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  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 19,131     71
     
GNI per capita
 US $ n/a n/a
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 038 - (22/12/06)

Sacrificial Lambs and Libya's Weakest Link
In 2006, Libya took more steps to re-establish itself as a credible partner of the 'international community'. Western leaders paid visits to colonel Qadhafi, symbolically adding to his international credibility, even as Libya and the United States re-established full diplomatic relations after the country was removed from the list of terror sponsoring nations in May. Apart from the West's (indeed the world's) demand for Libyan oil, Libya has also established itself as a necessary partner for the EU in curbing the flow of illegal migrants on European shores. In November, at a meeting of EU high level representatives, Libya agreed to cooperate further with EU authorities on this issue. Libya has become one of the most popular points of departure for migrants from Africa, taking on dangerous boat trips across the Mediterranean. Another sign that Libya had fully overcome its 'pariah' status was that it was finally able to negotiate the purchase of new military and dual purpose equipment such as aircraft. In December Tripoli hosted an aerospace equipment trade fair, and in the summer Libyan Arab Airlines negotiated the purchase of new Boeing airliners, the first such deal in decades. However, since the rehabilitation process started in December 2003, when Libya declared it would give up its plans to develop weapons of mass destruction' there was another item of contention, namely the imprisonment of five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor, who were accused of deliberately infecting 426 children with HIV/AIDS at a Benghazi hospital in 1998. The six medics had their charges confirmed by Tripoli court last December 19 and they have been sentenced to death. Although the sentence has been appealed and there is little likelihood that the sentences shall be carried out, it threatens to undo much of the progress made in Libya's relationship with the West. It also hurts Libya of course and raises questions about the Libyan regime's fear of opposition in Benghazi, which is no doubt one of the main reasons for blaming the medics, sacrificial lambs for the Libyan government failures.

Scapegoats for Health System Failures
Since the discovery of the infection in 1998 and the arrest of the six medics, fifty of the children have died. Lured by the prospect of a decent salary, many healthcare workers in Libya come from other parts of the Arab world, Eastern Europe and often the Philippines. Such was the choice made by Valya Chervenyashka, Snezana Dimitrova, Nasya Nenova, Valentina Siropulo, Kristiana Valcheva and Ashraf Ahmad Jum'a in 1998, only to have spent the last seven years in a Tripoli prison facing horrific charges. When the six medics were first charged, in the days preceding Libya's rapprochement with the West, international conspiracies offered convenient explanations. The justification for the arrest of the six medics was that they were using the children as guinea pigs upon which to experiment a version of the Aids virus produced in the laboratory. Colonel Qadhafi himself proffered this thesis at a world Aids conference in April 2001. He suggested that the Mossad or the CIA were possibly behind the plan. 

However, the international scientific community has never been convinced of the validity of the charges, while a retrial was ordered after the first trial, which ended in 2004 and which recommended death sentences for the six, was annulled. Libya suggested exchanging the six prisoners with the one Libyan official serving a life sentence for the Lockerbie bombing. The Libyan leader also attempted to bargain the six for financial compensation from Bulgaria for the families who suffered the death of an Aids infected child. As Newnations has often noted, Bulgaria refused to agree to the compensation because it would have amounted to an admission of guilt. Bulgaria and the world have always maintained the stance that the medics are innocent. The EU, which Bulgaria will join as an official member in January 2007, offered a total of EUR 3 million between 2005 and 2006 to improve conditions at the Benghazi hospital where the epidemic occurred and to partially compensate the families of the children as well as to help establish a more effective Aids fighting approach in Libya itself. The EU also offered to treat children infected with Aids in Italian and French hospitals as an additional incentive to increase the likelihood of a release of the six medics by Libyan authorities. As for HIV/Aids researchers, they have never been convinced about the validity of the accusations against the medics. Studies have indicated that the spread of the HIV virus in the Benghazi hospital had started long before the arrival of the six medics, while poor hygienic conditions at the hospital were to blame for the epidemic. This notion is supported by Luc Montagnier, who was one of the discoverers of the Aids virus, as well as an Italian Aids expert, Vittorio Colizzi. One of the Libyan defense lawyers, Othman Bizanti, showed evidence suggesting that in 1997, before the six medics arrived in Libya, there had been 207 cases of HIV contamination in Benghazi. The scientific journal Nature confirmed this hypothesis suggesting, through a study of the number of mutations experienced by the virus, that the infection first appeared in Benghazi in 1996/1997. 

