Human rights activists and victims of forced sterilizations in Peru under former president Alberto Fujimori are expressing outrage over the possibility of his pardon by current Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.
“They’d be mocking the people and mocking Peru, because (Fujimori) has committed crimes,” said Obdulia Guevara, Director of the Association of Women of Huancabamba, a group representing victims of forced sterilizations.
More than 200,000 mostly poor, Indigenous Quechua-speaking women in Peru are said to have been forcefully sterilized between 1996 and 2000 under Fujimori, who is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for unrelated human rights violations.
During his 2016 campaign Kuczynski said he would oppose pardoning Fujimori, but in a recent radio interview, he indicated he’s now considering a medical pardon of the 78-year-old ex-president, who led from 1990–2000 and has been in prison since 2009.
Kuczynski’s reversal is widely seen as an attempt to appease the strong opposition party led by Fujimori’s daughter, Keiko Fujimori. Her party, Fuerza Popular, holds a solid majority in congress and lost the 2016 election by a narrow margin.
The political about-face by Kuczynski isn’t sitting well with Guevara and members of her organization representing women claiming to have been sterilized without consent in the late 90s.
“He isn’t representing Fujimori. He’s representing the Peruvian people, including these sterilized women,” said Guevara.
Kuczynski wouldn’t be the first recent Peruvian leader to open a national dialogue on pardoning Fujimori; his two predecessors also weighed the option.
“Every time they raise the issue of a pardon, it re-victimizes, because once again they publically debate the possibility of liberating someone responsible for such serious crimes,” said human rights activist Francisco Soberon, whose NGO Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos (APRODEH) has advocated for victims of state violence in Peru since the 90s.
While Fujimori’s critics label him a dictator, supporters say his policies stabilized a reeling economy and helped put down a violent terror campaign that nearly brought the country to its knees in the 90s.
The sterilizations were part of a national reproductive health and family planning program meant to reduce rural poverty. But testimonies by victims said the sterilizations were performed under verbal and sometimes physical threat. At least 18 are said to have died as a result of the tubular litigation surgeries, many of which were performed in rustic clinics lacking proper medical equipment.
Fujimori has maintained the surgeries were voluntary.
But government documents unearthed in 2015 suggest the sterilizations were ordered to be carried out, that doctors were made to keep sterilization quotas, and that Fujimori himself was briefed monthly on the progress of the program.
Investigations into the sterilizations have been opened several times since 2003, but were each rejected by the courts, which decided the sterilizations were not performed under official state policy or carried out in a systematic fashion.
The government has not issued an official apology or offered reparations to victims.
For now, Guevara said her organization of victims of forced sterilizations are waiting for the current president to keep a promise he made during his campaign.
“He’s not shouldering his role as president. He’s looking for consensus, and consensus for what?” she said.
A July 2017 poll suggested that 60 percent of Peruvians support a pardon of Fujimori.