A woman who claims to be a victim of domestic violence has been arrested after allegedly dousing her husband in acid, blinding him and causing serious burns, police in Tbong Khmum province said yesterday.
The case is the fourth acid attack in Cambodia so far this year, which observers say could signal a worrying uptick in a horrific trend that had declined significantly after an acid control law was introduced in 2012.
Phun Sreang, 40, was arrested on Tuesday evening after she allegedly threw acid on her husband, Roem Til, 53, in Ponhea Krek district, according to Trapaing Phlong Commune Police Chief Ry Sarath.
“She threw acid on her husband from his head to his leg, and now he is in the Preah Kossamak Hospital,” Sarath said.
“We learned his eyes have been destroyed and cannot be opened.”
Sarath said Til appeared to be suffering badly, with his skin blistering and peeling off. “He writhed around … It was very painful to watch,” he said.
Sreang allegedly threw half a litre of acid – used to solidify rubber on the couple’s small plantation – onto her husband, but her case has not yet been sent to the court.
She told police her husband was repeatedly abusive, prompting her to take drastic measures. “According to her answers, her husband kept causing problems for her, and he drinks every day. After drinking, he often wanted to beat his wife, and she kept running away from him . . . But on Tuesday she could not tolerate him,” Sarath said. “Therefore, she thought that even if she goes to jail, she needed to get rid of him and threw acid on him.
“I pity their two children – now the husband is blinded while the wife is guilty – this is so sad.”
Sarath said the incidents of domestic violence had never reached the commune police level because Sreang claimed she did not have transport, and “did not want to bother” authorities, although she had informed her village chief and commune chief, who encouraged her to reconcile with her husband.
Trapaing Phlong Commune Chief Hem Yeab said the pair’s domestic violence was known to him. “The family often quarrelled with each other . . . both the wife and husband were drunk, and he beat his wife and threatened to hack her, and in the evening she threw the acid on him,” he said. “This was too far, and they should have negotiated with each other … We had educated them before.”
However, Gender and Development for Cambodia Executive Director Ros Sopheap said that such an approach was wrongheaded in the first place, noting that the case demonstrated the extreme results of ignored domestic abuse.
“This happens a lot, where the community and society still keep silent until something like this happens, because they think there is no evidence to file the complaint,” she said.
She added that women who were subjected to violence could be traumatised or suffer mental health problems, which could see them resort to violence themselves. “This is really sad, and the society blames them. We really need to analyse the root causes,” she said.
Meanwhile, John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said the latest attack was “an urgent reminder to the government that underlying problems remain”.
“It goes without saying that Cambodian government responses to domestic violence are inadequate. But this attack also reveals continuing problems with acid attacks in general. Despite government efforts to regulate acid, it is still too easily accessible,” he said in a message. “The government needs to fulfil its commitment in the 2012 Acid Law to provide free medical treatment to survivors, and carry out effective and independent prosecutions of perpetrators and ensure reparations and social services for survivors.”
Am Sam Ath of human rights NGO Licadho agreed, saying the latest attack appeared to mark an increase in the devastating attacks. Three cases were reported for all of last year, and four in 2015, but this year has so far seen four already.
Ministry of Social Affairs spokesman Em Chan Makara could not be reached yesterday, but earlier this year said his ministry had never provided any help or support to acid attack victims as mandated under the law.