Tue Jul 24th, 2007 at 03:35:21 AM EST
Eight years ago, after 438 children and 20 mothers have been infected with AIDS in a Libyan hospital, five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor were put on trial and repeatedly sentenced to death on the accusation of having done it on purpose. Later scientific evidence pointed to the impossibility of the accusation, but the seven were at first good scapegoats for health (and later law) authorities, while a good part of public opinion, including victims' families, saw a Western conspiracy.
But after Lybia's normalisation of relations with the West, the case became a liability for the Khaddafi regime, and even though some in the EU saw economic relations as an overriding 'cause', pressure was stepped up, and bargaining for a solution began behind the scenes. Today morning, it was over: the six landed on a French government plane in Bulgaria.
The You Are Not Alone campaign (also see our page linked from the ribbon below the site symbol) pressed the case in Bulgaria and the EU, including the EP. Behind the scenes, the government of the freshly EU member country got the German EU presidency involved in pressing the diplomatic case.
Foreign minster Frank-Walter Steinmeier could employ earlier ties with Khaddafi's son and heir: the latter helped during a South Asian hostage crisis a few years ago. But negotiations were difficult, at one point, the Libyan diplomats declared the Palestinian doctor no part of the deal, so the Bulgarian government granted him Bulgarian citizenship upon the in sistence of the German foreign minister.
There were some shots across the bow by diplomatic bunglers, and not just Dubya intervening. New French President Sarkozy saw a golden opportunity for grandstanding, asent his wife to Lybia (only resulting in increased Libyan demands), and got to send the plane at the end.
Meanwhile in Libya, first there were a series of retrials, then police officers lost their libel cases over the nurses' accusation of extracting false confessions with torture. Then, based on EU-Libyan government and Bulgaria-victims' families negotiations, there was a deal that Bulgaria pays $1 million for each of the victims' families.
Paying the money was a tricky construction, involving payments even by the Lybian government itself (quoting the SPIEGEL article):
At the core of the agreement was the creation of a so-called Benghazi International Fund, which would be used to compensate the parents of the children who had become infected. According to Islamic law, murder can be expiated with blood money if the relatives of the victim agree to forgive the killer.
Bulgaria was prepared to donate the first €44 million ($60.7 million), albeit indirectly. Sofia agreed to forgive Libyan debts for an old weapons deal and the Libyan national bank instead transferred the money to the fund.
A further €74 million came straight from the Libyan government and smaller sums were donated by around a dozen other countries. The EU offered €9.5 million, though only for specific uses such as laboratory equipment for the hospital in Benghazi, the clinic's pharmacy and the training of personnel.
Earlier with Khaddafi's approval, the Libyan High Court then commuted the death sentences to life in prison. And this morning, the six could board a plane for Bulgaria, where they will be pardoned.
So, even if the six weren't declared innocent and hospital managers weren't sentenced instead, some heavy use of soft power resolved this case, and part of the money is to be put to good use.