PAKISTAN - NATIONAL ASSEMBLY PREPARES TO PASS ACID CONTROL
& BURN CRIME PREVENTION BILL - ENFORCEMENT IMPORTANT
Last week, the government of
While passage is nearly certain, it remains to be seen whether the government will make a sincere attempt to implement this legislation - and, moreover, how effective its effort at enforcement may be.
Over the past few years, acid terrorism has begun to provoke international concern as acid-related crimes have increased in some countries and appeared in others. In several recent high-profile cases, individuals have used acid in mass attacks. Destroying a victim’s life may cost anything from the 100,000 rupees some attackers have reported being promised in
While the motivations behind such acts vary, perpetrators choose acid for simple reasons: it is cheap and widely available, assault with acid is penalized relatively lightly or goes unpunished, and victims who do not die are marked, often disabled for life. When it does not kill, acid leaves victims in agony --disfigured, deformed, and sometimes blinded. Their limbs may be fused in the position they held when burned. For those with access to medical care surgery may lessen complications and reduce disfigurement, but survivors struggle to overcome both physical and mental injury and social stigma for the rest of their lives.
The breakdowns that reduce the likelihood of an acid attack being punished begin at the local level. Many assaults go unreported, but when victims do report acid attacks, the police may demand a bribe to investigate, refuse to investigate, or accept a bribe from the attacker to drop the case. In court, the prosecution and judiciary are susceptible to the same extralegal influences and pressure to adhere to social norms. Illegal out-of-court settlements routinely deprive victims of formal justice and keep acid attacks out of the judicial system entirely.
The text of the preamble to
it is necessary to make provisions to specifically criminalise acid related
violence by providing tougher and stricter penalties, speedy trial of such
heinous offences and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto;
Whereas to further control the import, production, transportation, hoarding, sale and use of acid to prevent the misuse of acid as a corrosive substance and for the purpose of treatment and rehabilitation of acid victims and to provide legal support to them and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto."
The legislation would create a
National Acid Control Council and “comprehensively defin[e] hurt and disfigurement”
as well as categorizing acids as dangerous substances, restricting their sale,
more heavily penalizing "unlawful sales," and increasing the maximum
sentence for disfigurement significantly -- in addition to setting a minimum
sentence of seven years. Medical professionals would be legally bound to report
acid-related injuries to police. Further, the bill would define the victims of
acid attacks as disabled, entitling them to government benefits, and provide
for treatment, rehabilitation, and legal aid.
If passed, Cambodia's law would regulate the sale of acids, set minimum sentences and increase the maximum sentence for acid-related offenses, and improve care for survivors. Today, acid attacks are classified as civil assaults, which require the victim to press charges. Like
Tentative progress in
Legislative reform will not necessarily translate to substantive change in
Despite its flaws and the obstacles ahead, the Acid Control and Burn Crime Prevention Bill represents an opportunity to make remarkable progress in combating acid terrorism in Pakistan. Its successful passage may also signal receptivity to the involvement of civil society and international organizations in policy reform. In passing this bill, the Pakistani government puts progress ahead of politics.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in