Human Rights Organizations Condemn Perú for Ending Criminal Investigation into Mass Forced Sterilization

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Center for Reproductive Rights calls out state for failing to comply with its obligations before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
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(PRESS RELEASE) Following the recent announcement that the Peruvian government ended its criminal investigation into the forced sterilization of hundreds of thousands of women and men in the 1990s, five human rights organizations met with government officials and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to discuss the implementation of a settlement in a Peruvian forced sterilization case.

According to the Health Ministry of Perú, nearly 350,000 women and 25,000 men were sterilized from 1990-2000—under the guise of a population control policy to address poverty in the country— implemented by the Fujimori government. Among those victims was María Mamérita Mestanza Chávez, a woman threatened with imprisonment by health workers if she did not consent to being sterilized. Due to complications from the sterilization procedure, her health deteriorated and she died days later.

After Ms. Mestanza’s case was brought to the IACHR by five human rights groups—the Center for Reproductive Rights, Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Defense of Women's Rights (CLADEM), the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), the Association for Human Rights (APRODEH), and Estudio para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer (DEMUS)—Perú agreed to a friendly settlement in 2003 that would ensure a thorough investigation into the mass sterilizations, as well as compensate Ms. Mestanza’s husband and her children. The five organizations argued that the end of the investigation is in breach of the Mestanza settlement. 

Said Mónica Arango, regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“The Peruvian government ended the dream of building a family for thousands of women and it’s reprehensible that after more than a decade justice has not been served.

“The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights must recognize that the state has reneged on its promise to address these serious human rights violations.”

In 1999, the Center, with DEMUS, CLADEM, APRODEH AND CEJIL, brought the María Mamérita Mestanza Chávez v. Perú case before the IACHR, arguing that Ms. Mestanza was one of thousands of women affected by a massive, compulsory, and systematic government policy that stressed sterilization as a means to rapidly decrease the fertility rate, especially among poor, indigenous, and rural women, in violation of their human rights.

The IACHR approved the friendly settlement agreement in Ms. Mestanza’s case on October 10, 2003 (Report No. 71/03).  Under this settlement, the State agreed “to undertake a thorough investigation of the facts and apply legal punishments to any person determined to have participated in them, as either planner, perpetrator, accessory, or in other capacity, even if they be civilian or military officials or employees of the government,” among other measures. The settlement also called for the State to provide Ms. Mestanza’s children free primary and secondary education and to guarantee free health insurance for her family. The government has failed to provide secondary education to three of Ms. Mestanza’s children and the family has encountered financial hurdles when accessing health care services.     

In January 2014, the Peruvian State closed the investigations alleging the lack of evidence to support claims that hundreds of mostly poor and indigenous women were sterilized against their will—breaching the IACHR settlement and leaving thousands of women without justice. The petitioners in Ms. Mestanza’s case are calling for the IACHR to include the failure to comply with the settlement in its annual report.