BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Human rights lawyers representing women who say they were forcibly sterilized as part of a 1990s birth control campaign in Peru have appealed against state prosecutors’ closure of a criminal investigation into the Fujimori government over the issue.
The appeal by Peruvian women’s rights group Demus, filed on Tuesday, follows the prosecutors’ decision last week to clear former President Alberto Fujimori and health ministers and senior officials in his government of having thousands of poor indigenous women forcibly sterilized.
During the mid-1990s, around 30,000 men and over 270,000 women were sterilized as part of a government-led programme to reduce the birth rate, focused on indigenous and poor people in rural areas of Peru.
Of the women involved, 2,074 have given statements to local and international rights groups saying that they had their tubes tied without their knowledge or consent, and at least 18 women died as a result of the surgery, rights groups say.
Demus, one of several rights groups in Peru that have sought high-level prosecutions on behalf of alleged victims, said it was surprised by and deplored the decision to close the inquiry.
“We reject the decision of the public prosecutor that the public policy (under Fujimori) was not systematic and therefore not a crime against humanity. This was not a common crime but a crime against humanity because so many women were involved,” said Rossy Salazar, a lawyer with Demus, which is representing four of the women.
“This was a state policy that attacked and damaged women’s bodies without their consent and against their will. It took away their rights to decide if and when to have children by claiming it would reduce poverty among the poor,” Salazar told Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview from Lima.
Several other rights groups have also appealed against the decision, Salazar said.
Rights groups say women were threatened and forced to go to public health clinics to undergo sterilization operations and that local health authorities and hospitals received government-set sterilization quotas.
The women’s ministry intervened after the investigation was closed, urging judicial authorities earlier this week to ensure that the 2,074 women who had given statements alleging forced sterilization could seek justice and compensation.
Fujimori, who is serving a 25-year prison sentence for human rights abuses and corruption, has said his government’s sterilization campaign, which was backed by international donors, was consensual and voluntary.
Prosecutor Marco Guzman said last week he was willing to look at individual cases, but did not think they added up to a criminal strategy orchestrated by the Fujimori government.
“The women would come to the clinic, agree to the procedure, and undergo sterilization. That was the regular, the normal process," he said.
“We still have hope in the justice system and will go through the legal system in Peru. If that doesn’t work we’ll go again to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights,’ said Demus’s Salazar.