Secretary of State Rice, Libyan Foreign Minister Meet To Discuss Bilateral Ties; Groups Call on Rice To Address Human Rights Issues
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel-Rahman Shalgam on Thursday met in Washington, D.C., to discuss potential bilateral ties between the U.S. and Libya, Reuters reports. Prior to the meeting, some groups had called on Rice to discuss human rights issues in Libya, including torture and political prisoners. Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, called on Rice not to advance talks until Libya's "gross abuse and misuse of science," which was seen in the case of the six medical workers sentenced to death for allegedly intentionally infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV, is addressed (Eckert, Reuters, 1/3).
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 2007.
Libya's Supreme Judicial Council -- which can approve or cancel the Supreme Court's decisions -- reduced the sentences to life in prison after each family received a compensation package. The Gaddafi Development Foundation -- which is headed by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi -- in July 2007 said the families of the children accepted a compensation package of about $460 million. After the sentence was reduced, the six medical workers were released and pardoned by Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov after arriving in Bulgaria (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/5/07).
Sirkin said that Libya has not addressed the "health system failures that were the true cause of AIDS in the children's hospital," adding that Rice must "press Libya on these critical topics." PHR in a release said that progress toward full scientific and medical exchange between the U.S. and Libya cannot proceed until the released medical workers are fully exonerated and Muammar Gaddafi acknowledges the violations that occurred during the "outrageous episode" (PHR release, 1/2). Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch's Middle East and Northern Africa director, said, "We welcome improved relations between Libya and the U.S., but not at the expense of political prisoners, torture victims and other Libyans who suffer abuse."
U.S. Department of State spokesperson Sean McCormack said Rice raised the settlement of past cases, human rights and geopolitical issues during the meeting. "Secretary Rice urged Libya to move forward in resolving outstanding claims by families of terror victims against the Libyan government and raised human rights as an important agenda item for our bilateral relationship," McCormack added (Reuters, 1/3).