Cambodia is one of the few countries in the world where acid attacks are still perpetrated, and sometimes unpunished. Cambodian law does not specifically criminalise acid violence.
Acid attacks can leave victims mutilated, blind, scarred and psychologically disabled, sometimes for the rest of their lives. In severe cases, many victims are excluded from society and unable to find a job, or may endure physical and psychological torture for the rest of their lives.
The Royal Government of Cambodia is currently drafting a law that is said to include stricter regulations for acid sales and tougher punishment for perpetrators of acid attacks.
While we regret that this process is not conducted in cooperation with civil society members and NGOs – who regularly cope with these crimes and are involved in relief programs for victims – we express satisfaction, since this is the first time that Cambodian law would specifically refer to acid attacks and help bring acid attackers to justice.
Cambodian civil society would welcome the chance to consult with the National Assembly and the Senate before they approve the draft law.
The law should include strong punishments for acid attacks committed for any reason, such as robbery. But maximum penalties for perpetrators should be more severe for cases that result in permanent disabilities, such as blindness. The government and civil society should encourage maximum publicity for the law to encourage awareness among the public, police and the courts.
We hope this new law, once adopted, will be enforced by authorities at all levels, without regard to power, social networks or economic clout. Strict and unbiased enforcement of the law is critical to its effectiveness. Every time an acid attacker is allowed to go free, it signals the possibility of impunity for would-be perpetrators.
In addition, we suggest that the law should be accompanied by a set of government initiatives to educate the public and help victims to overcome their medical, psychological and social hardships.
In this respect, Cambodian authorities involved in this question should consider the following:
Promote public education: The public should be educated, especially through popular media such as television and radio, about the cruelty and immorality of acid attacks. Education should emphasise that perpetrators should be sent to prison. Education should also promote compassion - not blame - for victims.
Condemn acid attacks: Senior government officials, police and court officials, medical doctors, monks, NGO leaders and others should publicly condemn acid attacks and call for strong punishment of perpetrators.
Assist victims to speak out: Acid victims are often isolated and ignored in society. It is important that the voices of victims be heard, or little will be done to assist them and prevent future acid attacks. Victims should be encouraged to speak, in groups or on their own behalf, to the government, the courts and to the public.
Provide medical and other services for victims: Acid attack victims need specialised help to rebuild their lives. The government and NGOs should strongly support the burns unit at Kossamak Hospital in Phnom Penh. Similar units should also be established in the provinces. Victims should receive psychological support and judicial counseling free of charge.
Skills training programs: Government and NGOs should work together to create and support programs designed to facilitate the reintegration of acid attack victims into society.
Strengthen controls on acid sales: The sale of strong, undiluted acid should be strictly regulated by law. Sellers should be required to record the names and addresses of all buyers. When acid attacks occur, part of the police investigation should include determining where the perpetrator obtained the acid. Sellers should be prosecuted if they violated the law.
Pung C Kek
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