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Acid law to have article on bias

THE deputy director of a committee charged with drafting legislation covering acid crimes said Monday that he planned to introduce an article aimed at preventing workplace discrimination against victims, a statement that was praised by victims’ advocates.

Ouk Kimlek, who is also an undersecretary of state at the Interior Ministry, said he hopes the article – which he plans to propose during a meeting expected to be held next week – will include language discouraging employers from refusing to hire victims with scars or other visible injuries resulting from their attacks.

“In our policy, we will make it a point to not discriminate against acid victims at the workplace,” Ouk Kimlek said.

He added, though, that he was unsure whether the committee would consider suggesting punishments for employers who refuse to hire acid attack victims.

“We’re not thinking about whether we will have to penalise company owners or other places that refuse to hire acid victims, because it is a very difficult thing for us,” Ouk Kimlek said. “But we have to set up points about discrimination in the law.”

He emphasised the need to balance victims’ interests with those of business owners who might be concerned that employees with visible injuries would drive away customers.

“For example, if they run a restaurant, and there are many guests who come to eat in their restaurant, and one day, the owner accepts a new waitress who is an acid victim, the next day their business may be bankrupt because customers are afraid of the new waitress’s face,” Ouk Kimlek said.

Advocates for acid vio-lence victims said efforts to encourage reintegration into society were “valuable”.

“It’s very difficult to feel like you’re a participating member of society if no one will give you a job,” said Ziad Samman, a programme coordinator for the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity.

Victims could be heartened by language in the new law aimed specifically at countering discrimination, particularly in urban areas, where stigmatisation is severe, Samman said.

“We’ve noticed that people engaged in agricultural work are generally more likely to retain similar income as to what they had before they were attacked. It’s easier to get on with your life or business,” he said. “In the city, it’s harder.”

Finding jobs can be particularly difficult for male victims, he added.

“Generally, employers are a little bit more open to considering women,” he said. “And also I think psychologically, the men feel like they’ve lost the ability to earn income, so they lose a bit of hope. It’s a bit more challenging to find places or positions.”

Am Sam Ath, a senior monitor for the local rights group Licadho, also said he would welcome an article designed to counter workplace discrimination.

“I think that even though they suffer from acid and become disabled people, they have enough ability to complete their work,” Am Sam Ath said. “Their face or body may be bad-looking, but we have to eliminate discrimination.”

After insisting that it would be too difficult to enforce a law against acid violence, officials earlier this year reversed their position following a spate of recorded attacks and announced plans for the draft law.

Ouk Kimlek, who produced the initial version of the committee’s draft law, said Monday that it was unclear when it would be finalised. He said earlier this year that he wanted the draft law to leave the committee shortly after Khmer New Year.



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