Libyan torture victim fights for compensation

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Palestinian doctor Ashraf el Hagoug, who lives in the Netherlands, is determined to get compensation for the eight years of imprisonment and torture he was subjected to in Libya. On Tuesday, a Dutch court awarded him a million euros in damages. Now he has to get the new Libyan authorities to pay.

“In the first place, the Libyan government should recognise the injustice we were subjected to and pronounce our innocence in the AIDS case, something it did not do so far. Mustafa Abdel Jalil constantly evades taking responsibility with regards to our case. Libya is responsible for the acts committed by its generals.”

In 1999 the regime of the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi jailed the doctor and five Bulgarian nurses and tortured them to obtain confessions. The medical team was accused of deliberately infecting 450 Libyan children with the AIDS virus. They were initially sentenced to death but this was later commuted to life imprisonment. Following a diplomatic offensive involving France, the European Union and others, they were released in 2007.

The doctor demanded compensation for the physical and psychological damage he still suffers as a result of his imprisonment in Libyan. He and the nurses were badly tortured, particularly in the early stages of their detention. His lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld explains that Dr El Hagoug was able to apply to the Dutch courts in this civil case [unlike the Bulgarian nurse, ed.] because he lives in the Netherlands and Libya does not have a functioning justice system.

Libya is bound by international agreements, she argues, to pay compensation. She dismisses the fact that the country now has a new government as irrelevant: “Libya is also required to pay the debts of the previous regime.”

Within a week Ashraf el Hagoug will also hear the verdict of the case he brought before the UN Human Rights Commission. “Then we won’t have just the Dutch verdict but also an international decision on this question” says Zegveld.

Collective settlement?
Thousands of Libyans were unjustly imprisoned and tortured by the Gaddafi dictatorship. Can they demand compensation too?
“Not in the Dutch courts. There are, of course, a great many instances of damages in Libya which should be compensated. You have to wonder whether individual claims should be considered or a more collective approach is appropriate. In any case, the judgement of the Dutch court will contribute to the consideration of a broader solution.”

Doctor El Hagoug will be pressing on whatever happens: “I will not give up the other lawsuits I have running against the Libyan government and its former dictator. I will not stop until the Libyan government acknowledges what has been done to us and pronounces our innocence.”