government harassment, intimidation, and arrests.

Obiang has been in power since 1979, when he deposed his uncle in a coup. His uncle, Francisco Mac¡as Nguema, took control of the country when it gained independence from Spain in 1969. His rule was brutal and, by the time his nephew overthrew him, as much as a third of the population had been killed or exiled. In the most recent parliamentary elections in May 2008, Obiang and his allies won 99 out of 100 seats.

"Obiang controls the oil, the government, and the country," Ganesan said. "Without meaningful international pressure, the immense wealth of Equatorial Guinea will continue to be a private cash machine for a few instead of the means to improving the lives of many."

The bulk of investment in the country's oil industry comes from US-based oil companies such as Exxon Mobil, Marathon Oil, Amerada Hess, and Vanco Energy. The significant interests of US companies have also meant that the US government is a key interlocutor with the government of Equatorial Guinea, along with Spain. Under the Bush administration, relations with Equatorial Guinea warmed, despite the Riggs Bank corruption scandal and ongoing human rights violations. For example, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice publicly told Obiang during a 2006 visit to Washington: "You are a good friend, and we welcome you."

"The Obama administration should take a different approach than its predecessor," said Ganesan. "Instead of ignoring corruption and human rights in favor of energy interests, it can make it clear that good governance and respect for human rights is essential for energy security."

The international community may be in a good position to push for change because the government has joined the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an effort to make natural resources benefit everyone by setting a global standard for openness in oil, gas, and mining. However, Human Rights Watch has serious concerns that the government may not be fully committed to it because it still has not guaranteed that civil society can operate freely in the country and has been very slow to implement the initiative's standards.

"This is a key test for the government," Ganesan said. "But it is also a test for the credibility of the initiative, which risks just endorsing a slightly more transparent dictatorship."

Human Rights Watch called on the government of Equatorial Guinea to carry out policies for complete public disclosure of how it manages its oil wealth, including: making its budgets public; identifying all of the government's foreign bank accounts; implementing the law that requires government officials to declare their assets, and verifying those declarations; and conducting an audit of government accounts and making those results public.

Human Rights Watch called on foreign governments such as the US and Spain to: put concerted pressure on the government to improve human rights; deny visas to the country's officials who have been implicated in corruption; and identify any assets held by those officials in their countries, with the intent of seizing the proceeds of corruption and eventually returning them to the people of Equatorial Guinea.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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