Some 350,000 women and 25,000 men were sterilised during programme in 1990s led by government to reduce birth rate
By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA, May 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A top law enforcement official in Peru has ordered the reopening and expansion of a criminal investigation into the alleged forced sterilisation of thousands of indigenous people.
During the 1990s, nearly 350,000 women and 25,000 men were sterilised during a programme led by the government of former president Alberto Fujimori to reduce the birth rate. The programme focused on indigenous and poor people in rural areas of Peru.
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, and at least 18 women died as a result of the surgery.
In January 2014, shortly after learning that Peru had closed an investigation into the sterilisation program and had cleared Fujimori and others in his government by saying no crimes against humanity had been committed, human rights groups filed a complaint.
In a 56-page notice to the rights groups dated April 29, a top state prosecutor, Luis Antonio Landa Burgos, said the enquiry would be widened to include new oral statements from other alleged victims of forced sterilizations in other areas of Peru. He gave state prosecutors three months to carry out investigations.
"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," said Maria Cedano, head of the Peruvian feminist organisation DEMUS, one of several rights groups that had filed the complaint.
Fujimori, who has been in prison since 2007 for corruption and human rights abuses, has said the sterilisations were voluntary.
While the notice did not name Fujimori and his former officials as charged with any crimes, it is expected they will come under close scrutiny once again as the investigation proceeds, rights groups say.
"There's no specific statement in the notice that the investigation will look into them, but prosecutors have the obligation to investigate the contextual element ... to see if there was a state policy for the forced sterilisations, involving the then responsible people from the government, which would be the president and the ministry of health," said Monica Arango, a lawyer and director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights.
In 2010, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights told Peru to investigate and punish those responsible for the death of Maria Mamerita Mestanza, a 33-year-old Peruvian woman, whom activists say was coerced into a tube-typing operation that killed her in 1966.
"Prosecutor Burgos must hold Peruvian officials accountable and ensure a thorough criminal investigation to right these injustices so women and families like the Mestanza family get the compensation they deserve," Arango said in a statement.
"The Peruvian government robbed thousands of women of their dignity and rights to build a family," she added.
(Reporting By Anastasia Moloney; Editing By Leslie Gevirtz)
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