More than 300 people, a vast proportion of whome were children, have been attacked with acid in Cambodia in the past three years, according to figures given by the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity on Wednesday.
Between March 2006 and the end of 2008, 130 children, 111 women and 91 men, were victims of acid attacks according to the Phnom Penh-based charity, which provides shelter and rehabilitation for survivors who are often left horribly disfigured by their injuries.
“We are receiving one person every month to our center who has been injured by an acid attack,” said Chhun Sophea, program manager at the charity.
“What we really want to emphasize is the importance of justice in the reported cases, and the insurance that the law is upheld” and attackers prosecuted, Ms Sophea said.
Contrary to the popular misconception that most acid attacks are the result of extramarital affairs and love rivalries, Ms Sophea said that 49 percent of the victims assisted by her charity had no idea why they had been attacked.
She added that 18 percent of all cases were accidents, in that the acid was meant for someone else, 16 percent were due to jealousy; and just 9 percent of attacks were directly linked to love affairs.
The remaining 8 percent of cases were due to disputes involving family, financial issues and land disputes.
Commenting on Tuesday’s verdict in Kampot province where the provincial court convicted three people for killing a 48-year-old woman and her 3-year-old grand daughter in an acid attack last year, Ms Sophea said the outcome was of “massive importance” considering the number of acid crimes that go unsolved.
“There are a lot of cases where the perpetrators are very powerful and they never get convicted,” she said.
Mom Ton was sentenced to 16 years in jail by the Kampot Pro-
vincial Court for the killing of the grandmother and granddaughter, said San Sou Dalen, the lawyer
representing the family of the deceased.
Mom Ton’s mother, Mao Yon, who is still at large, was sentenced in absentia to 18 years in prison for being the mastermind of the brutal attack, while his cousin, Chak Heng, who is also at large, was sentenced to 16 years in jail, San Sou Dalen said. They were also ordered to pay $2,250 to the victim’s family in compensation.
Mao Yon planned the January 2008 attack after she suspected that Thorm Saroeun was having an affair with her husband, a village chief in Angkor Chey District’s Dambok Khpos Commune. Her son and her nephew then broke into Mrs Saroeun’s house and smothered her and her baby granddaughter in highly corrosive acid while they were sleeping. Both later died of their horrific burn injuries.
Only weeks after the acid double murder, a 23-year-old man was doused with battery acid by his wife in Kompong Cham Province. And just weeks later, a 20-year-old girl was attacked in Phnom Penh when her vengeful ex-boyfriend poured acid over her, inflicting serious burns to her chest, stomach and thighs.
Jason Barber, an advocacy consultant at local rights group Lic-
adho, which has followed the Kampot case closely, said Tues-
day’s verdict was a huge break- through in highlighting the importance of justice inside Cambodia’s courts.
However, Mr Barber said he re-
mains wary of the fact that two of the killers are still at large.
“For this to remain justice the guilty parties must be found.”
Mr Barber said that the husband had “unconvincingly told the court that he did not know where his wife was.”
“The upholding of the law is the only deterrent against these at-
tacks,” he added. “Sentences like this reflects the severity of the crime.”
Kampot’s Chief Prosecutor Chum Som Ban said that police are actively looking for the woman and her nephew.
“The arrest warrant is already out, so we are looking for them and will put them in jail,” he said.
Pov Srey Sour, the defendant’s lawyer, said that his clients did not agree with the verdict they would appeal.
Despite the widespread sentiment that justice has been upheld with regards to the Kampot case, Ms Sophea, of the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity, expressed the importance in continuing to render the law more robust and capable of bringing about justice.
“Today, we have justice, but we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. We all know the system in Cambodia and those in powerful positions often get off,” she added.