As acid burns heal, the skin returns in thick scars, tightening surrounding flesh and distorting features.
The acid can deafen, blind, maim and strangle its victims.
According to findings issued this week by local human rights NGO Licadho, newspapers reported 44 acid attacks that injured 60 people and killed three others between December 1999 and November 2002—an average of one attack every 25 days.
And from December 2002 until last month, another 21 attacks turned up in the press, a Licadho statement said. Whether those figures accurately reflect the actual number of attacks is unknown.
Acid attacks are usually crimes of passion, according to the report. The disfigured are often rivals for the affection of a spouse or lover. Sometimes the victim has spurned the assailant.
Other times the victim is an unwitting bystander, such as a 5-year-old boy whose mother splashed him with acid while dousing his father in 2002, the report said.
Chour Sreyya, 25, thinks she was such a victim, though she never saw her attacker and cannot be sure.
“I think it was my friend’s enemy, but this is just my own idea,” she said Monday at The Association of the Blind in Cambodia, where she is learning massage and hairdressing.
One night in 1999, Chour Sreyya was leaving her job as a promotions girl for a liquor distribution company in Phnom Penh. It was about 9 pm, and she and three co-workers were walking down a street, looking for a snack.
“At first I thought a friend had just thrown water on me, until my friends cried, ‘Oh, it’s an acid attack,’” she said.
Since then she has had five operations to rebuild her face, including one on Nov 5 that took bone from her hip and skin from her right forearm to reconstruct her nose.
She can now smell for the first time since the attack, but no operation is likely to restore her sight.
As an attractive promotions girl, Chour Sreyya said she was very concerned about her appearance.
But now she tries not to think about how she looks. “I would become a crazy woman if I thought about my beauty too much. My first life is over. Now I must live my second life.”
Chour Sreyya also lamented the prejudices she and other acid attack victims suffer. “People criticize me strongly, saying that I was the second wife of a man. They never think of us as the victim.”
“Shooting someone to death is better than an acid attack,” she concluded.
The Licadho report recommended the government draft stricter laws and enforce the ones in place to punish and deter acid attacks.
So far, the authorities have shown limited concern for acid attack victims.
The most glaring example
of this has been the case of
Tat Marina, former param-
our of Council of Ministers Undersecretary of State Svay Sitha.
As a lovely 15-year-old, she landed spots dancing in karaoke videos and drew the attention of Svay Sitha, a former adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen. A courtship developed that police have said led Svay Sitha’s wife, Khoun Sophal, to attack the teenager with two bodyguards and a liter of acid.
High-ranking Municipal Court officials said last month that they remembered an arrest warrant being issued for Khoun Sophal, but a senior Interior Ministry official said it may have been withdrawn by the court. Local police officials said they never received the warrant.
Khoun Sophal can occasionally be seen on television distributing food aid with Bun Rainy, wife of Hun Sen.
Licadho consultant Jason Barber said Tuesday that Cambodia does not have adequate legislation against acid attacks. The draft of a domestic violence law, which has lingered in the National Assembly for more than a year, does address them, but only if the crime is committed by one family member against another.