There Could be No Worse Sentence
In the weeks and days preceding the delivery of the verdict at the trial of the six medics, the Libyan press urged Libyan justice to be firm demanding a death sentence. The Libyan Jamahirya newspaper wrote: "What would happen if Bulgarian children were injected with the AIDS virus? Would millions of Bulgarians keep silent about the crime? We say to everyone: Our children's blood is precious." Other papers wrote similarly intentioned statements, while families of the children welcomed the sentence with evident satisfaction, praising the Libyan leader's defiance of the West and Libyan justice in dances and singing outside the court. Just days earlier, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, who helped negotiate a full resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Libya, arrived in Tripoli to discuss pending matters that were causing some obstacles in improving bilateral relations. Presumably the trial of the six medics was one of the main obstacles. It is difficult o see how the death sentence would help to improve anything. The EU commissioner for justice, liberty and security, Franco Frattini, who had praised Libya's efforts to help curb illegal migration in November, noted that the death sentence was very disappointing and that it threatens EU cooperation with Libya, adding that the trial was filled with irregularities, including the fact that the prosecution relied on confessions extracted under torture. 

The Libyan foreign affairs minister Shalgham rejected international accusations that the sentence represented a miscarriage of justice, suggesting that Col. Qadhafi himself could not overturn the course of Libyan justice. Of course, Col. Qadhafi could pardon the six medics, after negotiations continue over the degree of compensation to be paid. In fact the death sentence itself provides the basis of some 'haggling' over the price of the six accused. There is a more likely explanation that the Qadhafi regime has a weak link in Benghazi. The riots in March 2006, blamed as a reaction to the Jyllands-Posten cartoons of the prophet Muhammad (the likely fuse, but not the actual cause) that left at least 14 people dead, provided clear evidence that there are political fault lines in the region of Cyrenaica, where Qadhafi has faced the strongest Islamist opposition to his rule since he took power in 1969. Therefore, the outcome of the trial was of serious concern to the Libyan leader. 

An acquittal for the medics would have meant the government's failure to provide adequate care (in an oil rich country where legitimacy is based entirely on the state's distributive capacity) was to blame. The focus on the medics' guilt, encouraged by the Libyan press - and the regime - helped to deflect attention from some of Libya's failures. In the seven years of the UN sanctions, these offered convenient scapegoats for unemployment, low purchase power and other problems. The foreign medics provided a convenient deflecting shield after the sanctions, while the image of Aids with all its negative connotations and stigma gave the six medics the necessary mask of evil. 

Nevertheless, while Qadhafi has temporarily averted riots in Benghazi, the medics' death sentence serves to highlight the unreliability of Libyan justice. While the West decides how to react to the situation, it is unlikely that businesses will line up to invest in Libya (outside the oil sector). The medics' case makes it all too clear that the Libyan judicial system offers companies and their employees inadequate legal protection against scapegoat charges, expropriation, taxes, or sudden regulatory changes. Of course Libya's significant opportunities in the oil and gas sector will preclude the West from setting the clock back to sanctions, and some mechanism will be found to allow for the families to receive financial compensation, as tribal customs would then allow the families to grant amnesty to the prisoners. Indeed, on December 20, Libya opened a new round of bids for oil and gas exploration and few believe that the trial of the medics shall in any way impede oil production.  

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