This week, a symposium opens in Tripoli meant to bring new resources and workers to build Libya's infrastructure. One of its aims is to improve hospital care.
This week, six health care workers who went to Libya to care for the sick at the al-Fateh Children's Hospital are waiting for a likely death sentence. The verdict will be announced in two weeks.
This Wednesday afternoon, as a representative from the U.S. Department of Commerce takes the stage to give a talk titled "Doing Business with US Companies", Valya Chervenyashka, Snezana Dimitrova, Nasya Nenova, Valentina Siropulo, Kristiana Valceva, and Ashraf Ahmad Jum'a sit in their cells.
In those cells they have been tortured, beaten, electrocuted through their tongues, breasts, and genitals, and raped. The American company Booz Allen Hamilton based in McLean, Virginia donated about $13,000 to help sponsor the conference to bring more foreign workers to Libya.
The five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor went to Libya in 1998. The symposium this week is meant to "bring much needed technology and expertise to Libya." One year after arriving in Libya, the doctor and nurses were imprisoned on false charges and have been held in jail for the last seven years. They were sentenced to death by firing squad.
Symposium attendees will receive lanyards for their name badges provided by ConocoPhillips, based in Houston, Texas, for a donation of about $4,000. They will wear their badges to talks on "The Possibilities of Libya Tourism" and "Corporate Responsibility." They will be welcomed to Libya with V.I.P. treatment. It is unlikely they will be arrested, tortured, raped, or sentenced to death.
The nurses and doctor were arrested as scapegoats after 400 children became infected with HIV due to poor hospital hygiene. Nine Libyan health-care workers were also arrested and were acquitted. Scientists from around the world, including the co-discoverer of HIV, have traveled to Libya and tested the evidence. They have proven that the children were infected before the foreign health workers arrived in Libya.
The symposium is part of Libya's National Development Plan to improve its infrastructure, on which Libya plans to invest $35 billion. Libya has asked for $5.5 billion in compensation to release the health care workers.
Last week The Lancet wrote: "Libya must acknowledge that this case has no legal foundation, and then move to correct the conditions that created the whole sorry situation in the first place. Reforming its broken health-care system and ultimately improving the health of its children and indeed all of its citizens, must begin with saving these six lives."
The symposium is Libya's effort to join the international community. It wants to modernize its roads, water systems, and work force. It doesn't want Libyan children to die in dirty hospitals from HIV that could have been prevented with clean syringes. For that to happen, it cannot let innocent health care workers be tortured, raped and killed in Libyan prisons.
Somewhere in the exhibit halls filled with American companies, somewhere among the lanyards and gift bags sponsored by American companies, somewhere between the talk on bringing tourists to Libya and the one from the US Department of Commerce on bringing more US workers to Libya, I'm afraid that message will be lost.
Did I mention it is also sponsored by Halliburton?