Perú Reopens Criminal Investigation Into Mass Forced Sterilizations

(PRESS RELEASE) The Peruvian government will reopen its criminal investigation into the forced sterilization of hundreds of thousands of women and men in the 1990s—according to a decision by Luis Antonio Landa Burgos, the Superior Prosecutor for Perú.

In January 2014, national organizations in Perú filed a complaint after learning that the government ended its investigation into the mass sterilizations of nearly 350,000 women and 25,000 men from 1990-2000 during the Fujimori regime—under the guise of a population control policy to address poverty in the country.

Five human rights groups, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, brought a case in 1999 to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on behalf of María Mamérita Mestanza Chávez, a Peruvian woman who was threatened with imprisonment by health workers if she did not consent to being sterilized and died days later from complications in 1996. Superior Prosecutor Burgos ordered a broader investigation into Ms. Mestanza’s case and that of 2,000 others in the next three months.

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

“The Peruvian government robbed thousands of women of their dignity and rights to build a family. Now, more than a decade later, we are nowhere near justice being served.  

“Superior Prosecutor Burgos must hold Peruvian officials accountable and ensure a thorough criminal investigation to right these injustices so women and families like the Mestanza family get the compensation they deserve.”

On January 22, 2014, the Peruvian Prosecutor closed the investigation into the mass sterilizations due to lack of evidence to support claims that hundreds of mostly poor and indigenous women were sterilized against their will. On January 28, 2014, national organizations, including Estudio para la Defensa de los Derechos de la Mujer (DEMUS) filed a complaint against that decision.

DEMUS received notice on May 7 that Superior Prosecutor Luis Antonio Landa Burgos ordered the Provincial Prosecutor to broaden the investigation of Ms. Mestanza’s case and approximately 2,000 other cases of forced sterilization in the next three months.

“When we settled Ms. Mestanza’s case at the Inter-American Commission, the Peruvian government committed to investigate the human rights violations stemming from the forced sterilizations,” said Maria Ysabel Cedano, Director of DEMUS. “We’ve waited long enough for the government to investigate these 2073 cases and hold ex President Fujimori and his Administration accountable for these reproductive rights abuses.”

In a formal letter dated April 29, 2015, Superior Prosecutor Burgos established that the Provincial Prosecutor must:

  • Conduct an exhaustive investigation of the facts, including obtain oral statements from all other forced sterilizations cases;
  • Analyze the context of the execution of the National Program of Reproductive Health and Family Planning, to establish enough means of proof and decide if the case of Ms. Mestanza is one more among a large number of cases of women affected by a massive, compulsory, and systematic government policy; and
  • Elaborate a new ruling, which should include a sufficient motivation of the arguments made by Peru’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Peru’s Government Attorney’s Office, and civil society.

In 1999, the Center with the 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) brought María Mamérita Mestanza Chávez v. Perú 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 integral reparations to the family of Mestanza, including access to 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—in breach of the IACHR settlement and leaving thousands of women without justice.