Q REPORTS (Q24N) – It is estimated that between 1996 and 2000, more than 300,000 women and some 22,000 men were subjected to forced sterilizations in Peru. In most cases, without preparation and without postoperative care.
These acts of violence by the State respond to the so-called National Program for Reproductive Health and Family Planning, and were perpetrated by the government of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), who promoted them as a measure to fight poverty. Although they are classified as crimes against humanity by the Rome Statute, the Peruvian Justice has not yet fully clarified them, and the culprits have not been tried or punished.
This Monday (8.02.2021), the media echoed the Peruvian government’s announcement that it “recognizes the right to compensation for victims.” But the news as such “is not entirely accurate,” explains to DW María Ysabel Cedano, a lawyer specializing in gender at the feminist organization Estudio para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer (DEMUS), from Lima.
“The law opens the door to current reparations programs, including economic reparation, which will require regulatory modifications from the Executive Branch that must be made immediately,” he adds, and “that worries us because it can generate false expectations if there is no political will.”
With this decision, the government includes these women in the Comprehensive Reparations Plan (PIR) for the victims of the internal conflict that pitted the Armed Forces against the armed groups Sendero Luminoso and Movimiento Revolucionario Túpac Amaru (MRTA).
The forced sterilization program focused on women of reproductive age, most of them in situations of poverty and great vulnerability. Many were indigenous women and internal migrants. Some of them had not yet had children.
The case of Mamérita Mestanza Chávez, a 33-year-old woman who was intimidated from 1996 to 1998, until she “agreed” under pressure, that is, without consent, to undergo surgery is emblematic. She did not receive any type of medical assistance, neither before nor after the intervention, she suffered serious injuries and died due to them. Her case was presented to the Inter-American Commission of Justice (IACHR) in 2003.
The Peruvian Prosecutor’s Office filed it three times, prompting protests from Peruvian society and human rights organizations. It was eventually reopened, but those responsible have not yet been brought to justice.
Demands for justice and reparation
The struggle to denounce the impunity that predominates in cases of forced sterilizations has been going on for more than a decade and is carried out by various women’s and human rights movements, including Amnesty International Peru, in its “Against their will” campaign. As well as indigenous movements and the LGTBI community, survivors and relatives of victims of this illegal practice continue to demand justice and reparation.
The new regulations recognize victims of “sexual violence in all its forms,” which would include forced sterilizations through tubal ligation without the knowledge or consent of those affected, which “violates reproductive rights,” says María Ysabel. Cedano.
This represents a milestone, an important advance in the legal recognition of that right of the victims, she points out. Although the Peruvian State has already administratively recognized those rights on more than one occasion, “it was reversed several times, and there were setbacks,” explains the jurist and political analyst. For example, during the government of Alan García. After him, the former president Ollanta Humala created in 2016 the Registry of Victims of Forced Sterilization (REVIESFO), opened by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, in which more than 8,000 people, women and men, are registered.
Fujimori rejects reparations
Quechua-speaking indigenous congresswomen María Sumire, Hilaria Supa, and later Tania Pariona, together with DEMUS, succeeded in having the law of the Comprehensive Reparations Plan modified.
Rocío Silva Santisteban, a congresswoman for the Frente Amplio, which takes up the task of its predecessors in the Justice Commission, said in an interview with DW that “Fujimorism, which has had the hegemony in Congress in the last 15 years, denies that there is any There has been an internal armed conflict in Peru.
We not only suffered from terrorism in the 80s and 90s, but also from the indiscriminate repression, at certain times and places, by the Army and the Navy. Therefore, we have been facing a conflict internal armed forces, according to the nomenclature of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
For this reason, Fujimori has wanted to deny everything related to reparations, but especially to reparations to forced sterilizations, “he clarifies. The law already existed, he says, but it had been boxed in several times, and it was not made known to the public for several years.
About 2,000 women formally reported being sterilized without their consent, but the exact number of deaths is unknown. The Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights (Cladem) and the Ombudsman’s Office of Peru collect evidence in this regard, so it is expected to have more accurate data.
The criminal proceedings against Fujimori and his former health officials have not made significant progress. On March 1, a hearing is scheduled in which the Prosecutor’s Office will present arguments supporting the final complaint against the accused.
“After a long, painful and re-victimizing preliminary prosecutorial investigation of more than 16 years, the Public Ministry believes 1,307 complainants, and if there is a judicial investigation and that concludes in an accusation, they would go to oral trial. If that did not happen, It would be a scandal. But in this country, anything can happen, “warns the DEMUS lawyer.
“It is a mega-trial, the first of its kind in Peru, and of international importance, because there are about 1,700 victims who have sued the Peruvian State, which, in addition, must grant them public defense,” says Silva Santisteban, who is also a lawyer and journalist, and is writing a book on the subject. It is a complex process, a new chapter “that must begin in memory of so many women, like Mamérita Mestanza, and so many others who died from the consequences of these unhealthy and violent operations” , he maintains.
“There is hope” in the Peruvian Justice
For María Ysabel Cedano, that the right to compensation be recognized “is to pay off a historical debt of the Peruvian State and society. It is to become aware that denying justice and reparation to the victims of forced sterilization is denying the right to decide of all women. Because the basis on which they were forcibly sterilized was that the State can decide on women’s bodies.
The State said it wanted to fight poverty by guaranteeing women’s autonomy, and what it did was deny them their rights to family planning, access to contraceptive methods, the free and informed prior consent in writing that must exist in the event of irreversible methods being used. The State carried out a policy without guaranteeing these rights, “he says.
“Everything was organized so that health operators, both nurses and doctors, would comply with certain sterilization quotas,” says Congresswoman Silva Santisteban. If they were not met, they were not paid, and then “they would go out to look for ladies.” Some women, many very young, went to the doctor’s office, were given a sleeping pill, and when they woke up, they were sterilized without their consent.
After this step that opens a new chapter in the fight against impunity in Peru, it remains to be seen if these compensations will materialize and will actually reach the survivors and the families of the victims.
It is not yet known what the amount of the compensation will be, nor the date on which they will come into effect. The government has not yet ruled on measures to allow victims to access the reparations program. “We are going to carry out a series of actions so that there is an official pronouncement, with open letters, emails to the minister, street events, forums, both from the ‘We are 2074 and many more’ movement, as well as from the monitoring group of the Human Rights Coordinator ”, announces María Ysabel Cedano.
For Rocío Silva Santiesteban, the struggle from politics is “for the visibility of a type of sexual violence and a type of biopolitical control over the body of brown, indigenous, mestizo, poor women, who did not have the possibility of raising their voice and they did not know what their rights were. ”Now, women are raising the issue in various spaces. An issue that crosses several layers of society, at the national level, and which is already being recognized at the international level,” something that we appreciate ”, He says.
According to the congresswoman, “there is hope because the Peruvian Justice has improved in recent years. It is the first time that we have a woman as president of the Judiciary, Elvia Barrios. There is hope” (ers).