Protests and film challenge closure of forced sterilisation inquiry

28 FEBRUARY 2014

As a reaction to January’s closure of the judicial investigation into the involvement of former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) and his health ministers in forced sterilisations, victims’ groups and women’s collectives protested throughout the month of February.

They demanded that the case be reopened and moved from simply a judicial investigation to a court case. The Inter-American Human Rights Court had asked for the reopening of the case in 2011 as a crime against humanity, as at least 18 women had died as a result of the 1990s sterilization campaign. Although 2,074 victims have been so far identified, only 500 statements have been taken.

Lawyer Rossy Salazar from Demus, a women’s rights group, explained that they are asking for the case to be reopened because the prosecutor had failed to examine all the documentation produced. Listen to a radio interview with DEMUS here.

In mid-February, 16 victims from the victims' organisation AMAEF from Anta in Cuzco and 6 women from the Committee of Sterilised Women of Huancabamba travelled to Lima to protest in front of the Prosecutor's Office. They visited several institutions including human rights ombudsman (La Defensoría del Pueblo) and spoke to the Prime Minister. They had expected to meet President Ollanta Humala, but the meeting did not take place. Their aim was to hand the president a petition signed by more than 4000 people asking for the case to be reopened. They demand a policy of reparations from the state, and in particular education and health provision for the victims of these violations of human rights.

Two days later, the collective Alfombra Roja organised a protest at the Justice Palace, where women victims and activists, dressed in red, took over the entrance of the building and created a human red carpet. Similar protests were enacted at the Plaza de Armas in Arequipa and Huancayo. Images of the protest against forced sterilisation can be viewed here.

Over the last decade activist groups have sprung up around Peru joining the efforts of victims, human rights activists, researchers and artists to inform the public about forced sterilisations. 

A collaborative project currently underway between Peru and the UK is creating an interactive documentary that aims to collect and share the testimonies of some of the 300,000 women and men who were sterilised in the 1990s - many of whom were forced to do so or did not give their informed consent. The project is coordinated by Chaka Studio in London, Matthew Brown and Karen Tucker at the University of Bristol. The prototype of the project will be officially launched on 19 March at the i-Docs 2014 festival at the Watershed in Bristol.

Background on the Forced Sterilisations case

In 1995 a law was passed that made Voluntary Surgical Contraception available in public hospitals. The 1996 National Programme of Reproductive Health proposed that all women who had been to hospital to give birth or after an abortion would leave with safe family planning. To achieve this total coverage, coercion was used.

The first information on abuse surfaced as soon as the programme started. The first formal complaints were presented to the Defensoría del Pueblo in 1997 and at least three women were identified as having died during the sterilisation procedure. In 1998 the Defensoría made recommendations and some changes to the system were proposed. Women were no longer to be sterilised in tents during ‘reproductive fairs’ and more time for reflection would be provided. But in 1999, further cases of abuse were identified and an official case was presented at the Inter American Human Rights Court.

After Fujimori’s fall a congressional commission was set up to investigate the issue in 2001. A year later the number of victims was established to be 272,028, although the number is now thought to be closer to 300,000. In 2002 a constitutional accusation for genocide was brought against Alberto Fujimori and his health ministers Eduardo Yong Motta, Marino Costa Bauer and Alejandro Aguinaga. This was disregarded and a new accusation was brought to Congress this time for crimes against humanity.

In 2007, after several false starts, the Prosecutor’s Office reported that around 2000 victims had been identified. However two years later the case was closed as it is considered the crimes were neither genocide, nor crimes against humanity. Just like today, women’s organisation, DEMUS presented a formal complaint. In 2010 the Inter American Human Rights Court condemned the Peruvian State for not having investigated or sanctioned those responsible for the sterilisations and ruled this a crime against humanity.

The issue of forced sterilisation played a key role in the 2011 presidential elections and some commentators argued that Keiko Fujimori was in part defeated because of her dismal management of the issue. One of her closest associates during the campaign was Alejandro Aguinaga, one of the accused in the forced sterilisations case. When Ollanta Humala was first elected he promised to reopen the case and when this finally happened in November 2012 expectations were raised that after so many years something would be done. This is at the heart of the present frustration of the victims and activists.

Click here for a detailed timeline of forced sterilisations in Peru and efforts to secure justice.

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