WHAT would you like to see happen to your attackers?” a judge asks a young man and woman who were recently doused with acid while innocently enjoying a stroll.
“I want to see them jailed for life,” the woman says.
Her response elicits a chorus of cheers, applause and laughter from an audience made up largely of acid burn victims and their families, who had gathered for an improvised play on acid attacks staged at the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity in Kandal province.
The play, performed by acid burn victims and CASC staffers, was part of the charity’s bimonthly meeting, a three-day affair that will conclude Friday.
Its story, of an acid-attack perpetrator being brought to justice, is one that those in attendance hope will become a common reality with the introduction of a new draft law that is expected to be finalised soon.
In the play, a female perpetrator is found to have masterminded the attack on the young couple, and the judge orders her to pay US$20,000 in compensation to each of the victims. She is also sentenced to 73 years in prison.
Keo Sreyvy, a 37-year-old acid burn victim who played the perpetrator, said she believed there would be fewer attacks if such sentences were the norm.
“There would not be so many victims if the law punished the perpetrators for what they did, like what we showed in the end of the play,” she said.
Her own case underscores the fact that, at present, many attackers are not punished at all.
In early 2009, she said, her brother-in-law poured a litre of acid over her head and body after she accused him of trafficking his own daughter. Keo Sreyvy was blinded in her left eye by the attack, which also left her with serious burns to her face, torso and left hand.
She said that although she was able to identify her attacker, police told her they did not have enough evidence to make an arrest.
“I filed a complaint to the court nearly two years ago, but the court has not found justice for me yet,” she said. “I feel disappointed with the police and also the courts. I don’t believe in the law anymore.”
In mid-September, Ouk Kimlek, undersecretary of state at the Interior Ministry and deputy director of a committee tasked with drafting legislation to curb acid violence, said a draft would be finalised by the end of the month. On Thursday, he said the draft had not been finished because the committee had been “so busy with other work”.
“We will try to send it to the [Interior Minister Sar Kheng] early in October,” he said.
The committee was formed in February following a spate of reported attacks that began late last year.
Members originally said they expected to finalise the legislation shortly after Khmer New Year.
Early drafts of the law called for harsh punishments for perpetrators of acid crimes, including life sentences for the most serious attacks, a provision that Ouk Kimlek said yesterday remained in the latest version of the law.
Kou Bora, a member of the Interior Ministry’s Legislation Council, visited CASC Thursday to speak with victims and staff about the draft. He said that although the legislation did have a significant punitive component, its primary focus was on preventative measures, such as the regulation of acid sales.
“The most important point that we focused on is prevention more than punishment, because [punishments] are included under the criminal law,” he said.
He said increased legal assistance for victims was also a government priority.
“We have planned to provide free legal aid to acid victims,” he said, but added that he was not sure when the service would become available.
United Kingdom Ambassador Andrew Mace, who also attended Thursday’s meeting at CASC, said he was optimistic that the new law would be a “very important contribution” to the effort to curb acid attacks, but noted that increased awareness and understanding of the issue would also be essential.
“There’s a very wide range of issues to cover, and it’s a very complex issue that cannot be dealt with just through a piece of law,” he said. “I think proper understanding of what leads to the attacks in the first place would be helpful in understanding how Cambodian society can prevent the attacks.”
He said the discussions and performances that took place at the CASC meeting were good examples of the sort of awareness-raising that could help prevent future attacks.
“I’m not sure that people who carry out these attacks always appreciate the real consequences, and I think that it’s very powerful, the sort of thing we’ve seen today,” he said. “People telling their stories – that can help to change attitudes.”
CASC has recorded 18 attacks involving 32 victims – plus four burn victims who were injured in accidents rather than attacks – so far this year. Last year, CASC recorded a total of 28 attacks and 33 victims.