A year after law, acid easily available on streets

“What law? No one has ever come to speak to me about that,” said 33-year-old Lim Vannak, scanning the large plastic buckets of corrosive acids she had lined up on the pavement of Phnom Penh’s Street 144 on a recent morning. Acid in the wrong hands is as deadly as any other lethal weapon, and in Cambodia, where attacks with the devastating chemical are a common means of revenge and retribution, traditionally used by the scorned party in a love affair, laws have been passed to regulate the trade in acid. … The Sub-Decree on the Formalities and Conditions for Strong Acid Control, signed by six ministries and approved on January 31, 2013, came into effect six months later, and regulates the sale, purchase, storage, transportation, packaging, and use of all types of strong acid. Only people aged 18 and above are able to purchase strong acid, according to the sub-decree, and anyone buying acid must be able to produce some form of identification and an explanation of their legitimate need for the substance, which is used by engine mechanics, jewelers and on rubber plantations. … And since the sub-decree was introduced in July, there have been three reported acid attacks, two suicides involving acid and five accidents involving the substance. In total, three people have died from acid-related incidents during that short period of time. While there has been a decrease in violent acid attacks since 2012, according to the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity (CASC), there has been a small increase in accidents over the past period. … One of the signatories enabling the law, the Council of Ministers, denied responsibility for enforcing the sub-decree saying that it was a matter for the Interior Ministry. “The law has been discussed and signed. We [the Council of Ministers] are just signatories on it…it is being enforced by the Ministry of Interior,” Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said. Ministry of Interior Secretary of State Prum Sokha, however, said he had not heard of the decree.

Sek Odom and Alice Cuddy