Peru: Indigenous group brings forced sterilization case to UN court

A woman walks in the rural Quechua district of Pucará, Peru. (Juan del Pozo/Flickr)

Two decades after Alberto Fujimori ended his term as president of Peru, an indigenous rights group is still struggling to bring justice and recognition to victims of mass sterilization that occurred during the second term of the former dictator.

Peru’s National Organization of Indigenous Andean and Amazonian Women, ONAMIAP, presented a report with evidence of the crimes to the United Nations earlier this week.

“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 told Sputnik.

“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.”

Between 1995 and 2000, the right-wing leader oversaw the implementation of the National Reproductive Health and Family Planning Program, which human rights groups say resulted in the sterilization of nearly 300,000 people, including some 24,000 men. Most of the victims were indigenous Quechua women living in rural areas, many of whom could not understand documents written in Spanish that they signed before the operation.

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At the time, the government argued that such procedures were carried out with consent. Fujimori justified the program on the premise that a lower birth rate would drive down poverty.

In the years that followed, thousands of women have come forward with harrowing descriptions of the harassment, threats or blackmail they suffered to undergo the procedure. Many women were sterilized while giving birth or during routine medical procedures and have reported emotional and physical damage from the operations, which were often botched or carried out in insanitary conditions.

At least 18 women have died in recent years from complications from the operations, according to media reports.

The struggle to seek justice began with the case of 33-year-old Mamerita Mestanza, an indigenous woman who died following a tubal ligation 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.

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Several state investigations into the sterilizations have since been opened and closed for lack of evidence. Much to the disappointment of victims and human rights groups, a 2016 ruling determined that there was not enough evidence to determine whether the sterilizations were state policy.

But some health providers say they were required by state officials to meet daily quotas. Hernando Cevallos, for example, a leader of a regional medical doctor’s union, said he received an order to sterilize 250 women in four days in 1997.

Fujimori has been in jail since 2007 on charges of human rights abuses and corruption.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com