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For Immediate Release: July 7th, 2009
Contact: Kevin Donegan, kdonegan@cesr.org

Social Rights in Equatorial Guinea Decline as Economy Grows

MADRID—Despite becoming one of the world’s high-income countries, Equatorial Guinea has some of the worst economic and social rights indicators in sub-Saharan Africa. Access to health and education has deteriorated as the country’s economy has boomed. The proportion of children dying before age five has risen in the last 15 years and is now higher than some of the poorest countries in the region.

This and other declines in the realization of the rights to health, education and water are documented in a new statistical analysis of the country’s economic and social rights outcomes, relative to its resources. The analysis released today in English and Spanish by the Madrid-based Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR) comes as the Equatorial Guinean government is set to appear before the periodic review process of the UN Human Rights Council later this year.

Since the discovery of oil and natural gas reserves in the 1990s, Equatorial Guinea has become the richest country in sub-Saharan Africa, with a GDP per capita of over $26,000 in 2006. But almost two-thirds of Equatoguineans still live in extreme poverty (less than $1 a day), unable to achieve an adequate standard of living. Neighboring Cameroon has a GDP per capita less than one-tenth Equatorial Guinea’s; yet its poverty rate is less than one-third that in Equatorial Guinea.

Among the other findings highlighted:

  • Despite a rapid increase in the country’s wealth, fewer children survive early childhood; between 1990 and 2006, both the number of infants who survived their first year and the under-five survival rate actually declined.
  • Twenty percent of children under five are chronically malnourished and stunted in their growth (under height for their age), more than in most neighboring countries.
  • Primary school enrollment rates have fallen sharply since the early 1990s, and fewer than 60 per cent of pupils enrolled complete primary school. Boys are almost twice as likely to enroll in secondary school as girls.
  • There has been no progress in improving access to sanitation from 1990 to 2006. Just 45 percent of people in urban areas and 41 percent of rural people have access to an improved water source. The urban rate is the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa.

The data, which in part measure the outcomes of government policies, raises serious questions as to whether Equatorial Guinea is doing all it can to realize economic and social rights progressively to the maximum extent of its available resources, as it is required to do under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and other international treaties.

“Critical measures such as ensuring access to skilled birth attendance and protection against malaria appear woefully inadequate,” said Ignacio Saiz, executive director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights. “Despite the country’s resources, government expenditure on health and education is far lower than the sub-Saharan African average—Equatorial Guinea gives a lower priority to primary education spending than almost any other country in the region.”

The lack of budget transparency is a serious obstacle to holding the government accountable for its use of oil-generated wealth, the CESR analysis noted. It fuels concerns that official corruption and corporate collusion are diverting resources away from the realization of the basic rights of the majority of the country's people.

The new fact sheet is part of CESR’s Visualizing Rights series, which analyzes statistical data graphically from the perspective of a country’s economic, social and cultural rights obligations. This focus is intended to help intergovernmental human rights mechanisms, such as those of the UN, and national and international NGOs, monitor governments’ compliance with these obligations.

The Center for Economic and Social Rights works to promote social justice through human rights. In a world where poverty and inequality deprive entire communities of dignity, justice and sometimes life, we seek to uphold the universal right of every human being to education, food and water, health, housing, work and social security, and other economic, social and cultural rights essential to human dignity. It has offices in Madrid and New York.

CESR invites comments and feedback, and encourages requests to make graphs, data and hard copy fact sheets available for NGO and other use. Please e-mail sstanton@cesr.org.