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Acid Attack Law Falls Short, Groups Say

Nov Rey, 50, an acid attack victim, looks on as she waits to sing during a performance by traditional Cambodian musicians, file photo.
Nov Rey, 50, an acid attack victim, looks on as she waits to sing during a performance by traditional Cambodian musicians, file photo.

Rights groups and other officials say the government has not gone far enough in drafting a law on acid attacks, by failing to include provisions for the treatment of victims or to ascribe punishments to those who hire attackers.

Acid attacks are a common form of retribution in Cambodia, often ordered by powerful men or women and carried out by hired assailants.

Rights groups say about half of the draft’s 27 articles need to be improved before the law is passed. The National Assembly expects to pass the law next week.

Horng Lairapo, head of the legal unit for the Cambodian Acid Survivors Network, said the law should provide permanent treatment support for attack victims, rather than just “primary treatment.”

The group now helps about 345 attack victims, he said.

Most victims often need lifelong treatment, he said. Each treatment can cost up to $1,000, he said, and a victim may need as many as 20 treatments.

Mu Sochua, a lawmaker for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said she supported permanent treatment for victims at state-run health centers or hospitals.

“Injuries by acid attack affect human beauty and feelings,” she said. “So the national budget must respond to these problems.”

Am Sam Ath, lead investigator for the rights group Licadho, said the state needs to train professional medical doctors for the effective treatment of acid burns, particularly in health centers and state hospitals.

Cheam Yiep, a lawmaker for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said the draft law in fact allows for further treatment of victims, where severe cases would be moved to provincial hospitals for “long term treatment.”

Som Bunnarith, a 40-year-old who was blinded by an acid attack in 2006, allegedly by a jealous wife, said he was happy there will now be a law to support victims.

“The law must have strong punishment for acid attackers to reduce acid attacks in Cambodia,” he said. “I want the law to punish acid offenders very seriously.”

However, Am Sam Ath said the law falls short because it does not have provisions to punish the people who order acid attacks.

“Articles 14 to 24 state the punishments for the direct acid attacker, but we do not see punishment for the acid attack conspirator or initiator,” he said. “We’re urging the National Assembly to rethink these articles.”

The law calls for between two to five years for assailants, but Son Chhay, an SRP lawmaker, said this was not enough.

Cheam Yiep said conspirators would also be punished, even if there is no language in the law, according to the constitution.

Kim Leng, a 27-year-old attack victim who suffered burns along her right hand, neck, chest and thigh, after she ended an engagement, said the law must provide more punishment.

“I want the acid attacker punished by more than 30 years in prison,” she said.