María Mamérita Mestanza Chávez, a 33-year old Peruvian indigenous woman and a mother of seven children, lived with her partner, Jacinto Salazar Juárez, in the Encañada district within of the province and department of Cajamarca where they dedicated themselves to farming land. In 1996, under the Voluntary Surgical Contraception Program (VSC), health professionals of the Encañada district began making visits to the home of Mamérita Mestanza to pressure her into receiving a tubal ligation. During these visits, the health officials intimidated and threatened her by saying that if she refused the operation, she and her partner could be sent to jail.
On March 27, 1998, after having received approximately ten intimidating visits, Mamérita Mestanza gave into the officials’ demands. Before being operated on, she didn’t receive any sort of medical assistance nor was she informed of the consequences and risks of the procedure. Despite having asked on at least five separate occasions to receive medical attention after her operation, the victim received no such attention. As a result, on April 4, 1998, Mamérita died from an aggravated infection due to an absence of postoperative medical attention.
In June of 1999, the case was presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). During the Commission’s period of sessions in March 2001, an agreement was reached to settle the case through an amicable settlement, which was signed two years later by the petitionary organizations and the State. Nevertheless, many of the promises in the agreement have remained pending, particularly the exhaustive investigation of the facts and the application of penal and administrative sanctions against the perpetrators. These failures of the State have led the IACHR to issue a press statement.
The case of Mamérita Mestanza is emblematic since it represents the situations of thousands of women, the majority of them being impoverished and indigenous, that were victims of the public forced sterilization policies that were implemented during Fujimori’s regime, between the years of 1996 and 2000.
Using different forms of intimidation, the program focused its application on women at a fertile age, most of them being indigenous or impoverished and living in rural areas. The VSC Program in particular was headed by the State’s main power apparatus, ranging from the executive branch all the way to the Ministry of Health. According to official statistics, it’s calculated that more than 300,000 women were sterilized under the VSC Program. Although the exact number of victims is difficult to determine, the judicial record under which lies the investigation of the case of Mamérita Mestanza identifies 2,074 victims of which 1,700 reports have already been added to the registry.
However, despite the evidence that exists about the widespread practice of forced sterilizations in vulnerable populations and the role that the State played in developing and permitting this practice, there still exists an environment of impunity in the midst of a large number of victims who could exist in the hundreds of thousands. Among the most recent decisions on the case, on July 28, 2016, the Second Circuit Criminal Prosecutor of Lima – headed by Marcelita Gutiérrez – closed the case’s file and its classification as a case of a crime against humanity committed by Alberto Fujimori and three former Ministers of Health. Faced with this latest development, DEMUS, CLADEM, CRR, APRODEH and CEJIL, co-petitionary organizations in the Mamérita Mestanza case before the IACHR, rejected the resolution that denies access to justice for the thousands of victims of forced sterilization and will be immediately briefing the IACHR with the goal of urging the State to comply with its international obligations in delivering justice and reparations.