Rights Groups Say Gaps in Legislation Could Prove Costly
The first version of a new draft law on the use and management of acid in Cambodia was completed yesterday by the government, promising to adopt serious punishments for acid throwers and strict regulations on its distribution, a government official said yesterday.
Though supportive of the new law, rights workers said the law must not stop short of implementing strong enforcement procedures and strive to include legislation on care for acid attack victims.
“It is an absolutely new law that has been specially designed for the serious prosecution of perpetrators as well as more strict measures on the distribution of acid,” said Ouk Kimlek, undersecretary of state of the Ministry of Interior, who is on the committee responsible for drafting the new law.
The draft law is yet to be approved by Interior Minister Sar Kheng and must undergo debate at the Council of Ministers before it can be brought for a vote at the National Assembly.
Mr Kimlek said importers and sellers of acid would have to be at least 20-years-old under the new law and must possess a special license in order to carry out any transactions in acid.
The new legislation is meant to allow authorities to prosecute those who illegally import acid from neighboring countries, a common occurrence on the Vietnamese border with Kompong Cham province where rubber farmers buy vast quantities of acid to dry resin.
“Sometimes I bought directly from Vietnamese importers who illegally import to Kompong Cham,” a 29-year-old acid retailer said yesterday, declining to give his name for fear of jeopardizing his business.
But the new law on acid management will not apply to battery acid, said Mr Kimlek, “it just implements strict measures on strong acids, like sulfuric acid.”
Rights workers said that battery acid is just as dangerous as other forms when it is sold in its concentrated form.
Mr Kimlek also said no decision had yet been made on the criminal penalties that will be imposed on acid throwers.
“But the prosecution of perpetrators must be really serious,” he said.
He said the committee would now enter into discussions with the Ministry of Justice to determine finer points on this matter. He also said that the committee would draft a sub-decree to guide officials involved in the implementation of the law.
“Acid is a silent weapon, no sound,” said Mr Kimlek. “It is not necessary to learn how to use it.”
The law “needs resources, it needs money it needs perseverance and it needs time,” said Chhun Sophea, program manager at the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity. “If it is going to work, it should be a national issue.”
Though welcoming the government’s efforts in adopting a new law, she warned that tough penalties for acid throwers would prove meaningless unless perpetrators are properly prosecuted.
“It doesn’t matter if you can give a death sentence but if nobody gets prosecuted it will have no affect on anybody,” she said, adding victims in poor communities often need help with legal costs. “The poor people do not have the money to go to the court.”
As for controls on the distribution of acid, Ms Sophea suggested vendors write a receipt containing the personal details of every buyer each time they sell acid. The receipt should be divided into three so that the Ministry of Interior, police and the seller have proof of the sale, she added.
Ms Sophea said regulations on acid should also apply to battery acid, which is often sold in concentrated form and can cause as much damage as other types.