AMSTERDAM (AP) – A Dutch court awarded (EURO)1 million ($1.33 million) in compensation to a Palestinian doctor tortured and jailed in Libya along with five Bulgarian nurses for purportedly infecting children with the AIDS virus, the doctor’s lawyer said Tuesday.
Ashraf al-Hazouz and the Bulgarians, who were pardoned and freed in 2007 after eight years in jail, have said their convictions were based on confessions tortured out of them.
Al-Hazouz’s Dutch lawyer said that the Netherlands and European Union should now press Libyan authorities to pay the compensation.
“He doesn’t have the money in his hands, but the ruling is a very important step toward compensation,” lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
The doctor, who now lives in the Netherlands, sued 12 Libyan civil servants at The Hague civil court for involvement in his torture and inhumane treatment. It is unlikely that the Libyans, none of whom showed up for the case, are willing or able to pay the compensation.
“I see this as a ruling against the Libyan state,” said Zegveld.
She said she would now urge the European Union to press Libya to pay the damages, awarded last week.
“The EU and several of its member states have repeatedly condemned the scapegoating of the Palestinian doctor and the Bulgarian nurses and have strongly pushed for their release in 2007,” Zegveld said. “In view of these previous efforts, we count on their support to obtain compensation for the victims.”
Libyan authorities in the now toppled regime of late dictator Moammar Gadhafi accused the workers of deliberately infecting more than 400 children with HIV.
International medical groups have charged that the doctor and nurses were made scapegoats for unhealthy hospital conditions in Libya.
Before their release in 2007, al-Hazouz and the nurses signed statements saying they had been treated well and would not seek to sue Libya. Afterward, they said they underwent horrific torture in detention.
The case marked the first time so-called universal jurisdiction has been used in a civil human rights case, said Zegveld. Under universal jurisdiction, courts can decide to prosecute criminal or civil cases regardless of where an offense was committed because of the seriousness of the crime.
It has been used in high profile criminal cases against the likes of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
“It is really a precedent that we now have a civil universal jurisdiction case on human rights matters,” Zegveld said.
She said the U.N. Human Rights Committee is expected to rule later this month on a similar complaint filed by al-Hazouz that he was tortured while jailed in Libya.
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