Tackling acid violence to ensure justice for survivors

by Trang Chu Minh | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Saturday, 10 September 2016 12:11 GMT

Andrew Biraj / Reuters

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Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI) were partnered with Baker & McKenzie, J. Sagar Associates, Linklaters and P&A Asia through TrustLaw to produce a comparative report of acid violence laws in the UK, India, Cambodia and Colombia to end acid violence worldwide.

Though acid violence is a crime condemned under international law, every year thousands of people across the world are subjected to premeditated attacks with nitric, hydrochloric or sulphuric acid. The attacks occur globally, but countries with the highest recorded levels of acid violence include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Colombia, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Uganda.  There are as many as 1500 recorded attacks a year, with India alone facing 1000 attacks annually.

Survivors of acid violence often refrain from resorting to legal recourse for fear of retaliation, and because it is unlikely to result in successful prosecution.  While legal intervention has been possible in some countries owing to strong advocacy efforts, one of the major challenges has been the lack of data on the efficacy of the laws, the manner in which courts have interpreted these laws and delivered judgments.

The comparative legal report sought to address this gap by analysing data on existing legal instruments specific to acid violence in the UK, India, Cambodia and Colombia. It unearthed a number of unsettling findings, particularly concerning the haphazard policing of provisions to control the sale of acid, as well as the lengthy and often ineffective compensation and prosecution schemes.

Of the 55 cases studied in India, the time taken for a litigation case to complete was between five to ten years, with very few survivors receiving compensation – a shocking revelation considering the physical and psychological trauma inflicted on victims.

Heightened media attention following the launch of the report and additional data revealing a significant increase in attacks in the UK led to a flurry of advocacy efforts. The Daily Express launched a campaign  to control the sale of acid in late 2015, and MP James Berry urged the UK government to take firm action on combating acid violence.  “It has only been 11 months since the study was launched but a great deal has been achieved in a very short space of time and with a limited budget,” says Jaf Shaf, Executive Director of ASTI.  In great part thanks to advocacy efforts by survivors, medical practitioners and civil society stakeholders such as ASTI, in January 2016, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos signed a law that imposes tougher sentences on the perpetrators of acid attacks.

The project has been nominated for the 2016 TrustLaw Impact Award.