Sterilisation: Peru’s unforgotten crime

Victoria Vigo who was sterilised against her will while in hospital to give birth. Photo / Supplied

Victoria Vigo shows no flicker of emotion as she recounts how she discovered – by chance – that she had been surgically sterilised against her will.

Heavily pregnant, she was admitted to a public hospital in the city of Piura, on Peru’s northern coast, in April 1996 to have a Caesarean section. Within hours of the procedure, her ailing newborn child had died and Vigo, 32 at the time, was being consoled by two doctors.

“I was exhausted and just wanted to go home,” she says. “The doctors were trying to comfort me and one told me I was still very young and could have more children. But then, afterwards, I overheard them talking and the other said that it would not be possible for me to conceive as he had sterilised me.”

Not only had Vigo not given permission for the procedure, the doctor had omitted it from her clinical records and failed to inform her.

“I felt totally violated and brutalised and I still cannot understand what motivated him,” Vigo says.

“He sterilised me and then hid the evidence. I could have tried for years to have another child without even knowing I could never conceive.”

Doubly traumatised, Vigo went home without confronting the doctor but eventually sued him and, in 2003, won damages of about £2000.

During the trial, Vigo said the doctor claimed that he had been following instructions and that the practice of sterilising patients – with or without their knowledge or consent – was standard among Peru’s public healthcare providers.

That allegation may now be tested in court, after Peru’s Attorney-General reopened an investigation into the alleged forced sterilisations during the government of Alberto Fujimori, President from 1990 to 2000, who is serving a 25-year prison term for embezzlement and directing death squads during the crackdown against the Maoist Shining Path.

The investigation will look at the entire issue of forced sterilisations while focusing on one sample case, of Mamerita Mestanza, a 33-year-old, Quechua-speaking mother-of-seven from the Andean region of Cajamarca.

She died in 1998 from complications from sterilisation surgery that health officials allegedly harassed her into accepting. Human rights groups say there may have been as many as 300,000 victims, most of them poor indigenous Quechua-speakers with limited Spanish.

The New York-based Centre for Reproductive Rights says that Fujimori’s Peru is one of only two instances of forced sterilisations being adopted as state policy since the Third Reich.

Prosecutors have reclassified the sterilisations as a crime against humanity, meaning there is no time limit for perpetrators to be brought to justice. That could pave the way for high-profile trials of Fujimori and his three Health Ministers, Eduardo Yong Motta, Alejandro Aguinaga and Marino Costa Bauer.

Although they have conceded there were problems in individual cases, all four deny ordering forced sterilisations. But Silvia Romero, a lawyer representing the Association of Women Affected by Forced Sterilisations, which has 2000 members, says: “This was a state policy that came from the highest spheres of power.”

Vigo also wants to see the doctors who carried out the sterilisations in the dock.

She believes allegations by Peru’s medical association, that its members were pressured into carrying out sterilisations, including the threat of losing their jobs, is too little, too late. “They had a choice,” she says. “If more of the doctors had spoken out at the time, the sterilisations might never have taken place.”

Fujimori unveiled the policy of providing free sterilisations for men and women in 1995 as a way of tackling Peru’s entrenched poverty and rising population.

It initially received a warm reception, including from the United Nations, which provided financial support. and the United States international aid agency USAid donated US$35 million.

But word quickly spread about doctors being pressured to meet sterilisation targets, and patients being tricked or bullied into undergoing the procedure. Human rights groups even reported alleged cases of medical staff and members of the armed forces being ordered to undergo sterilisations simply to allow clinics to make up the numbers.

As the scandal mushroomed out of the Fujimori Administration’s control, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights stepped in…

Source: NZ Herald Read more – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10772231

Opinion:

There are some crackpot bastards in this world. And the USA donating $35 million to this scheme should be hanging their heads in shame. The sick bastard that authorised this payment should be brought to justice too!

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