World Leaders React To Libyan Court Decision To Re-impose Death Sentences

trial in LibyaAs news spreads around the world about a Libyan court’s decision to re-impose the death sentences on five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor for supposedly deliberately infecting hundreds of children with HIV, world leaders are starting to express their disappointment, shock and horror.

George Bush communicated his “disappointment” to Georgi Parvanov, the Bulgarian President. Bush said he is fully behind Bulgaria’s attempts to strive for the release of the five nurses.

Condoleezza Rice, US Secretary of State said it is urgent that the medical workers are freed and allowed to go home as soon as possible. They have been in prison since 1999. Johannes Laitenberger, a spokesman for the European Union, said the EU will decide what steps to take against Libya after a legal appeal is launched and concluded.

The court decision took the scientific world by surprise. Evidence exists that the 400 children the health workers were supposed to have spiked with HIV had already been infected before the workers entered the country. So far, fifty of the children have died. They were all from a hospital in Banghazi. The health workers are accused of botching up an unethical experiment on children - the aim being to find a cure for AIDS.

Experts from the European Union, and Bulgaria, have been insisting for years that the children became infected because of appalling hygiene practices at the hospital. They say the 5 Bulgarians and 1 Palestinian have been used as scapegoats. Libyan prosecutors say the health workers are guilty because they had worked in the section of the hospital where the children became ill.

Whether the Libyan government will actually carry out the executions is debatable. Colonel Gaddafi, Libya’s leader, has gone to great lengths over the last few years to build bridges with the West. The executions would destroy any chances of improved Libyan and Western relations. Public opinion in the West would force politicians to sanction Libya.

The decision can, and will, be appealed. A capital sentence can still go to the Supreme Court. The Minister of Justice, through the High Judicial Council, can grant pardons, or alter sentences.

Some aspects of the court case do not make any sense. There is compelling evidence that the children had already been infected before the medical workers ever set foot on Libyan soil. However, the courts have refused to accept this evidence, which would have been presented by respectable, internationally-recognized medical experts. The Libyan courts have refused to accept this evidence on two occasions. The courts also refuse to accept evidence that hygienic practices in the hospital were appalling. 114 Nobel Prize laureates urged Colonel Gaddafi to accept the evidence - he ignored them.

Many believe Gaddafi wants everything done by the book, as far as local ways are concerned, so as not to upset the people of Benghazi. When all legal avenues are exhausted, the High Judicial Courts will either pardon the medical workers or commute the sentences and allow them to go back to their countries where they can serve their sentences out.

Opinion of Editor of Medical News Today

Whichever way one looks at it, the tragedy has already happened, and will happen again. Nothing has been done about shocking hygiene standards which most probably caused the children to become infected - therefore more will become infected in future. Even if the medical workers eventually do get a pardon, their nightmare has been ongoing since 1999 - they will never get those seven years back. I wonder how many medical workers will want to work in Libya after this.

by Christian Nordqvist, Medical News Today