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Catholic World News News Feature

Enough Evidence to Extradite? September 27, 2001

Alberto Fujimori—who once rode high as the "progressive" president of Peru, but ended his reign by seeking asylum in Japan after revelations of massive corruption forced him to call for early elections—could become the first world leader formally accused of human-rights violations in connection with a government family-planning program.

During his long 10-year tenure, but especially during his second term in office from 1995 to 2000, Fujimori conducted a draconian policy to limit births, especially among Peru's poorest families. His policies brought about the sterilization of some 300,000 Peruvian women—in most cases without their consent. [The massive sterilization campaign was exposed by CWR in March 1998.]

"It is an irony of life," remarks Manuel Kiimper, the vice-minister of health in the new Peruvian government under President Alejandro Toledo, "that so-called 'reproductive rights' were the excuse that Fujimori used to promote his sterilization campaign, and now 'reproductive rights' may furnish the cause for indicting him on human-rights violations."

The Peruvian Judiciary is now examining confidential documents released by the new health minister, Dr. Luis Solari de la Puente, which show that Fujimori personally urged his own minister of health, Marino Costa Bauer, to dismiss some 110,000 complaints involving abuses in the government's family-planning program. The former president also put pressure on Costa Bauer to continue aggressively promoting tubal ligations, especially in the poor rural regions of the southern and central Andes. In those areas, according to official government figures, 300,000 female sterilizations were performed between 1996 and 2000.

Because of the consistent pattern emerging in the reports presented by Solari de la Puente, the chairman of the congressional health committee, Rep. Julio Velarde, led the drive for the creation of a special commission to examine the protests and to gather other testimony regarding the population-control policy that was launched by Fujimori after his ascension to power in 1990. That commission is headed by Rep. Héctor Chávez Chuchón, a physician from the Andean city of Ayacucho—who was himself one of the first vocal critics to speak out against the sterilization campaign as it reached its peak in 1997.

BRINGING FUJIMORI BACK

Fujimori fled to Tokyo last November in the midst of a corruption scandal revolving around his intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, who is now behind bars. The former president is now protected by the Japanese government, which regards him as a citizen.

According to local political analysts, the results of the commission's investigation could be critical to the success of a larger campaign to force Japan to extradite Fujimori. Recently the Peruvian parliament voted unanimously, 75 to 0, to approve the charge that Fujimori was "politically responsible" for several politically-related murders during the worst years of the country's fight against Maoist guerrilla activity. The case against the former president was then passed on to the country's attorney general, Nelly Calderon.

Calderon charged Fujimori with murder and dereliction of duty, alleging that he was aware of the actions of the so-called Grupo Colina—a paramilitary squad illegally created by Montesinos. Prosecutors argue that Fujimori can legitimately be held responsible for the political killings orchestrated by Montesinos because the former president "knew in detail about the operations" of the Grupo Colina. The group is accused of murdering 15 people in a Lima tenement in 1991. Grupo Colina members were also linked to the kidnapping and murder of nine students and a professor at La Cantuta University in 1992. Prosecutors are also charging that Fujimori had knowledge of the grisly killing of former intelligence agent Mariela Barreto, whose dismembered and decapitated body was discovered in March 1997.

Despite the gravity of these accusations, and the growing amount of circumstantial evidence, there is no direct evidence to establish a clear line between Fujimori and the murderers, and thus to erase any doubt about his legal responsibility. The case of the sterilization campaign is different. Here the case against Fujimori himself is clear, and well supported by fax messages, letters, and even hand-written notes sent by the ex-president to the leader of the sterilization campaign.

INCRIMINATING EVIDENCE

Moreover, the evidence against Fujimori in the tubal-ligation campaign is still mounting. "Nobody can claim this is a case of political prosecution, because the evidence is very consistent and clearly incriminating," Chávez Chuchón told CWR.

In early September, 100 women from southern Peru came before Chuchón's commission and were introduced to the press by Giulia Tamayo, a feminist leader. Tamayo is the producer of Nothing Personal, a video report that told the stories of poor women who had been forced by government health officials to undergo sterilization. That 20-minute video had furnished, for the viewing audience in urban centers, the first look at the faces of women who had suffered under the family-planning program in Peru's remote Andean regions. Many of the witnesses who now faced the commission had been featured in that shocking video.

Most of the women spoke to the commission in Quechua, the native language of the upper Andes. They told of how they were forced, sometimes violently, to undergo sterilization. A few excerpts from their testimony are enough to convey the impact of the story:

"If you have another child and don't accept (the tubal ligation), we will make you have an abortion," they told me.

They told me, "If you come to have a child or if you have a disease, we will not give you care." My husband was scared and signed (the authorization form for a sterilization).

I heard the screams (of other women) and I pretended that I needed to go back home, but they closed the door and knocked me down on the floor.

