Families of Libyan HIV-Positive Children Accept $460M Compensation Package
The families of hundreds of HIV-positive children in Libya have accepted a compensation package of about $460 million, the Gaddafi Development Foundation confirmed on Sunday, AFP/Yahoo! News reports. The deal could lead to the lifting of the death sentence for six medical workers convicted of intentionally infecting the children with HIV, according to AFP/Yahoo! News (Lamloum, AFP/Yahoo! News, 7/15).
The five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor in May 2004 were sentenced to death by firing squad for allegedly infecting 426 children with HIV through contaminated blood products at Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi, Libya. They also were ordered to pay a total of $1 million to the families of the HIV-positive children. The Libyan Supreme Court in December 2005 overturned the medical workers' convictions and ordered a retrial in a lower court. A court in Tripoli, Libya, in December 2006 convicted the health workers and sentenced them to death. The medical workers then filed an appeal of the December 2006 conviction with Libyan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court last week upheld the conviction (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/11).
Salah Abdessalem -- director of the Gaddafi Development Foundation, which is headed by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi -- said that the families accepted the compensation package "in the order of a million dollars for each victim." Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel Rahman Shalgam last week said that under the agreement, some European countries, organizations and Libya will pay compensation to the families (AFP/Yahoo! News, 7/15). According to Idriss Lagha, head of the Association for the Families of HIV-Infected Children, the remission of Libyan debt to Bulgaria, Slovakia and several other Eastern European countries will contribute to the compensation package. Al-Islam Gaddafi added that other countries involved are Croatia and the Czech Republic. "The final settlement is pending executive steps being taken, including transferring the money to the Benghazi International Fund," Lagha said. The fund was established in 2005 to prepare for such a compensation agreement, according to Lagha (El-Deeb, AP/International Herald Tribune, 7/14). Shalgam said the amount of money in the fund ran into the "hundreds of millions of dollars" but would not provide a specific amount. The government, as the employer of the medical workers, is expected to pay between $345,000 and $827,000 to the family of each HIV-positive child, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News, 7/15). Lagha on Tuesday said that 150 out of the approximately 400 families have received monetary transfers, adding that he expects the financial settlement to be completed soon and that the families will "then issue a statement announcing that the settlement is done."
Government officials from Bulgaria and other countries reportedly involved with the compensation package all have denied that they are sending funds to the families, according to the AP/PR-inside.com (El-Deeb, AP/PR-inside.com, 7/17). The European Commission on Monday also said that it is not involved with the agreement. "We were not part of the talks between" the Gaddafi Foundation and the families, Christiane Hohmann, the commission's spokesperson for external relations, said. Hohmann would not comment further on the agreement but added that the commission will "continue to contribute" to the Benghazi International Fund (AFP/EU Business, 7/16).
Libya's Supreme Judicial Council -- which can approve or cancel the Supreme Court's conviction of the medical workers or issue a less serious sentence -- on Monday delayed it decision until at least Tuesday. According to the Los Angeles Times, the council delayed its decision as it waits for documents from the families that would confirm they are withdrawing their demand that the medical workers be executed. Ramadan Fitouri, chair of the Association for the Families of HIV-Infected Children, on Monday said that some of the families "still insist on the execution of the accused" (Farley, Los Angeles Times, 7/17). An unnamed source close to the negotiations on Tuesday said that an agreement over the medical workers' sentences could be reached Tuesday evening. The families will release a statement on Tuesday "after completion of the deal to authorize the High Judicial Council to take the appropriate decision," the source said (Reuters/Independent Online, 7/17).
Two newspapers recently published editorials in response to the situation. Summaries appear below.
Los Angeles Times: The Libya case -- which involves "false accusations, torture, kangaroo trials and imprisonment" -- is the "stuff of horror stories," a Times editorial says. Although relations between Libya and the U.S. are "normalizing after decades of hostility," the medical workers' case has "slowed the process of reconciliation," and Muammar Gaddafi "would doubtless like to see it resolved," according to the editorial. The Times adds that Libya is "no longer a pariah state," but its "disgraceful treatment of the foreign health workers makes it clear" that the country will have to be kept at "arm's length for some time to come" (Los Angeles Times, 7/14).
New York Times: The Libya case has "reeked of scapegoating, showboating and blackmail" from the "outset," a Times editorial says. Muammar Gaddafi has "worked hard" in recent years to "shed his image as a dictatorial sponsor of terrorism," the editorial says, adding that he "must understand that it is in his own interest not to continue this travesty." The editorial concludes that "it would be good if he also understood that the scourge of AIDS is far too terrible to be used for a shakedown" (New York Times, 7/14).