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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Draft Acid Law starts to take shape

Draft Acid Law starts to take shape

Government committee sets timeline for delivering its proposal for long-anticipated legislation

A GOVERNMENT committee plans to finalise a draft law aimed at countering acid attacks shortly after Khmer New Year, officials said Thursday, meaning it has roughly eight weeks to flesh out regulations that rights groups hope will cut down on an apparent surge in the violent assaults.

The 11-member Ministry of Interior task force met Thursday to discuss an initial draft of the law, said Ouk Kimlek, undersecretary of state at the ministry and the committee’s deputy director.

The members will consider the proposed legislation before meeting again next month, he said.

“We must try to finish this draft law and send it to the government after Khmer New Year,” Ouk Kimlek said.

“It is hard work for us because the issue is new to us, but we are trying to do our best to create an acid law in order to protect people and society.”

The initial draft law, a copy of which was obtained by the Post, is a mix of strict regulation and punishment, taking cues from other countries that are also tackling the problem of acid attacks.

Ouk Kimlek, who wrote the 20-point draft law, said he believes people convicted in severe cases should face life in prison, though the exact punishments have yet to be determined.

The draft law also proposes that accomplices in attacks, even if not directly responsible for throwing acid, should face identical punishments.

“Accomplices who help offenders in order to commit the crime ... must have the same sentence as the offender,” states one section of the draft law.

The proposed legislation calls for strict controls over all aspects of importing, transporting, producing, buying and selling acid. Businesses that deal with acid would be required to be licenced by the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, with those that flout the rules vulnerable to unspecified fines or prison terms.

The law would also stipulate that all acid buyers be at least 20 years old.

But other countries where acid attacks are common have had problems implementing similar laws.

Authorities in Bangladesh passed laws in 2002 aimed at regulating acid sales and punishing perpetrators of acid crimes. The laws established a national body for controlling acid, as well as a rehabilitation centre specific to victims of acid crimes, according to a UN database detailing legal
responses to violence against women.

The laws allow for perpetrators of acid crimes to face the death penalty or life imprisonment.

Statistics from the Bangladesh-based Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) show attacks spiked at 367 reported incidents in the year the laws were introduced, but fell to 115 last year – the country’s lowest reported total in a decade.

Still, the organisation believes many perpetrators continue to escape the legal system.

“Despite enactment of the new laws to combat acid violence, it is estimated that very few of the attackers are ever punished,” ASF said in a statement on its Web site. “The victims are usually poor, illiterate and frightened of the time-consuming and complicated legal system.”

In Pakistan, authorities have also regulated the sale of dangerous substances such as acid, but enforcing the law has been another matter, one advocate said.

“You’re supposed to be licenced to sell acid, but you have a lot of acid sellers who do not have any licence at all,” said Valerie Khan, chairperson of the Acid Survivors Foundation Pakistan. “Normally, you should be asking for an ID card when selling acid, but that’s not done at all.”

Nevertheless, local observers say they are encouraged by the government’s move to counter acid attacks, which came after authorities rejected earlier calls to regulate acid sales.

But they also warn that any law will be ineffective if it is not properly implemented.

“I want to see equal practice of the law between people in power and poor people,” said Kek Pung, president of the local rights group Licadho.
She said the government should also legislate a mechanism that would ensure victims have access to specialised care.

“We see that now, victims have to be sent for treatment in other countries. We need to budget for this,” she said.

Vendors concerned
Local acid vendors who have met with authorities say they support the law in principle but wonder what effect it will have on their businesses.
“I’m not afraid of practising the law,” said Im Viravuth, “but I am afraid of losing my clients.”

Mean Leab, who sells battery acid, said: “I have never wished to sell acid to people who will use it to douse someone, but I don’t know who is good and who is bad.”

The Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity recorded at least 194 separate acid attacks in the Kingdom between 1985 and 2009.

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