By Salma Al-Sulaiman
According to Guatemalan authorities, a 57 year-old Mayan lxil community leader and human rights defender, was shot dead on September 21, 2018, becoming the twenty first human rights activist to be assassinated in Guatemala this year. Juana Ramírez Santiago was walking in Q’ambalam, Nebaj Municipality, when a group of people attacked her. Neighbors state that they heard four shots being fired, before they found her lying on the street, by the time the ambulance arrived she had already passed away.
Santiago, a respected midwife in her community, was a founding member of the Network of Ixil Women, “an organization which provides psychological counseling, social help and birthing assistance to women in rural areas of Guatemala.” Her position in the organization has made her a target, as she has previously filed a complaint to the Public Ministry regarding the threats made against her. Her murder comes shortly after the death of Juana Raymundo, a 25 year-old lxil nurse and a member of the Committee of Compasino Development, whose body was found tortured on July 28.
Human rights defender Jordan Rodas is demanding a full investigation on the killings, and greater government protection for activists in Guatemala. The mayor of Nebaj, Miguel de Leon, has also spoken about his outrage concerning the situation happening in his town, saying “ Nebaj has turned violent, especially for social leaders. The murder of this leader shows that.”
The Human Rights Defenders of Guatemala Protection Unit (Udefegua) has recorded “135 aggressions, 13 murders and two attempted murders against activists between January 1 and June 8 of this year”
A recent report released by the United Nations, reveals that there has been a rise of instances of attacks against and criminalization of Indigenous human rights defenders. UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz was specifically “disturbed” by the situation in Guatemala. She registered that seven Indigenous leaders were slain shortly after her departure. They were killed at different locations by different means, some were shot and some were stabbed and mutilated by machetes. Those who were killed were all advocates fighting for the rights of their land and political participation. According to Tauli-Corpuz, the President of Guatemala has made it publically clear that he does not support non-governmental organization and continues to aid the alienation of Indigenous Peoples.