LIMA, July 24 (UPI) -- Peru's Health Ministry issued a public apology following the publication of a report that revealed that the ministry oversaw a forced sterilization program during the presidency of Alberto Fujimori.
Health Minister Fernando Carbone confirmed that at least 200,000 Peruvians were sterilized without their consent or were persuaded to have the operation after officials bribed or threatened them.
The majority of the sterilizations took place between 1996 and 2000 in rural areas, particularly in the country's Andean region. The majority of victims were poor and frequently illiterate women from the Quechua and Aymara indigenous ethnic groups.
Several women are believed to have died after the operations, which often took place in unhygienic conditions. Only 45 percent of operations during the program were carried out under anesthesia, and the health authorities provided no aftercare.
One witness, Julia, told the investigating commission that a group of doctors visited her Andean village promising its residents a new era of well-being and improved health.
"Later they threatened us and practically forced us to do it (accept sterilization)," she said. "They shut me up in a room and forced me to get undressed. Everything that happened was because they used force. I didn't want to go through with it."
Julia also confirmed that because of the botched nature of the operation, she has a large scar across her stomach and is still in considerable pain.
Carbone announced legal proceedings Tuesday against those officials who designed and implemented the "attack on the physical and psychological integrity of these compatriots."
The minister said he hoped they would be swiftly brought to justice and would face severe punishment.
The report into the sterilization program suggests that just 10 percent of the 215,227 female sterilizations and 16,547 vasectomies carried out between 1996 and 2000 were voluntary.
The investigating commission said the remainder were either bullied into giving their permission by the Fujimori-era health authorities or were sterilized without their permission.
The figures for sterilizations are almost three times higher than in the period before the introduction of the program in 1996 and rose every year of the program as officials sought to meet Fujimori-imposed family-planning targets.
The program's focus on impoverished Andean villagers has created severe demographic problems in the region, and there is concern that a shortage of young people could threaten the future of traditional indigenous village life.
As well as interviewing victims of the program, the commission had access to 56 official documents, which they say proves the sterilization program was sanctioned at the highest levels of the Fujimori regime.
Carbone said there was no doubt that Fujimori knew about and approved the program.
"In the majority of cases we can see the clear influence of the presidential office as well as the involvement of senior state officials, including ministers and regional and general authorities," the minister said.
The revelations have led to calls for Fujimori to be charged with genocide. The former president is in voluntary exile in Japan. He fled Peru in 2000 in the wake of a major corruption scandal and is already wanted by the Peruvian authorities to face charges of treason and illegal enrichment.