By: IKRAM JUNAIDI
ISLAMABAD: As many as 98 per cent of the cases filed by acid attack victims are never decided due to existence of various loopholes in the law. All the stakeholders, including police and medical professionals, should be trained and awareness should be increased within the public to ensure the implementation of the law.
This was stated by legal expert Aftab Alam during a consultation to brainstorm the possible ways to combat acid violence organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Saturday.
The event was held to get recommendations for an HRCP report.
Mr Alam said the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2011 only acknowledged that acid throwing is a crime.
“There are three important stages, after the crime, which have to be addressed: crime reporting, investigation and prosecution,” he said.
Officers are not specially trained to investigate such cases
He said that typically, one investigation officer had many cases going on at once. Besides these officers are not specialised to investigate cases of acid violence, which is why the investigation process has to be modernised.
“Medico-legal reports play an important role in the investigation, but sometimes acid victims reach the hospital very late and at times the cases are not reported at all,” he said.
Mr Alam cited the example of India, where the state pays compensation to an acid attack victim, and said that compensation should be part of the law since the victims suffer from the impact of the attack for the rest of their lives. He said the compensation should be equal to that given to a victim of terrorism.
“In addition, witness protection laws should be made because witnesses are under threat. In the Wali Khan Babar case, a journalist, witnesses and even the investigation officer were killed,” he said.
He suggested that the capacity of all the relevant offices should be enhanced.
Centre for Civic Education head Zafraullah Khan, who was the moderator of the session, said that it was the state’s responsibility to provide security to every individual, and therefore compensation should be given to acid violence victims.
“There is a disparity in facilities, which should be provided in remote areas. Moreover, there are federal and provincial laws, but the sale of acid is purely a district-level issue, so there should be a good, strong district government system,” he said.
Punjab representative Dr Humayun Tanveer said that the capacity building of medico-legal officers (MLOs) was very important.
“In some areas, women MLOs are not available due to which the bodies of deceased women are shifted from one city to another for the postmortem. A separate burn victim assessment form should be created, and doctors should begin medical treatment immediately instead of waiting for the police report,” he said.
Dr Yahya Ahmed said the police should respond positively to victims of acid violence, and that evidence should be collected properly.
“Unfortunately, it has been observed that even relatives of the victim try to hide the incident because there is a general impression in society that the victim must be guilty,” he said.
A group leader, Sumaira Ashfaq, said women should play a role in raising awareness and that victims of acid violence should be documented.
“We have to admit that acid violence is a big issue in society,” she said.
Dr Anila Khan said that there should be counseling for acid attack victims, because while they believe they will be able to recover fully post surgery, this is not always possible.
Between 150 and 400 cases of acid attacks are reported in Pakistan every year. As many as 80 per cent of the victims are women, and almost 70 per cent are below 18. Such attacks are not used to kill the victim but to cause disfigurement, and can often cause blindness, hearing loss and physical and mental pain.