As a young woman in Phnom Penh and a man in Kompong Cham province became the victims of fresh acid attacks within the last week, the government said yesterday it had instructed officials to study acid crimes and consider devising a new law to suppress them.
If genuine, the new policy would represent a shift in the government’s attitude to toward the prevention and prosecution of a crime, which has so far gone unchecked.
While other Asian nations have enacted or drafted laws to regulate the possession of acid and punish its use as a weapon, Cambodia’s National Assembly in 2002 declined to enact legislation that would do likewise.
The Interior Ministry said yesterday that the government has formed a committee to study ways of suppressing acid crimes. Police Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said the committee was formed only last week and will be headed by Secretary of State Teng Savong, a frequent appointee to investigatory committees.
“It has been set up because every year there has been an increase and we don’t want to have this because it is a criminal activity,” said Mr Sopheak, adding that the committee is to assess current laws applied to acid crimes and report to the government and National Assembly.
Acid attacks are now prosecuted as ordinary assaults or attempted murders. Mr Sopheak said it was too soon to say how the laws could be changed concerning the prevention of acid crimes.
National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said the report would contemplate creating a new law controlling the sale of acid and its use in attacks.
“This using acid on a citizen is an illegal act,” he said, adding it was a brutal way to hurt people. “I appeal to people and vendors to stop using acid. We have many ways to solve acid related violence.”
According to figures provided by the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity more than 300 people, including 130 children, were victims of acid attacks between March 2006 and December 2009.
Pung Chhiv Kek, president of the human rights group Licadho, said she hoped the law would not only stop the sale of acid, but would also punish perpetrators and guarantee care for victims.
“We are sad that the government has taken so long to do something about this problem,” she said by telephone yesterday. “It is time for the government to get some assistance from donor countries and set up a place in hospital to deal with acid attacks.
Adding that she hoped the government would assist victims to speak out, she said the message to stop should be disseminated through the media by the government.
In the second reported acid attack this year, Yeoun Soeun, 25, had his head and body doused in acid on Wednesday as he waited by the door of his home in Krek commune in Kompong Cham’s Ponhea Krek district, said deputy district penal police chief Keo Noraphy.
According to Mr Noraphy, the victim allegedly attacked his wife earlier in the evening after she refused to give him money to go to a theatrical performance, beating her and taking the money.
When he returned at 11:20 pm, his wife, Ouk Kosal, allegedly opened the front door and poured acid over his head and body, according to Mr Noraphy.
“We are investigating to arrest the suspect who escaped from the scene quickly,” he added. A notice for Ms Kosal’s arrest has been issued according to provincial police chief Noun Samin.
In Phnom Penh on Thursday, a 27-year-old woman had acid poured over her face and body in Russei Keo district, police said yesterday.
According to neighbors, two unidentified suspects wearing helmets drove a Honda motorcycle to Chan Thy’s house in Prek Liep commune’s Kien Klang village at around 11 am before throwing acid over her.
Both suspects escaped and remain at large, deputy police chief Chan Vuthy said by phone yesterday.
“We doubt the case was a revenge or jealousy attack involving the victim being in love with another man,” Mr Vuthy said, adding that the victim has been living with her partner in the rented house for four months.
Ms Thy was taken to Calmette Hospital by neighbors soon after the incident and suffered minor burns to her face, body and left hand.