Fujimori justified the program on the premise that a lower birth rate would drive down poverty
Leer en Español: Perú y la esterilización forzada en la década de 1990
In Peru, during the presidency of Alberto Fujimori, 272,000 women and 22,000 men were sterilized between 1996 and 2000 as part of the National Reproductive Health and Family Planning Program. Most of the men and women were indigenous, poor, and living in rural areas. The program's alleged aim was to eradicate poverty through lower birth rates, but evidence has emerged over the years that it was coercive and blatantly violated reproductive rights.
Over 2,000 women have testified that medical practitioners performed the procedures against their will. In many cases, the women did not speak enough Spanish to understand what they were consenting to and in some cases, providers did not even go through the process of obtaining informed consent. Those who signed consent forms in Spanish were illiterate and spoke only the indigenous Quechua language, rights groups say.
Some women have shared stories of providers offering them money to have the procedure or intimidating them with threats. Some women passed away due to complications and other women suffered serious health complications. At least 18 women are known to have passed away as a direct result of the procedure. Thousands more have endured lifelong health complications as a result of unsafe operations and malpractice.
Victims of forced sterilization have increasingly come forward to share their harrowing stories, demonstrating that the practice was a widespread and systematic state policy, not a matter of isolated incidents.
Investigations into the sterilizations have been opened several times since 2003, but were rejected by the courts, which decided that the sterilizations were not performed under official state policy or carried out in a systematic fashion.
Peru’s National Organization of Indigenous Andean and Amazonian Women, ONAMIAP, presented a report with evidence of the crimes to the United Nations. “For us indigenous women, who have been seeking justice and reparation for 21 years, it has been very important to present this case and make it visible,” the organization’s President Ketty Marcelo López says.
“We want the whole world to know that there was a president who wanted to extinguish the indigenous peoples of Peru,” she said, “because this program was mainly carried out in the indigenous Andean and Amazonian communities.”
The struggle to seek justice began with the case of 33-year-old Mamerita Mestanza, an indigenous woman who was diseased after a sterilization procedure she did not consent to in 1998. Three years later, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights awarded a settlement to her family, opening the door to other cases. The government has not issued an official apology or offered reparations to victims.
Indigenous women in isolated communities have long been marginalized because of their ethnicity, their gender and their location – and that marginalization arguably helped facilitate and even legitimize the way they were treated by the sterilization program.
The forced sterilization of hundreds of thousands of indigenous women represents one crime against humanity amongst others for which Fujimori was tried in the past. Ending impunity for this violation is essential not only to the restoration of democracy in Peru but to confirm that women’s rights really are human rights in a country where the violations against human rights have been constant since 1990.
Latin American Post | Carlos Gómez Avella
Copy edited by Susana Cicchetto