Human rights group Amnesty International is calling on Peru to reopen a case against former government officials who were accused of forcefully sterilizing thousands of indigenous women between 1996 and 2000.
Peru’s Judiciary said last month that it would not pursue criminal charges against the high-ranking former officials due to a lack of evidence that they knew how the program was being implemented.
The former officials facing charges include former President Alberto Fujimori, who is currently serving a jail sentence for other crimes, and former Health Ministers Marino Costa Bauer, Eduardo Yong and Alejandro Aguinaga. The latter is also Alberto Fujimori’s personal physician and currently a prominent congressman for Fujimori’s political party.
The sterilizations carried out during the 1990s were part of a national Family Planning and Reproductive Health campaign that targeted mainly poor, rural and indigenous women. Victims and human rights groups say that the campaign was done without the consent of the women, who were more often Quechua speakers and who were either lied to or not given full explanation of the procedure, which was described often as a “cleaning” necessary after a woman had given birth at a government hospital or medical station.
President Ollanta Humala’s government reopened investigations into the sterilizations in 2011, shortly after he took office. The case had previously been shelved in 2009, during President Alan Garcia’s administration.
The most recent investigation involved the cases of some 2,000 women. However, statistics and documents show that the actual number of women who were forcefully sterilized during the period could be closer to 300,000.
According to the legal counsel at Demus, the law firm for women’s rights, documents dated 1997 show that then Health minister Costa Bauer wrote to President Fujimori to report that “there is an increased trend in the production of the Voluntary Surgical Contraception service [AQV in Spanish] and at the end of June the figure is at 38,624….”
In a later document, also in 1997, Costa Bauer reported that “the first seven months of the year the accumulated total achieved of AQVs is 64,831, which places us at 43 percent of the goal of 150,000 set for the year 1997.”
Earlier that same year, in a document dated in the town of Jauja, a coordinator for the family planning program reported to the head of her obstetrics-gynecology department that Alberto Fujimori had actively participated in meetings and set the goals —“according to the meeting in Ancon with the President of the Republic, the figure is to be reprogrammed (from 192 AQVs) and so as not to wait until the last minute the work will be carried out based on the proposed data.”
Amnesty International said the decision last month to close the case is “abhorrent,” according to state news agency Andina.
“We want to show that we are appalled with this decision,” the group’s incidents coordinator, Silvia Toledo, said.
Toledo said that Amnesty International is collecting signatures from around the world in order to pressure the government to rethink the closure of the charges against the former officials.