Plan to Curb Acid Sales

Legislators are working to strengthen controls over the purchase of acid—a common weapon in Cambodian attacks.
2013-02-05
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Victims of acid attacks eat their lunch at the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity near Phnom Penh, Sept. 29, 2010.
AFP

Lawmakers in Cambodia are preparing supplementary legislation to control the sale and transport of acid following a landmark court decision sentencing an attacker to prison in the first case of its kind.

Ministry of Interior Undersecretary of State Ouk Kimleng told RFA’s Khmer Service that Article 7 of Cambodia’s acid control law, which was adopted in December 2011, has provisions to regulate the sale and transport of acid.

But the law has been adopted without the requisite sub-decree to curb the sale and transport of the dangerous fluids, he said as the government came under pressure to take all necessary measures to contain increasing acid attacks and burns violence in Cambodia.

Ouk Kimleng said a draft of the subdecree had been sent to the Council of Ministers for approval, but provided no timetable on when a decision might be reached.

“We are working on the subdecree, which is important to regulate the [sale and transport of] acid,” he said.

“When the subdecree is in place, it will be easier to prevent the crime.”

The acid-control law also puts in place sentencing guidelines for persons tried as acid attackers. A conviction of “torture and cruel acts” using acid carries a sentence of up to 30 years imprisonment, while “intentional killing” with acid can carry sentences ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment.

Acid attacks, accidents, and suicides involving acid have long been documented in Cambodia, where the chemical is easily obtainable. A liter (0.26 gallons) of battery acid on the streets of Phnom Penh can cost as little as U.S. $1.

In 2012, nine people were injured in seven acid attacks, while four were injured accidentally with acid and two people committed suicide by drinking acid, according to the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity (CASC).

It recorded 17 attacks which injured 25 people in 2011 and 26 attacks which left 43 people burnt in 2010.

While NGOs like the CASC have welcomed Cambodia’s acid-control law, they have called for a subdecree which controls access to acid and requires people to adhere to various conditions in order to obtain it.

CASC adviser Som Chanarith, who is himself an acid attack survivor, said stopping the arbitrary sale of acid and regulating retailers would go a long way towards preventing attacks and their related injuries.

He said that in southeastern Cambodia’s Kompong Cham province, authorities already require retailers to question customers about how they plan to use the acid they are buying.

“But in some other provinces there are no restrictions on buying acid,” he said.

Observers also say that while the acid-control law stipulates free treatment for acid attack victims at health centers and state-owned medical institutions, as well as legal support from the state, these are rarely enforced.

Most victims currently receive medical and legal support from various NGOs.

First conviction

A week ago, a judge in Cambodia’s capital handed down the first conviction of an acid attacker under the 2011 acid-control law.

On Jan. 28, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Be Soeun to five years in prison and ordered him to pay 10 million riels (U.S. $2,513) in compensation to his ex-wife Nhem Sreyda for dousing her face, chest, and back in battery acid last year after she told him she planned to remarry.

Nhem Sreyda, 32, says she is lucky to still be able to see and has said that she feels her ex-husband should have been given a harsher punishment.

Other victims and their family members welcomed the conviction, but called for stricter regulations and better implementation.

Dinei, a 20-year-old victim who was attacked with acid in 2011, said the court decision would “help dissuade would-be attackers.” But she called on authorities to do more to prevent acid attacks, which she said had destroyed her life.

The father of Kruy Aing Chheng, a 22-year-old woman who died in hospital after having her entire body doused in acid on Dec. 28 last year in southwestern Cambodia’s Sihanoukville province, said he wanted the authorities to do whatever was possible to prevent acid attacks to others after the tragedy that befell his daughter.

The man, who gave his name as Kruy, said that he was unaware of the acid-control law, but said that his village has no restrictions against the purchasing of acid.

“Please stop retailers from selling acid. If that is impossible, the store owners must be made to question what the customer will use it for.”

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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