[News] Women Sterilized Against Their Will in Peru Seek Justice, Again
news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Oct 20 12:01:10 EDT 2010
Women Sterilized Against Their Will in Peru Seek Justice, Again
Written by Ángel Páez
Tuesday, 19 October 2010 13:40
(IPS) - Poor, rural, Quechua-speaking women in
the Peruvian province of Anta who were victims of
a forced sterilisation programme between 1996 and
2000 have filed a new lawsuit in their continuing struggle for justice.
In May 2009, Jaime Schwartz, the public
prosecutor investigating the case against four
former health ministers of the Alberto Fujimori
administration (1990-2000), decided to shelve the
investigation. He said the case involved alleged
crimes against the victims' life, body and
health, and manslaughter, and that the statute of limitations had expired.
But the plaintiffs in the case had brought
accusations of genocide and torture, which as
crimes against humanity have no statute of
limitation. The attorney-general's office upheld
Schwartz's decision, overruling the complaint
lodged against it by the victims and the human
rights organisations providing them with legal advice.
Now the Women's Association of Forced
Sterilisation Victims of Anta, a mountainous
province in the southern department of Cuzco, has
decided to combat impunity with a new strategy:
it is presenting a new lawsuit against those
responsible for family planning policy in the
last four years of the Fujimori regime.
The Association's approximately 100 members are
rural women whose testimonies have revealed the
hidden side of the National Programme for
Reproductive Health and Family Planning, imposed
by coercion and deceit under the guise of an anti-poverty plan.
Sabina Huillca, 41, told IPS: "I remember
perfectly the day they sterilised me against my
will, because what they did to me made me suffer
ever since. It was August 24, 1996," she said, trying to keep her voice calm.
She is one of the witnesses who will testify
before the justice authorities against those who
devised and implemented the programme.
"After giving birth to my fourth daughter, I went
to the Izcuchaca health centre to see the doctor.
He told me not to have any more children and to
have voluntary surgical contraception (VSC)," she said.
"I told him 'No'. 'You're silly', he said, 'you
will have more children and you won't be able to
raise them'." While she lay resting on a bed, a
nurse gave her an injection. "I didn't know, and
no one told me, that it was an anaesthetic," she said.
"When I woke up, my hands and feet were tied to
the bed with bandages. I was immobilised. I could
see them finishing off some stitches. 'What have you done to me!'" I shouted.
"'We're nearly done,' the doctor said, and I
started to cry. 'I don't want this, I don't want
this!' I shouted in despair. But the damage was
already done," said Huillca, who was 28 years old at the time.
"Nada personal" (Nothing Personal), a 1998 report
by human rights lawyer and activist Giulia
Tamayo, commissioned by the Peruvian section of
the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for
the Defence of Women's Rights (CLADEM), describes
the coercive nature of the VSC programme.
The study documented for the first time the
systematic use of sterilisation practices that
particularly targeted poor, indigenous, rural women.
As a result of the publication, Tamayo received
threats from the government. She had to leave the
country and went to live in Spain, but has now
returned to Peru to advise the Anta Women's Association on the new lawsuit.
The Peruvian state has admitted that 300,000
sterilisations were performed under the VSC
programme. The ombudsman's office has collected
direct testimony from 2,074 women who were
sterilised without their consent between 1996 and 2000.
"The power structures that protected the authors
of criminal acts are still in place, guaranteeing
their impunity up to the present day. This means
that the rights of women who suffered from mass
forced sterilisation continue to be violated," Tamayo told IPS.
In 2003, the Peruvian state signed a friendly
settlement agreement before the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in the case of
Mamérita Mestanza, who died in 1998 as a result
of a poorly performed tubal ligation procedure done without her consent.
The state acknowledged its responsibility,
recognised the abuses committed under the family
planning programme, undertook to investigate and
bring to trial the government officials who
devised and implemented the campaign, and
promised to pay reparations to Mestanza's family.
But the attorney-general's office dragged its
feet on the promised investigation, which made
little progress before it was shelved by the
public prosecutor in 2009. Meanwhile Alejandro
Aguinaga, one of the accused, a former health
minister and personal physician to Fujimori, was
elected to Congress in 2006 and is now vice president of the legislature.
Fujimori is in prison for 25 years, convicted of
several charges of corruption and human rights violations.
The state's failure to carry out this part of the
friendly agreement "is prolonging the pain of
thousands of victims, because the accused are
carrying on as respectable members of society
when they really should be called to account in
the courts," said Tamayo, who is also a
researcher for the Spanish chapter of the global
rights watchdog Amnesty International.
"This time, those responsible for the forced
sterilisation plan will be sued individually for
crimes against humanity and torture," she said.
Each of the accused will also be charged "for war
crimes, because the coerced sterilisation was
carried out in the context of the 1980-2000 armed
conflict (between the military and leftwing
guerrillas), when the armed forces were used to
threaten and terrorise" the civilian population, Tamayo said.
Specifying international crimes (which include
crimes against humanity, genocide, torture and
war crimes) will allow "other countries to
prosecute the accused, if the Peruvian state
continues to protect them," she said.
"The IACHR has already indicated that forced
sterilisation is a matter of international law," the rights activist said.
Tamayo said the lawsuit will be brought by the
victims in Anta, because in that province
"sterilisation was implemented door to door, the
health authorities were given 'quotas' of
sterilised women that they were required to meet,
and all the victims belonged to the same indigenous ethnic group."
This shows that "those who designed the programme
defined its targets with abominable precision," Tamayo said.
One of the first to take up the fight for justice
in the case of coerced sterilisations was the now
famous Quechua-speaking lawmaker Hilaria Supa, a
native of Anta, one of whose daughters is a victim of the VSC programme.
"Since the operation, to this day, I have
suffered because of what was done to me by
force," said Huillca, who lives in the rural
village of Huayllaccocha, where several other
cases of forced sterilisation have been documented.
"They damaged me as a woman. After that I was not
able to pick up my small children, or work in the
fields, which our livelihood depends on. I can't
even cook, because I get terrible pains," she
said, describing little-known consequences borne by the victims.
"I have difficulty walking; my life is full of
suffering. Furthermore, in the community I am
treated as second-rate, because in the village a
woman who does not work is very much looked down
on," she continued, no longer able to hide her sadness.
"The worst of it all is that one of the doctors
who damaged me for life is still working in the
Izcuchaca health centre," she said. "Every time I
see him I feel furious, because nothing has happened to him."
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