Libyans Frustrated Over Focus on Bulgarian Nurses Instead of HIV-Positive Children
The New York Times on Sunday examined the "sorrow" and "frustration" of the families of the 428 children who became infected with HIV while under the care of Bulgarian nurses in Benghazi, Libya, "as attention focuses on the fate of the nurses, who have been sentenced to death, and not on the children, who are dying one by one" (Smith, New York Times, 12/19). A five-judge panel of a Libyan court in May sentenced to death by firing squad five Bulgarian health workers and a Palestinian doctor who have been detained in Libya since 1999 and accused of deliberately infecting the children with HIV through contaminated blood products. The health workers also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million to the families of the children, 46 of whom have died. Libyan Leader Moammar Kadafi accused the health workers of taking orders from the CIA and the Israeli secret service to kill Libyan children in order to destabilize the country. However, some European governments and human rights groups say that the Libyan Health Ministry failed to screen blood products adequately and allowed poor sterilization practices at Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, where the children were infected. Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelrahman Shalgham on Dec. 5 said the government might reconsider the death sentences of the health workers if the children's families are compensated by Bulgaria (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/7). According to the Times, the "families are angry that the West has dismissed the trial as a sham without considering the evidence presented there" and "are most frustrated by the swirl of secrecy surrounding the nurses." Omar al-Kelani al-Mesmari, whose son was infected in 1998, said, "The West is only concerned about the nurses. There's a double standard." Another father of an infected child, Muhammad Gadir, said, "There should at least be one or two [fathers of infected children] at the negotiating table. The government officials sit in their offices, but we go home to face the tragedy every day" (New York Times, 12/19).
Nurses Might Seek Compensation, Bulgarian Justice Minister Says
Bulgarian Justice Minister Anton Stankov on Monday said that the five nurses plan to seek compensation from Libya for illegal arrest and torture, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. Two of the nurses -- all of whom are women -- have said that they were raped in prison, and all said they were "jolted with electricity and beaten" before their trial, according to the AP/Sun. "One possible compensation claim would be against the Libyan state for the nurses' illegal arrest ... and the other would be against their torturers," Stankov said. Bulgarian law allows foreign states and individuals to be sued for actions taken against its citizens outside Bulgaria. Stankov did not say when or where the compensation claims would be filed or if the nurses would file their claims from prison (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 12/20).