9.       According to official statistics, the first case of a child suffering from AIDS in Libya was registered in June 19985.  At the end of November 1998, 50 children had been declared HIV positive.  The intense distress of the families affected by this tragedy, and the surge of panic in the population of Benghazi, prompted the Libyan authorities to launch an investigation.

 

10.       On 25 January 1999, the police arrested a Palestinian doctor, Dr Ashraf al-Hajuj. His confession seems to have triggered the wave of arrests of Bulgarian medical personnel.

 

11.       On 9 February 1999, 23 members of an international medical team, all Bulgarian nationals, working in different hospitals in Benghazi, including the Al-Fateh children’s hospital, were arrested by the Libyan police without being informed of the grounds for their arrest or of the nature of the investigation. Witnesses described the arrests as more akin to kidnappings. The Bulgarian Embassy in Tripoli was officially informed of their detention nine days later.  Seventeen Bulgarian doctors were subsequently released (although they were unable to leave Libyan territory immediately because their passports had been confiscated).

 

12.       However, the other six persons – five Bulgarian nurses, Kristiana Vulcheva, Nassya Nenova, Valentina Siropoulo, Valya Chervenyachka and Snejana Dimitrova, and the Palestinian doctor – have remained in custody ever since.  On 15 May 1999, the case was referred to the People’s Prosecution Office, which subsequently brought the following charges against them:

 

-        commission of acts within Libyan territory leading, sooner or later, to the indiscriminate killing of people for the purpose of subversion of the security of the state (a capital offence);

 


1 Doc 10057.

2 See AS/Bur (2004) 34 of 26 March 2004, report on a fact-finding mission to Libya and the situation of the imprisoned medical staff, presented by Mr Eörsi.

3 AS/Bur (2004) 34 of 26 March 2004, mentioned above, and AS/Bur (2004) 82 of 6 October 2004 [Secretariat memorandum on Council of Europe action in connection with the case of an imprisoned international medical team in Libya].

4 See press release in Appendix I.

5 The affair was revealed by an article published in November 1998 in the Libyan magazine “La”. Libyan journalists who had conducted an investigation in Benghazi reported the outbreak of the AIDS cases and exposed the failings of the pediatric hospital which were to blame.  The authorities banned the publication and had all the copies of the magazine seized.

6 In July 2004, Professor Montagnier wrote a letter to Colonel Gaddafi, the Libyan Head of State, calling upon him to pardon the six convicted persons.

7 Further studies carried out either previously or subsequently by several Swiss, Italian and American specialists on the HIV virus stating the same conclusions were submitted by the defence. Professor Luc Perrin, Head of the Virology Laboratory at the cantonal university hospital in Geneva, examined 40 of the children concerned and concluded that their contamination was attributable to bad medical practices, especially as half of them had also contracted hepatitis C and a third hepatitis B.  The court refused to hear Professor Perrin as a witness.  The article published in November 1998 in the Libyan magazine “La” clearly indicated the failings of the pediatric hospital, viz. shortage of single-use products, repeated use of disposable instruments, lack of HIV tests, and failure to comply with standards of hygiene.

8 See the reactions of the Council of Europe in Appendix II.

9 The court rejected the expert medical opinion produced by the defence which it had not been possible to perform until three years after the material facts, on the ground that a Libyan doctor officially appointed as an expert considered that the investigation had not been conducted in accordance with the protocols, that traces of torture were undetectable and that at all events the torture alleged left no marks after two or three weeks!

10 The ministers recalled for instance that the criminal law provisions to the effect that anyone who has caused the death of more that two persons incurs the death penalty appear in a body of legislation dating back to 1967, ie earlier than the present system.

11 Libya has observer status since 1999.