February 29, 2024

Lessons from Peru

I just stumbled across a documentary which was recently released in Peru, Cicatrices del engaño (Scars of Deception), about the 300,000 women and 22,000 men forcibly or deceitfully sterilised by population control officials in the government of President Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s.

I hope that it will be released in English (at the moment, even the Spanish subtitles in YouTube are awful), so that we can all learn lessons from this ghastly abuse of human rights. Earlier this year the former president, who is currently serving a 25-year jail sentence for crimes against humanity, was exonerated of blame for the sterilization program. The prosecutor said that he could find no evidence that women had been systematically coerced.

The tears of the women in the documentary suggest otherwise. While Mr Fujimori and bigwigs in his administration ought to put in the dock for this atrocity, how about the doctors who did the tubal ligations? Shouldn’t they be investigated for their zeal in meeting sterilization quotas set by the government? “The worst of it all is that one of the doctors who damaged me for life is still working in the Izcuchaca health centre,” one woman told the IPS news service. “Every time I see him I feel furious, because nothing has happened to him.”

A closer examination of this dark chapter might reveal other enablers. The US government and the United Nations Population Fund gave development aid to the population program, for instance. Ironically, just before the 1995 Beijing Women’s Conference the government removed a ban on sterilization as a method of birth control. This was widely applauded at the time by feminist groups as a bold step forward and a poke in the eye to Catholic Church, which opposed sterilization. As they say: be careful what you wish for.