1. Babic, Mary Jean


Deal includes payment to families of children with HIV.


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Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who had been sentenced to death in Libya on charges of intentionally injecting more than 400 children with HIV more than eight years ago were freed on July 24 and then pardoned by Bulgarian president Georgi Parvanov. In exchange, the family of each infected child received $1 million in compensation through a charity run by the son of Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi.


The medical workers' imprisonment had outraged many internationally; the clinicians maintained their innocence throughout the ordeal and are believed to have been tortured into confessing. Upon arriving in Bulgaria after their release, "their stories of torture, beatings and rape began pouring out," the New York Times reported.


An investigation by an international group of HIV experts concluded that the virus was present at Al Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi before the health care workers' arrival in February 1998 and was likely spread by unhygienic hospital conditions. More than 50 of the infected children have died.


Only days before the workers' release, Libya's high court had commuted their death sentences to life imprisonment. Their release followed negotiations that included French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Cecilia Sarkozy. Settlement of the long-standing dispute signalled newly normalized relations between oil-rich Libya and Europe. Indeed, the day after the workers' release, Nicolas Sarkozy flew to Libya to discuss improving relations.


But some human rights groups criticized the deal. "The lives of these nurses and medic were literally ransomed for $400 million," Susannah Sirkin, deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights, said in a press release. "There is nothing to prevent the future scapegoating of foreign health workers and holding them hostage in exchange for foreign aid."

FIGURE. Freed Bulgar... - Click to enlarge in new windowFIGURE. Freed Bulgarian nurse Valia Georgieva Chervenisahka hugs an unidentified man upon her arrival in Sofia, Bulgaria. Fellow nurses (from left) Valentina Manolova Siropulo and Nasya Stoitcheva Nenova look on.

Mary Jean Babic