The case against Peru’s former dictator Alberto Fujimori for the forced sterilization of over 200,000 Indigenous women and over 22,000 men between 1990 and 2000 is gaining traction after 16 years of litigation. On Monday, state prosecutor Marcelita Gutierrez formalized the case against Fujimori, accusing him and four members of his cabinet of being material authors of the crime.
In an interview with NODAL, Maria Ysabel Cedano, lawyer and director of the Study for the Defense of Women's Rights (DEMUS), who represents at least two victims, explained the importance of the accusation filed by the First National Criminal Court in the case against Fujimori and how justice may finally be served to him and his former health ministers.
Cedano says that for 16 years the public prosecutor's office had delayed the case and delegitimized the thousands of complaints made to the office, dismissing them as common crimes rather than systematic state human rights violations.
The lawyer explains that between 1996 and 2000 the Health Department’s Program of Family Planning and Sexual and Reproductive Health sent vans into Peru’s poorest regions and tricked men and women into sterilization.
Cedano explains: “To meet goals and quotas and earn incentives, health personnel carried out sterilizations without guaranteeing the right to free prior and informed consent in writing.” She says the operations were done in unhygienic condition and without the necessary technology that resulted in the deaths of at least 18 women.
“It was a sexist and racist policy. Not only because (healthcare workers) did not speak the local languages” where the policy was implemented, such as Quechua, Aymara, and Shipiba. The thousands of men and women didn’t know they were being sterilized, says Cedano. “They were deceived."
After the procedures, people were "stigmatized... They were abandoned by their partners in many cases, abused, and humiliated by their families and the community."
The feminist and human rights lawyer went on to say that many of the victims suffer from sexual health and reproduction complications because of the poorly performed operations. Some have even developed cancer over the years.
In 2015 the Registry of Victims of Forced Sterilization was created to register and provide a defense to the victims. So far 6,000 testimonies have been made to the state, which “is obliged to provide public defense, medical attention, including mental health and support during the process” she told NODAL.
In November the First National Criminal Court received a formal case against Fujimori along with his former health ministers Eduardo Yong, Marino Costa, and Alejandro Aguinaga. Cedano says: "Now the judge must take control of the complaint verifying that everything is correct and initiate a judicial investigation." This could take up to two years.
"The First National Criminal Court will direct the investigation, and collect all the evidence and corroborate the testimonies of more than 2,000 women," the DEMUS director explained.
Cedano adds that the court’s investigation shouldn’t take more than a year. “The victims can’t wait another 20 or 16 years. If a good investigation is done we are sure that it will merit an oral trial where the court will determine the criminal liability or not of the accused."
Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in prison for crimes against humanity in 2009, after the Inter-American Court determined state responsibility in the extrajudicial killings 25 people in the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta cases in 2001 and 2006, respectively.
He was also found guilty of kidnapping journalist Gustavo Gorriti and businessman Samuel Dyer and directing the killings of nine students and one professor from the Enrique Guzman and Valle National University.
He was pardoned by disgraced former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, but the pardon was recently overturned.