Peru's Supreme Court of Justice annuls the judicial process for forced sterilizations committed during the Fujimori government

More than 200,000 women were sterilized in the 90s in Peru as part of a state policy of Alberto Fujimori's government. Photos by Liz Tasa and Tadeo Bourbón. Used with permission.

This article was published by Salud con Lupa on December 23, 2023. An edited version is republished on Global Voices under a media partnership.

On December 7, 2024 — the same day that the Constitutional Court released former President Alberto Fujimori, who was serving a 25-year sentence for crimes against humanity — the Supreme Court of Justice of Peru stopped the judicial process for hundreds of thousands of forced sterilizations committed during the Fujimori dictatorship, and ordered that the case return to the point where it was in October 2018, in the Supraprovincial Prosecutor's Office for Cases of Human Rights Violation, so that a new criminal complaint can be formulated and a judge can decide whether the process is to be opened or archived.

The decision of the Supreme Court comes as a result of the lawsuit filed by the former minister of health of the Fujimori government, Alejandro Aguinaga, to avoid being judicially investigated in this case. Among the arguments he presented, Aguinaga maintains that his constitutional rights are being violated and that the investigation lacks cause because in the two decades since the case has been filed eight times due to lack of evidence.

Marino Costa Bauer, Eduardo Yong Motta, Alberto Fujimori and Alejandro Aguinaga. Image by Salud con Lupa. Fair use.

During the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori, more than 272,000 women and 22,000 men were sterilized in regions with high levels of poverty and a majority Indigenous population, as part of the National Reproductive Health and Family Planning Program. Although the exact number of operations without consent that were carried out is unknown, there are more than 8,000 people registered in the official Registry of Victims of Forced Sterilizations of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. The victims suffered discrimination from their family and community, and were left with physical and psychological consequences that they suffer to this day.

In December 2021, Judge Rafael Martínez ordered the beginning of a preliminary investigation against former president Alberto Fujimori and senior officials of his government, such as former health ministers Alejandro Aguinaga, Marino Costa Bauer, Eduardo Yong Motta and advisor Ulises Jorge Aguilar. For this case, the Prosecutor's Office presented its evidence gathered in 16 years of investigation, during two months of hearings.

They are accused of being responsible for the deaths of five women: Mamérita Mestanza, Alejandra Aguirre, Reynalda Betalleluz, Marpia Espinola, and Celia Ramos, who had complications after operations carried out under terrible health conditions and without monitoring by medical personnel. They are also sought to be held responsible for the injuries committed against another 1,315 victims in a context of serious human rights violations.

The case of Celia Ramos represents very well how most of these sterilizations were carried out: in 1997, at the age of 34, she went to a health center to receive dental treatment and her doctors identified her as a candidate for a tubal ligation. Under the insistence and pressure of health workers, who even visited her at home without her consent, Ramos agreed to the surgical intervention and died of sepsis 19 days later.

Women sterilized against their will spoke in letters about their physical and emotional consequences, as well as the stigma and discrimination they suffered. Photo by Liz Tasa. Used with permission.

This judicial investigation began three years after the Prosecutor's Office presented its criminal complaint in 2021. One of the conclusions reached by the Public Ministry was that forced sterilizations were a State policy that aimed to reduce poverty. In 1991, through a territorial demographic evaluation, the state concluded that there was “a negative relationship between population growth and economic growth.” The procedures were done mainly among women in rural areas of the jungle and mountains.

The Prosecutor's Office has also documented with testimonies, journalistic publications and reports from institutions such as the Ombudsman's Office, the Ministry of Health and the Congress of the Republic, that health personnel forced low-income women to tie their tubes under deception, threats or the false promise of giving them food.

According to the Prosecutor's Office, those who carried out the practice were doctors who, from their position of authority, helped implement the sterilization policy in the subregion IV of Cajamarca, where Mestanza's death occurred. However, they continued to work without problems in the health sector after the events became public.

Alberto Fujimori and his children: Kenji and Keiko after leaving the Barbadillo prison, where he was imprisoned for 14 years. Photo by Andina / Vidal Tarqui. Fair use. [AN: do we have permission?]

The resolution of the Supreme Court of Justice was notified to the legal representatives of the victims of forced sterilizations on December 6, 2023.

That same day, former President Alberto Fujimori was released from prison thanks to a ruling by the Constitutional Court that led to his pardon in 2017. The release occurred despite the fact that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights asked the Peruvian state to refrain from this measure, to guarantee the right to justice of the victims of La Cantuta and Barrios Altos, cases for which he was sentenced in 2009 to 25 years in prison.

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