By MAÏA de la BAUME
PARIS — The Unesco executive board announced on Tuesday that it would delay awarding the international prize for Research in the Life Sciences, which has been widely criticized for being financed by one of Africa’s most infamous dictators.
The prize was to honor scientific achievements that “improve the quality of human life.”
But officials from Unesco — the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — said the controversy over a prize financed by and named for President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea had undermined the organization’s credibility.
“I have come to you with a strong message of alarm and anxiety,” said Unesco’s director general, Irina Bokova, in a news release after a meeting with the agency’s executive board on Tuesday.
“I believe that given the changing circumstances and the unprecedented developments of the past months, we must be courageous and recognize our responsibilities, for it is our organization that is at stake.”
Mrs. Bokova said that while she would not a set a date for awarding the “Unesco-Obiang” Prize, consultations would continue “in a spirit of mutual respect and dignity” until the next session of the executive board in October.
The Unesco-Obiang prize, scheduled to be awarded at the end of the month, has stirred concern among officials, human rights organizations and scientists who accuse Mr. Obiang, who has ruled Equatorial Guinea since 1979, of corruption and personally profiting from his nation’s oil wealth.
On Monday, the American ambassador to Unesco, David T. Killion, sent a letter urging Mrs. Bokova to suspend plans to award the prize, which the executive board created in 2008. Mr. Obiang has committed $3 million a year for five years; half the money would go to five recipients who would receive $300,000 grants each, and half would cover the costs of their selection.