New Acid Law Drafting Takes Time as More Women Are Attacked

As acid attack victim Keo Savorn, 22, lay in a hospital bed yesterday with severe burns on her face, she expressed fears that her attacker would return.

“I now feel scared. I’m afraid that the attacker will come to hurt me again,” Ms Savorn said as she tried but failed to open her swollen eyes.

Ms Savorn said the pain had not dulled since she first felt the acid doused on her head and shoulders by a co-worker in broad daylight outside a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district on Wednesday.

As Ms Savorn was doused with acid, which also hit three women nearby, she said she recognized the man but did not know why he attacked. “I have filed a complaint and hope the police will arrest him soon…. I want to get compensation from the suspect and bring him to prison.”

However, whether Ms Savorn receives such justice remains to be seen. Under the current law, acid violence is not explicitly listed as a criminal offense, and it is prosecuted as an ordinary assault or attempted murder.

Since a government committee was formed early this year to draft a new law on acid, at least nine attacks injuring 14 people have taken place in the capital alone. This figure comprises about a third of all attacks reported nationwide last year, according to the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity, which recorded 28 attacks injuring 33 people in 2009.

Previously, officials said the draft acid law, which includes life sentences for the most serious offenses, was due to be completed in April. However, Teng Savong, secretary of state at the Interior Ministry and head of the committee drafting the law, said the draft would not be finished until the end of the year, or passed until 2011.

“We need time to process the draft acid law in order to make it efficient and effective,” Mr Savong said.

However, the proposed stronger penalties for attackers and regulations on the sale of acid would be meaningless without arrests, Mr Savong said.

“If police do not work hard to arrest the attacker, how can we apply the acid law?…. How will the attacker become scared of the law?”

SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said the government does not have the political will to end the country’s culture of impunity, which fosters acid violence. The draft law will not stop attackers, Ms Sochua said. “It is not enough at all…. You can have a warehouse full of laws, but what is the use if the justice system does not function?”

Ziad Samman, project manager at the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity, said that stronger legislation against the crime was urgently needed.

“Already the law is well overdue, but the fact that it is taking time to develop means the government is taking it seriously to do it right,” Mr Samman said.

Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, Interior Ministry spokesman, said police work hard to arrest acid attackers.

“If police are careless in making arrests, why are prisons overcrowded and many cases going on trial late at court?” Mr Sopheak asked.

Police have not yet arrested Ms Savorn’s attacker, Dangkao district police chief Born Sam Ath said yesterday. “The police have identified the suspect already. Now police are searching to make an arrest,” Mr Sam Ath said.

As police questioned Ms Savorn at Calmette Hospital yesterday, her father Keo Bunny, 42, said he had not slept the previous night for worry as he stayed by his eldest daughter’s bedside.

“I hate the attacker, and if he is arrested the police should punish him…. [But] I don’t really believe the police will catch him because they do not know where he fled.”


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