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Rights groups demand stiffer punishments for acid attacks

Rights groups demand stiffer punishments for acid attacks

091214_05
Acid attack victim Tat Marina became the subject of a documentary – Finding Face – which was released in the US in March.

We’re desensitised to this violence, and it needs to change.

HUMAN rights groups have called on the government to ensure the perpetrators of acid attacks are brought to justice, following an assault last week that left two sisters severely burned.

The teenage victims were splashed with acid on Thursday on their way to a market in Phnom Penh. They are being treated for severe burns at a hospital in Vietnam, police said.

“We have not concluded what was the motive of the attack. We are investigating the case,” said Ouch Sokhon, Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district police chief.

Ou Virak, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said a culture of apathy was largely to blame. “Lack of outrage from government officials and no condemnation from the public is a concern and unacceptable,” he said. “We’re desensitised to this violence, and it needs to change. The government needs to put more effort into prosecution when lives are damaged. Unless the government prosecutes all those behind the attacks, then we won’t see an end. It starts with government prosecution to end impunity.”

Rights activists at Licadho said the organisation is aware of up to five acid attacks that have taken place in Cambodia over the past 12 months.

Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor with the group, said that although the frequency of such attacks appears to have diminished in recent years, they remain a concern because “we rarely see the acid attackers sent to court for prosecutions when the attackers involve powerful people or rich people, which is the culture of impunity”.

In the most recent attack, 18-year-old Kim Sodine and her 17-year-old sister Kim Sonita, both hairdressers, were riding a motorcycle at about 5am along Mao Tse-tung Boulevard when two men, wearing masks and helmets, pulled up alongside them and poured acid over their heads, faces and bodies, police said.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth said police have launched an investigation, but that attempts to contact the victims to establish a possible motive had so far been unsuccessful.

Last month, former Military Police Brigadier General Chea Ratha, 43, and five accomplices were convicted in an acid attack on Ya Soknim, the aunt of Chea Ratha’s former lover, in May 2008. They were sentenced to between 15 and 18 years each in prison and ordered to jointly pay US$100,000 to the victim. All six, however, remain at large.

One of the most notorious cases is that of Tat Marina, a karaoke star who in 1999 was beaten unconscious and doused in a litre of acid, allegedly by the wife of her lover, a senior government official. She was 16 at the time. No one has ever been charged.

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