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Proposed acid attack bill terribly inadequate

The year 2015 brought with it a salient bill seeking ‘stiff penalties’ for acid attackers and restriction on the sale and distribution of acid.

This bill, introduced by Dr Chris Baryomunsi and Dr Medard Bitekyerezo, is actually not a new law but a Penal Code Act amendment. It seeks 10 years, imprisonment for deliberate acid attackers and a fine that is just and reasonable to meet the medical expenses for the victim’s treatment.

It further seeks to amend the Penal Code Act to introduce a specific offence of assault causing bodily harm by use of acid and to introduce the offence of throwing or attempting to throw acid at a person, carrying a prison sentence of not less than seven years.

The Penal Code Act, 1950, already has the offence for acid violence and punishment. It actually provides for stiffer penalties of life imprisonment for perpetrators of acid or burn violence intending to maim, under Section 216 (g).

It also provides a death sentence for acid attacks committed with ‘malice aforethought’ leading to death under Section 188-9 and life imprisonment if the foregoing does not lead to death (attempted murder under Section 188).

As such, other than the suggestion of regulating the purchase, transportation and storage of acid and fining perpetrators to cater for their victim’s wellbeing, the Penal Code Amendment Bill is actually suggesting lesser penalties for the crime which would be counter-productive. Also, victims can seek compensation, actual and punitive damages in a civil suit.

Whilst these noble doctors’ intentions were good, suggesting a penal code amendment to such a traumatising and life-changing or death-occasioning crime was a disservice to the fallen and living victims of this act. Lesser ‘crimes’ dealing with issues such as smoking in public places, the Ugandan legislatures’ version of pornography and sexual orientation have graduated from the Penal Code and become individually-coded crimes. 

Ironically, the latter have hardly graced the courts and may be confined to the collection of several Ugandan dormant laws. Acid attack and violence, comparatively, is on the increase.

This bill has been introduced minus any consultations from the victims of this crime. The Center for Rehabilitation of Survivors of Acid and Burns Violence (Ceresav), which is the only charitable non-government organization dealing with acid violence victims, was also not consulted.

Ceresav was established in 2012 to readdress the problem of acid violence in Uganda and support acid violence victims in their rehabilitation and integration process. It has been at the forefront of pushing the victims’ cause since the Acid Survivors Foundation Uganda went into hibernation.

There are also no publically-known consultations with other stakeholders or countries that are proactive in acid violence legislation or public fora consultations. Whilst these might appear more relevant further on in the process, concerns are best addressed from the beginning than starting on new ideas along the way.

Bearing all the aforementioned in mind, the bill lacks: a separate acid legislation independent from the penal code with stronger deterrent punishments than suggested; an allocation of a prosecution period like in other criminal cases addressing prosecution delays so that justice is seen to be done; consultations with all the relevant stakeholders undertaken from the beginning; very stringent and implementable regulation and patrol of the purchase, transportation and storage of acid.

A similar regulation as that of Bangladesh that decreased acid violence by 20 to 30 per cent should be duplicated to fit Uganda’s dynamics.

The introduced bill can be a good foundation. However, it would be retrogressive if it was not made public to stakeholders and public consultations before it is presented to parliament.

That in the past 20 years in Uganda there have been averagely 20 acid violence incidents reported per year shows the need for an effective aegis law to combat this atrocity.

The author is a Ugandan living in Canada.

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