5th Mar 2024

Nurses statement on torture facilitated EU-Libya deal

Fresh details are emerging on last month's release of Bulgarian nurses from detention in Libya, with French daily Le Monde reporting the medics were allowed to leave Libya only after they signed a statement saying they would not sue Tripoli for torture.

The paper reported on Thursday (2 August) that before leaving Libya on board a French presidential airplane on 24 July, the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor were obliged to declare in writing that they would not take any legal steps against the Libyan government for torture, maltreatment and abusive detention.

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The six had been detained in Libya for over eight years accused by the authorities of infecting children with the AIDS virus - a charge they always denied.

It is believed, however, that the medics were forced to make confessions after having been tortured by Libyan authorities, with the freed Palestinian doctor saying that that the Bulgarian nurses were "raped" in prison, according to Le Monde. The forced confessions served as the basis for the Libyan death penalty verdict which was revoked only days before their release.

The six medics' statement was reportedly signed in Tripoli in the presence of European diplomats, including one Bulgarian official.

The signatures were a condition for the medics' release and formed part of an overall deal between the EU and Libya, which also included the prospect of closer ties between Brussels and Tripoli.

The waiver had been agreed at high EU level, with Le Monde quoting the spokesman of French president Nicolas Sarkozy as saying "this was the subject of an exchange of letters between the European Union and Libya."

Mr Sarkozy's spokesman was referring to a letter signed by Benita Ferrero-Waldner, EU commissioner for external relations, and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German foreign minister, in the first half of this year when Germany held the EU presidency.

The spokeswoman for Ms Ferrero-Waldner declared that "the 27 member states were constantly informed about the details of the discussions" in Tripoli, adding that all of them were therefore aware of the conditions of the medics' release.

The EU's member states are signatories of various international conventions against torture.

On this year's International Day against Torture, on 26 June, the EU's representation at the UN released a statement saying that "the prevention and the eradication of all forms of torture and ill-treatment within the EU and worldwide is one of the main objectives of the EU human rights policy."

The statement highlighted the EU Guidelines on Torture, a set of policy guidelines adopted in 2001 which "provide the general framework for EU action in this area towards third countries, as well as in multilateral human rights fora."

It added that "the EU pursues a policy of raising the issue of torture systematically with third countries."

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