Juana Ramirez Santiago was a founding member of the Network of Ixil Women, an organization fighting for women’s rights in Guatemala. She is the 21st Guatemalan human rights activist to be murdered in 2018. Juana was a prominent leader and midwife in her community. The Ixiles Womens Network that she founded, provides psychological counseling, social help and birthing assistance to women in rural areas of Guatemala. It is a service much needed for a community where abortions are criminalized and women are required to give birth. Women who terminate pregnancies when their life is not at risk face up to three years in prison.
The murder of Santiago follows that of Juana Raymundo, a 25-year-old Ixil nurse and member of the Committee of Campesino Development, also called Codeca. Raymundo was killed on July 28, also in Nebaj. Her body showed signs of torture.
The Ixil community has been especially hard hit by violence. Between 1982 and 1983 1,771 Ixil people were massacred in a targeted genocide operation. The president of Guatemala during that time, José Efraín Ríos Montt, faced trial for ordering the massacres. The presiding judge, Jazmin Barrios, said “the Ixils were considered public enemies of the state and were also victims of racism, considered an inferior race.” By 1996, it was estimated that some 7,000 Maya Ixil had actually been killed.
“Guatemala’s brave human rights defenders are being killed with impunity on a terrifyingly regular basis. The authorities must take urgent action to protect them from these savage and calculated attacks before more lives are lost,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.