Bulgarian President Parvanov Awards E.U. Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner Country’s Highest Honor Following Medical Workers’ Release
Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov on Monday in Sofia, Bulgaria, awarded European Union External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner the Stara Planina order -- the country's highest honor -- for her role in the release of the six medical workers sentenced to death for allegedly intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV, AFP/Gulf Times reports (AFP/Gulf Times, 9/18).
The medical workers 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 the Libyan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction in July. After Libya's Supreme Judicial Council reduced the sentence to life in prison, the six medical workers were released and pardoned by Parvanov after arriving in Bulgaria. The Gaddafi Development Foundation -- which is headed by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi -- in July said the families of the children accepted a compensation package of about $460 million. The Supreme Judicial Council -- which can approve or cancel the Supreme Court's decisions -- reduced the sentences to life in prison after each family received the compensation package (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/5).
"The solution of the medics' case is a bright example of European solidarity in a diplomatic and human aspect," Parvanov said at the ceremony. He added that Ferrero-Waldner made an "exceptional contribution" to finding a solution. Ferrero-Waldner said, "Let me take this award on behalf of all my colleagues from the E.U.," adding that the medical workers' release was a "solidarity undertaking of the whole European Union." Ferrero-Waldner, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Cecilia Sarkozy, on Monday also were declared honorary citizens of Sofia for their efforts to free the medical workers, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports (AP/International Herald Tribune, 9/17).