Justice delayed for Peru sterilization victims

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LIMA, Peru (AP) — It was 1996 when Micaela Flores and 15 other women from Peru’s highlands accepted an ambulance ride to a Cuzco clinic, lured by the offer of a free medical checkup.

But when they arrived, the clinic’s doors were locked behind them.

“‘We’re going to make a small incision,’” Flores, now 54, said she was told. When she resisted, the mother of seven said health workers tied her feet and hands and anesthetized her.

All the women, said Flores, were surgically rendered barren through tubal ligations.

She is among more than 2,000 women who issued formal complaints about being forcibly sterilized under a program created by then-President Alberto Fujimori to dramatically lower Peru’s birth rate.

Fujimori, now in prison for corruption and authorizing death squads, has said the tubal ligations were voluntary. But the women say they were deceived, browbeaten, threatened with jail, bribed with food parcels and otherwise pressured into the operations to meet program quotas.

In October, Flores thought justice might finally be at hand when Peru’s new government told the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights it was re-opening a criminal investigation into the 1995-2000 program, which sterilized more than 300,000 women, mostly poor, illiterate Indians.

Yet three months later, there is scant evidence of progress.

The prosecutor put in charge of the case, Edith Alicia Chamorro, says she has only just begun to study its 62-volume folio and has been granted no special financial or human resources to devote to it.

Her boss, Peru’s chief prosecutor Jose Pelaez, did not respond to repeated attempts by The Associated Press to discuss the case, including why prosecutors have yet to contact any of hundreds of women who are eager to provide testimony in hopes of receiving restitution.

“Why is the prosecutor, the minister of health, the national ombudsman closing the door on us?” Flores said in Lima this month at a gathering of sterilization victims organized by a congresswoman who has long supported them.

Activists say that besides being forced, the sterilizations were also often carried out in unsanitary conditions with little or no post-operation follow-up. They have documented 18 cases of women who died of infections shortly after being neutered.

In the annals of government-sanctioned involuntary sterilizations, Peru’s appear to be among the biggest.

Such programs began in the late 19th century, spurred by eugenics movements that aimed to diminish the stock of supposedly substandard people starting with the mentally ill.

Nazi Germany sterilized an estimated 400,000 women before World War II. Sterilization has been wielded against ethic minorities in the name of racial purity and, as in Peru, the uneducated poor, said University of Michigan historian Alexandra Minna Stern.

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