Judicial authorities in Peru have ordered the reopening and expansion of a criminal inquiry into the forced mass sterilizations of around 350,000 women and 25,000 men during the 1990s.
Some 2,073 women have given statements to local and international rights groups saying that they had their tubes tied without their knowledge or consent. At least 18 women died as a result of the surgery.
The local NGOs say they have proof that more than 2,000 Peruvian women were forcibly sterilised under former President Alberto Fujimori. But they believe the true number is closer to 200,000. Most of the victims lived in rural areas, were poor and barely educated. The aim of the programme was to reduce poverty by lowering the birth rate among the poor, who at the time accounted for one in two Peruvians.
Luis Antonio Landa Burgos, the Peruvian public prosecutor reopened an investigation on Thursday into the possible role of Fujimori in the forced sterilization of thousands of Peru’s indigenous people during the ‘90s. He said he would extend his investigation to include new witnesses and gave state prosecutors three months to carry out the investigations.
Focusing mostly on indigenous and poor people in rural areas, the sterilization program was led by President Fujimori’s government, who was in power between 1990 and 2000. Fujimori himself has been serving a 25-year jail term since 2007 for human rights abuses and corruption.
Most of the victims were deceived, threatened or operated on without them even knowing, according to the rights group. The reported methods used by the authorities were not systematic. In some cases a signature of a relative was used to go ahead with an operation, in other cases victims were operated on secretly after giving birth.
Human rights groups filed a complaint against the authorities in January 2014 after finding out that the investigation into the program had been closed after clearing the government of any wrongdoing.
This is despite the rights groups receiving statements from 2,073 women, while 18 fatalities were recorded by activists from what they believe was the often secretive and slap dash surgery involved in the process.
One of Peru’s top state prosecutors said on April 29 that the enquiry will be widened to include oral statements from more alleged victims in other areas of the country.
The Peruvian feminist organization DEMUS, one of several rights groups that had filed the complaint, welcomed the move.
“We’ve waited long enough for the government to investigate these 2,073 cases and hold ex-President Fujimori and his administration accountable for these reproductive rights abuses,” Maria Cedano, head of DEMUS, told Reuters on Thursday.
It is unclear if Fujimori and his former officials can be charged with any crimes, although they are expected to come under close scrutiny when the probe continues.