Long wait for justice for victims of forced sterilization in Peru

By Fernando Gimeno

Lima, Aug 12 (EFE).- Thousands of alleged victims of forced sterilization in Peru during former President Alberto Fujimori’s 1990-2000 administration have been waiting a quarter-century for justice and reparations, a long delay that an author and rights activist says is largely attributable to societal indifference.

That is the viewpoint of human rights researcher Ines Ruiz Alvarado in her recently published book “Pajaros de medianoche” (Birds of Midnight).

“If we really had the awareness that this was a crime against humanity, this trial would already be over and done with. But there’s no pressure brought to bear by ordinary citizens,” she said in an interview with Efe.

“I think because so many years have passed collective memory shifts based on whatever the media narrative is. And there are those who want it to shift – the ones who worked in the Fujimori regime,” Ruiz Alvarado said.

In Lima, the capital city home to a third of Peru’s population, “there’s a deeply entrenched racism and paternalism that thinks ‘the others,’ those poor Andean and Amazonian women who were sterilized, don’t have rights over their own bodies,” the author said.

“The main reason I think the legal process has taken so long is because it’s really a very small group that’s been seeking justice and reparations, and we in Lima don’t get involved” to make sure justice is served, she added.

“Pajaros de medianoche,” a title inspired by a poem by Peru’s Magda Portal, has been published at a time when Fujimori and his then-health ministers are being prosecuted for carrying out mass sterilizations as part of a birth-control program, a case that has been shelved and reopened on several occasions.

Fujimori, now 83, is already behind bars, having been sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2009 for death-squad killings linked to a counterinsurgency campaign against leftist guerrillas. He also has been convicted of corruption.

Although around 2,000 women were alleged victims of the program, it is unclear precisely how many sterilizations were performed without patients’ consent.

More than 300,000 sterilizations – the vast majority of them on women – were carried out as part of a 1996-2000 National Reproductive Health and Family Planning Program.

The accusers – mostly poor, Quechua-speaking Andean women – say they were coerced and tricked into undergoing tubal ligation (a surgical procedure to prevent pregnancy) as part of a poverty-reduction program, the indictment reads.

“There’s a lot of fear about making accusations. The women who were sterilized without their consent have put off denouncing (what happened) over fear of being labeled terrorists,” Ruiz Alvarado said.

“Remember that the sterilization program occurred after the internal armed conflict,” she said, referring to a 1980-2000 civil war pitting government forces against Maoist Shining Path guerrillas, who were effectively defeated with the 1992 capture of founder Abimael Guzman.

“I met women who had been unjustly accused of being terrorists, jailed, raped by police and who were later sterilized.”

The author credited victims’ associations – and the non-governmental organizations who support them – for giving fresh impetus this year to the case, which is to enter the formal trial stage shortly. EFE


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