Acid Law in Cambodia
The Council of Minister has now reviewed the draft legislation on acid violence and the draft is due to go before the full Parliament in Cambodia in the coming days.
Here are some ideas of people you can contact to urge them to take action at this important and historic moment in Cambodia’s attempt to fully address the need for human rights reform:
A. Your US representative or Senator. Urge them to contact the US embassy in Cambodia and apply pressure to their contacts in-country as the legislation is about to go before a full vote of the Cambodian Parliament.
B. The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR). Encourage them to keep up the pressure on the government to carefully review the draft law before a vote and to continue to serve as a conduit for information on the topic to the general public in Cambodia.
C. Prominent journalists in Cambodia. Convince them to cover this story as it unfolds to ensure that that Royal Government of Cambodia takes the issue of acid violence seriously and incorporates as many of the recommendations below as possible.
BELOW are recommendations that Tat Marina and our filmmaking group believe should be made to the draft before it is passed into law:
1. In general, perpetrators should pay a greater price for their crimes. It seems that 5-10 years for crimes resulting in permanent disability is ridiculously low given the level of suffering and impairment and the fact that acid survivors live with permanent disfigurement for the rest of their lives long after potential sentences have been served. Given these factors, we feel prison sentences should be significantly longer.
2. Prior to sentencing, the perpetrator should be required to meet with the victim of the attack. This provides a safe, court-sanctioned forum for the survivor to address their attacker. After the meeting, the survivor should have the right to make recommendations to the judge regarding the length of sentence to be handed down by the court. This recommendation should be carefully considered by the court (and would obviously fall within the sentencing guidelines allowed by law).
3. In addition to prison sentences, a mandatory parole system should be implemented for perpetrators of acid violence whereby perpetrators must serve as volunteer staff at CASC (Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity) for a term of at least 5 years after being released from prison. This system would force perpetrators to fully confront the gravity of their crime even after they have spent time in prison and simultaneously ensure that they are supporting services that provide for acid violence survivors into the future.
4. It is crucial that perpetrators are financially responsible for providing permanently disabled survivors with a monthly survivors stipend if a survivor can’t work for a living due to disability. This monthly stipend would exist through the parole period and would function on a sliding scale. If a perpetrator is deemed by the court as financially incapable of paying (and thus destitute) the government would become responsible for paying the monthly stipend – thus providing an additional incentive for the government to reduce and eventually eliminate acid violence in Cambodia.
5. We deem it critical to shift the stigma of acid violence from survivors to perpetrators. To shift public perception surrounding acid violence, perpetrators should be required (as part of their sentencing) to speak publicly (once released) on the topic of acid violence. These presentations would be held at public and private schools at the K-12 level both in rural and urban areas throughout Cambodia and at Universities. These talks would serve as both parole commitments for the perpetrators and as tools to shift public perception of acid violence in an attempt to shift blame and accountability where it rightly belongs – to the perpetrators of the attacks.
6. As the CCHR (Cambodian Center for Human Rights) recommends, it is important that both instigators and actual perpetrators are held responsible.
7. All trials and cases shall take place in a timely manner (within 3 months of the attack) in a courtroom open to both the public and the press.
8. We believe there should be an exceptional exclusion on the statute of limitations for acid violence in Cambodia, given the heinous nature of the crime.
When Khoun Sophal attacked Marina in 1999, there were many surrounding witnesses in the marketplace. As the wife of a high-profile political figure, she was already prevalent in the public eye, and her violent act made her that much more visible. Despite media coverage and widespread public awareness that she was the key perpetrator of the attack on Marina, she has never been convicted, or even questioned for this crime. She’s not the only perpetrator who lives freely.
More than ten years later, the Cambodian public pushed the government to form a committee to study acid attacks in the country and make recommendations to combat this violence. The committee recommended that acid attackers receive at least 25 years, if not life, in prison. It also suggested that those who inadvertently disfigure others with acid receive 3 to 5 years in prison. Finally, it concluded that there needs to be controls in place for the transportation and sale of acid products. Those who sell, possess and transport acid should have to obtain permits to do so.
The legislation, however, does not account for acid attacks in the past like Marina’s.
It has been studied, drafted and submitted to the government, but nothing more has occurred. Acid attackers still resume their regular lives without punishment, and victims have yet to receive justice for the violence they have endured. The good news is that this new draft legislation has real teeth and, if enacted, will essentially transform an act of acid violence in Cambodia from a status equivalent to a misdemeanor to that of a felony. All that is needed at the moment is for pressure to come to bear on the Cambodian government to pass the draft legislation into law.
You can help this become a reality by contacting your US Representatives and Senators and urging them to contact the US embassy in Phnom Penh. Emails and letters urging the embassy to put the draft legislation at the forefront of current American/Cambodian relations is a key action item. Remind your government representatives that millions of dollars of United States aid (paid for by US taxpayers) is provided to Cambodia each year, and demand that it be tied to judicial and human rights reform. The passing of a robust law governing acid violence is the perfect place to start. Find your US Representative or Senator here.
Equally important is keeping the pressure on via the media. We urge you to seek out ways keep this story alive. It’s important that the two primary English language papers in Cambodia know that the US public cares. Write the Cambodia Daily and Phnom Penh Post. Thank them for their stories about acid violence and urge them to continue their coverage of this crucial topic with a focus on persuading the Cambodian government to enact the draft legislation.