According to Tamayo, the first evidences of forced sterilization appeared in 1996, when she traveled to the Andean rural town of Huancabamba, and learned that the sparsely populated area had a pre-established quota of 365 sterilizations. "Health centers at Huancabamba had performed 125 surgeries and there were no more women to sterilize, so they decided to sterilize very young girls," she recalls. Tamayo's video even shows the testimony of a nurse saying that, in order to reach her quota, she sterilized herself.

Gregoria, a poor woman in Huaytara—another small town in the central Andes, told how her daughter, a mute and deaf 27-year-old single woman, was pressured into a sterilization. Officials of the health ministry took advantage of the young woman's disabilities, her mother reported, since she was unable to hear their explanations of what was happening, or give voice to her objections. The pattern of inducements and threats presented to rural women by the family-planning agents is so consistent that the testimony would be boring—if it were not for the vivid evidence of brutality that can still be read in the faces of the young women who testified. The words of one woman illustrate the depths of their suffering: "I am now sterile, my husband left me because we wanted to have more children. If I don't commit suicide, it is only because I don't want to leave my children."

The Chuchón commission also reviewed a video made by Ministry of Health officials, which was originally recorded with the intention that it would show how easy, painless, and efficient the sterilization procedure would be. At first the images show a smiling group of well-dressed doctors and nurses. But as the operation progresses, despite the anesthesia, the woman begins to gasp and writhe. When the procedure is over, the woman is almost in convulsions; yet she is moved to a bed and urged to appear "normal" for the sake of the camera, by nurses who laugh aloud to maintain the light-hearted atmosphere. The video was never shown to the public. The woman featured in that operation died of complications from a perforated intestine, and the video was quietly buried in the health ministry's archives.

THE QUOTA POLICY

Maria Julia Urrunaga, a reporter for the prestigious newspaper El Comercio who broke the news that the sterilization campaign was governed by strict quotas—a fact that the Fujimori health ministry had adamantly denied—reports that for years she was unable to find any official documents to prove that the quota system was set up on direct orders from top political authorities. There was no evidence to show that Fujimori was involved in the abuses.

In fact, the evidence of abuse was not enough to stop the aggressive family-planning program—not even after the evidence was brought to the attention of international organizations and US Congressional investigators. When US legislators professed their horror about the forced sterilizations, Fujimori promised that he would personally take steps to ensure that all sterilizations were voluntary. The head of the family-planning drive, Alejandro Aguinaga (who would become health minister later in the Fujimori reign) described the cases of forced sterilization as "mere exceptions," and provided blanket assurances that no quotas were being applied.

But the revelations now being furnished by a new health minister make it clear that quotas were being applied—and continued to be applied even after the pressure from the US prompted those assurances from the Fujimori government. According to the latest information released by Solari de la Puente, the government of Alberto Fujimori conducted 100,000 tubal ligations in 1997, 130,000 in 1998, and 165,000 in 1999. The figures for that last year are particularly telling, because by the time the calendar year 1999 began, the government had repeatedly denied exerting pressure on women to undergo sterilization.

Today, both the Chucón commission and the health ministry are determined to amass sufficient evidence to demonstrate irrefutably that Fujimori was fully involved in the sterilization campaign, and that the extraordinarily high numbers of tubal ligations came about because of a massive violation of fundamental human rights. Solari de la Puente has established a toll-free telephone line, for the benefit of women who want to come forward now and tell how they suffered in a government campaign that was advertised as an effort to protect their "reproductive rights."

[AUTHOR ID] Alejandro Bermudez is the director of the ACI-Prensa news agency in Lima.

[SIDEBAR]

A STRANGE JAPANESE CONNECTION

A few days after becoming the new Minister of Health, Dr. Luis Solari de la Puente—a noted surgeon and pro-life leader—was surprised to notice the generous donations that had been made by a Japanese non-profit organization called The Nippon Foundation to promote "health initiatives" in Peru's rural areas.

After reviewing the support provided by the foundation, Solari de la Puente found out that 100 percent of the money, equipment, and material donated by the organization was related to birth-control programs. Moreover, most of the equipment used for the controversial "sterilization festivals" held by health workers in rural Andean areas during the Fujimori years came from the same organization. Solari eventually discovered that the Nippon Foundation—headed by Ayako Sono, a novelist and Catholic philanthropist—had also donated $2 million for a "reproductive health campaign" in the lightly populated Amazon basin.

The involvement of Ayako Sono—a personal friend of Alberto Fujimori, who provided the exiled Peruvian leader with a comfortable home during his first months in exile—has come as a surprise. Sono is the daughter of a wealthy developer from Tokyo; she converted to Catholicism and studied at the Women's University of the Sacred Hearts in Tokyo. In 1954 she became one of the most famous Japanese novelists with the novel The Distant Visitors, in which she openly expressed her Christian sensibility. Since the Nippon Foundation funds a broad range of initiatives, including "Medical Aid, Health, and Hygiene Projects," there is speculation among Peruvian Catholics as to whether Fujimori convinced his friend to provide support for "reproductive health" programs without informing her about the actual use of the donations.