Global Health Reproductive Rights Womens Rights

Peru Fails to Prosecute Former President for Mass Forced Sterilizations

Peru’s public prosecutor Marcelia Gutiérrez declined to prosecute former president Alberto Fujimori and his health ministers for the forced sterilization of hundreds of thousands of people in the late 1990s.

Women’s rights organizations, survivors and activists quickly protested the ruling, interrupting a military parade and demonstrating outside the prosecutor’s office.

Fujimori, who is currently serving 25 years in prison for violations of human rights and corruption, claimed he had created a  “family planning” campaign that would help reduce poverty. Yet it soon became clear that this program targeted vulnerable women with forced sterilization, a violation of basic human rights. The number of victims remains unknown but estimates range from 260,000 to 350,000 people, comprised mostly of poor indigenous women from rural regions of Peru.

,In an interview with The Guardian, Dr. Hernando Cevallos, a leader of a regional medical doctor’s union,  asserts that the health ministry imposed sterilization quotas on hospitals, detailing an order he received  in 1997 to sterilize 250 women in 4 days. Cevallos refused and reported the information to the prosecutor’s office.

Over 2,000 women have testified that medical practitioners performed the procedures against their will.

Some women report being sterilized while visiting the hospital for other medical procedures. Sabina Huillca of Lima reports that shortly after she gave birth, a nurse tied her hands and feet to the bed and anesthetized her.

“When I woke up, the doctor was stitching my stomach. I started screaming, I knew I had been sterilized,” Ms. Huillca recounted to the BBC.

Other women described being lured to clinics with promises of food, medicine and vitamins.

Traveling from village to village, health professionals would transport groups of women, sometimes over 100 at a time, in trucks to the hospitals. Once there, the hospital workers would padlock the doors, recalls Michaela Flores.

Thousands of others endured harassment, blackmail and threats from health care workers.

Hospital staff threatened Maria Mestanza with criminal sanctions if she did not comply with a forced sterilization. Her husband testified that the staff did not warn her of any risks associated with the surgery. When she developed a post-operation complication, the hospital refused to treat her and she subsequently died.

Following a petition against Peru with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Peruvian government agreed to compensate Mestanza’s family in 2003, marking the first time Peru provided reparations connected to the campaign of forced sterilization. The government subsequently agreed to adopt a national registry of forced sterilization victims in order to collect and organize known information, a move that many saw as a positive step toward accountability. Now, advocates have filed an appeal of the decision not to prosecute Fujimori

Sources:

The Guardian, 8/3/16; ESCR-Net, International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Jan. 2016; Al Jazeera, 4/8/16; Telesur, 3/4/16;

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