Lawmakers Pass Acid Law, Take Up Prison Law

The National Assembly on Fri­day passed the long-awaited Law on Strong Acid Management, aimed at checking a brutal crime that has become increasingly common in recent years.

As with the first three chapters, ap­proved Thursday, the final section of the law was passed without amendment during Friday’s debates.

Chapters four, five and six contain the penalties section, which critics have denounced as being too soft on perpetrators of acid crimes.

Earlier drafts of the law included life imprisonment for acid murders, and up to life imprisonment for attacks causing permanently disability. Under the law passed by the Assembly, 30 years is the longest sentence a perpetrator can receive.

Despite a push from opposition lawmakers to install stiffer penalties, the law passed quickly and with relatively little debate.

In response to a request from SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann that the penalty for permanent disability due to an acid attack be increased from 15 to 25 years, the government representative and Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, Hy Sophea, defended the shorter prison terms.

“The penalty is based on the result of the crime,” Mr Sophea said. Passed by an 81-4 majority, the law will go into effect likely later this year after being approved by the Senate and King Norodom Sihamoni.

In an e-mailed statement, Ziad Samman, project manager at the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity, commended the passing of the law but warned that without correct enforcement, the legislation would be useless.

“[I]n order to make a positive impact to reduce and hopefully eliminate the phenomena of acid violence, it will clearly depend on the actual implementation of the legislation,” wrote Mr Samman.

He also highlighted what critics have termed a disconnect between the sentencing given to the perpetrator and the lengthy recovery time suffered by the victim.

“[T]here are concerns that in some cases the sentencing does not reflect the nature of this barbaric crime. For example, if a perpetrator is sentenced to only two years in prison (which is possible under the draft that was passed this morning), they may be able to complete their prison sentence before the acid burn survivor has completed their medical treatment,” he said.

Lawmakers also passed the first four of six chapters of a prison law that has been heavily criticized by human rights groups as insufficiently addressing the human rights concerns facing prisoners.

During the debate, opposition lawmakers highlighted some of the more common complaints concerning prisons, including the widespread solicitation of bribes by guards.

“Frequently, they are forcing the relatives and friends of prisoners to pay prison officials to meet prisoners,” Mr Sovann said.

Nuth Sa An, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, responded that bribe paying was a rare occurrence, and that such payments were a form of gift.

“Sometimes the relatives give money because they know the prison officials,” he said. “We are trying to prevent that case.”

The debate is scheduled to re­commence Monday when it is expected the law will be passed in full.


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