For Immediate Release
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) calls on US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, slated to meet with Libya's foreign minister Abdel-Rahman Shalqam in Washington DC today, to place human rights at the center of discussions about the countries' bilateral relations. PHR further calls on Secretary Rice to make her own forthcoming trip to Libya contingent upon key improvements in Libya's human rights record.
Libya President Moammar Gaddafi has continued to violate fundamental human rights of his citizens while seeking to develop a public posture of respect for them. As a case in point, prominent Libyan democracy activist Fathi Eljahmi remains in solitary confinement and has been imprisoned, except for two weeks, since 2002, when he publicly called for freedom of speech and a constitution in Libya. In 2005, PHR and the International Federation of Health and Human Rights Organizations sent a physician to visit him in detention, at which time the organizations raised serious concern about his health and called for his unconditional release
PHR documented deplorable prison conditions and deteriorating health of Fathi Eljahmi.
The regime of President Gaddafi also tortured, imprisoned and sentenced to death five foreign nurses and a physician for eight years, on trumped-up charges that they intentionally infected 426 children in the Benghazi children's hospital with the HIV virus, despite sound medical evidence indicating that unsafe hygiene in the hospital was responsible. The Libyan government released the health workers in July 2007 only after it had secured a $400 million payment from European governments and others. PHR considered this to be a shameless ransom demand that set a dangerous precedent for international health crisis response. In addition to the $1 million payment handed out as "blood money" to each family of a child infected with HIV, funds from European governments that helped secure the release of the medics are intended to improve care to the sick children and make needed reforms to the infection control system in Libya. To date, there is no evidence that Libya has developed a plan for these improvements.
PHR Deputy Director Susannah Sirkin commented, "As the US continues to move toward normalizing relations with Libya, fundamental human rights should be front and center of the agenda. Libya has been embraced on the world stage with Gaddafi's warm welcome in France and this month's leadership of the UN Security Council, but it has yet to address allegations of mistreatment of Libya's most prominent political prisoner and health system failures that were the true cause of AIDS in the children's hospital. Secretary Rice must press Libya on these critical topics, including calling for the immediate release of Mr. El-Jahmi."
Until the released medics are fully exonerated and President Gaddafi acknowledges the violations that have occurred during this outrageous episode, PHR believes that progress toward full scientific and medical exchange with the US cannot proceed.
PHR calls on Libya to release Fathi Eljahmi and its other political prisoners and adhere to international human rights agreements in its treatment of its citizens and all those living in Libya, including prisoners.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.