Correspondence | Published:

An open letter to Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi

Naturevolume 444page146 (2006) | Download Citation


Dear Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi

We, Nobel Laureates in the sciences, are gravely concerned about the ongoing trial of five Bulgarian nurses, Valya Chervenyashka, Snezhana Dimitrova, Nasya Nenova, Valentina Siropulo, Kristiana Valcheva, and a Palestinian doctor, Ashraf Ahmad Jum'a, in Tripoli. The six face death-penalty charges of deliberately infecting 426 children with HIV at al-Fateh Children's Hospital in Benghazi in 1998. Strong scientific evidence is needed to establish the cause of this infection. However, independent science-based evidence from international experts has so far not been permitted in court.

Libya is currently making efforts to join the community of peaceful nations by renouncing weapons of mass destruction and adhering to international standards regarding the rule of law. This trial is another opportunity for Libya to demonstrate its commitment to recognized values and norms. But so far Libya has failed to follow the norms of international justice in the case of the charged medical workers.

We appreciate the agony and the sadness of the parents of these children and we sympathize with the difficult situation of the Libyan authorities in trying to deal with this matter. However, we feel that if justice is to be served it is essential that the defence should be permitted to present its case.

Among the disallowed scientific evidence is a 2003 report, which Libya requested, and which was provided by Luc Montagnier, a co-discoverer of the virus that causes AIDS, and Italian microbiologist Vittorio Colizzi. The report concluded that the infection at the hospital resulted from poor hygiene and reuse of syringes, and also that the infections began before the arrival of the nurses and doctor in 1998.

On 29 August 2006, a Libyan prosecutor reiterated the call for the six to be given the death penalty. The next, and probably last, court hearing is scheduled for the 4 November, with a verdict expected shortly thereafter. A miscarriage of justice will take place without proper consideration of scientific evidence. We urge the appropriate authorities to take the necessary steps to permit such evidence to be used in this case.

To uphold justice, and ensure a fair trial, we affirm the need for:

  • Defence lawyers to have the right to call and examine witnesses on the health workers' behalf under the same conditions as witnesses called against them, and

  • The appropriate authorities to call upon internationally recognized experts in AIDS research to examine and testify on the evidence as to the cause of the HIV infections in the children.

Yours sincerely,

Richard J. Roberts and 113 fellow Nobel laureates.

Additional information

A full list of signatories to this letter is available as supplementary information.

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  1. 1993 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, Chief scientific officer, New England Biolabs, 240 County Road, Ipswich, 01938-2723, MA, USA

    • Richard J. Roberts


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  1. 113 fellow Nobel Laureates

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