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Government rejects damning HRW report

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Chantheoun, an acid attack victim in Phnom Penh in 1997. HRW has scolded the government for failing to fulfil their obligations to victims, the government rejected the accusations as political. Ann-Christine Woehrl

Government rejects damning HRW report

A senior Ministry of Justice official and a spokesperson from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) on Tuesday rejected the findings of a damning Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published the same day, claiming that acid attack victims in Cambodia remain poorly treated by authorities and healthcare professionals.

HRW’s 48-page report entitled What Hell Feels Like: Acid Violence in Cambodia was the culmination of five years of research between 2013 and 2018 with acid attack victims in the Kingdom.

The report’s major claims were that victims of acid attacks in Cambodia were routinely denied access to free healthcare and legal assistance, contravening government legislation mandating both.

Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin accused the report of being politically motivated and intended to discredit Cambodian officials who have made efforts to address issues surrounding acid attack victims.

“It [the report] was not based on scientific research. If we check the way they organised the questions and target groups, it was made based on political characteristics and with the intention to insult or look down on law enforcement officers. It has the nature of revenge towards the Cambodian government,” he said.

He said in contrast to claims presented in the report, access to legal services for victims of acid attacks, as well as poorer victims of all crimes, is improving.

The government, he said, already provides defence lawyers for poor people free of charge. Despite this, the ministry will study the report in detail and consider the accusations in order to carry out reforms if necessary.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said: “No matter what we have made efforts to do, we still cannot satisfy them because they are always negative. We do not care about the issues they have raised.

“We do what we are able to do based on the principles of the rule of law and democracy to seek justice for all our citizens. It is politically motivated because they always have a contradictory view of the principles of the CPP.”

HRW’s report said that Article 11 of Cambodia’s Law on the Management of Strong Acid stipulated that health centres, state hospitals or other public treatment services must provide treatment for victims of acid attacks free of charge.

The report also said many victims they interviewed were denied primary treatment by hospitals, who only served them once it was clear they had the resources to pay for treatments, which could easily run into the thousands of dollars.

It continued that delays in providing immediate treatment by hospitals could very easily exacerbate the victim’s injuries, worsen scarring and recovery, and even prove fatal.

The report highlighted the case of 23-year-old acid attack victim Sun Sokny, a garment worker who was doused with acid by her husband in 2016 after a family dispute.

She said that ambulance workers who collected her demanded her family pay $70 for delivering her to Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh.

The doctor treating her, she said, also asked her family whether they had the means to pay for her treatment before he agreed to treat her injuries.

“When she got to the emergency room at Phnom Penh’s public Calmette Hospital, she said doctors asked if anyone in her family could afford to pay, but her immediate family had not yet arrived at the hospital.

“The doctor gave her an IV and dressed her wounds, but left her without pain medication or any further treatment for 14 hours. Not until a representative from her factory union came to the hospital to prove that the union would cover her medical expenses did Sokney receive morphine and further treatment,” the report said.

The report also claimed that there remain major obstacles to justice for victims of acid attacks, claiming that although Article 11 of the Law on Management of Strong Acid stipulates that the state must provide legal assistance to acid attack victims, many of them are yet to receive any.

It continued that court officials and police routinely intimidate victims to withdraw their complaints or accept an out of court financial settlement.

“Of a small number of cases filed to court, only a few reached the final stage of sentencing and it is even fewer for term serving,” the report said.

Eysan responded by saying that court officials and the police have taken legal action against perpetrators of acid attacks in accordance with the law.

He continued that health officials and court officials have made efforts to do everything they can in each case of acid attacks, but their efforts still did not satisfy HRW as the organisation had a political agenda.

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