12:52 GMT13 June 2021
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    Peruvian authorities have moved to reopen the investigation into allegations of the forced sterilization of thousands of indigenous men and women in the 1990s to reduce the country’s birth rate.

    The program, under the government of then-President Alberto Fujimori, sterilized an estimated 350,000 women and 25,000 men between 1995 and 2000, and was focused largely on the poor and indigenous communities. If proven to be coercive, it would be one of the largest forced sterilization programs in recent history. 

    Despite the fact that 2,073 women gave statements to human rights groups that they had had their tubes tied without their consent or knowledge, and despite the fact that at least 18 women are known to have died as a result, an investigation into the incident had previously and quietly been closed, while clearing the government of wrongdoing. 

    When a group of human rights organizations discovered the case had been closed, they filed a complaint in January of 2014. 

    A high ranking state prosecutor, Luis Antonio Landa Burgos, responded in a 56-page document dated April 29, that the investigation would be reopened and expanded to include new statements from other alleged victims of the procedures. He gave a timeline of three months for the new, wider investigation to be carried out. 

    Reports so far tell the stories of women who were coerced, threatened or outright deceived when they were operated on. For example, sometimes family members were used to sign consent forms in place of the woman herself, or an operation might be carried out without her knowledge after she had given birth. Activists also allege that some women were threatened with jail and that procedures were carried out in unsanitary conditions. 

    "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," Maria Cedano, head of the Peruvian feminist organisation DEMUS, told Reuters. 

    Fujimori, who was president from 1990-2000, was sent to prison in 2007 on corruption and human rights charges and is still serving his term. It's not clear whether he, or other particular individuals in his government, will be targeted in the investigation. 

    Fujimori's daughter, who was considered a sort of honorary first lady during his presidency, is currently a front runner in Peru's 2016 presidential race. 

    "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 lawyer Monica Arango, who is the head of the Latin America and the Caribbean division at the Center for Reproductive Rights. 

    One successful case was brought against the government which, in 2003, had to pay $100,000 in damages to the family of 33-year-old Mamerita Mestanza, a mother of seven, who died as a result of a tube-tying procedure she was coerced into. 


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    population control, forced sterilization, indigenous peoples, women's rights, investigation, sterilization, Alberto Fujimori, Peru
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