January 27, 2011

Legal and health professionals issue first comparative study of acid violence against women in Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia

Avon Global Center and Cornell Law Clinic join with New York City Bar Association and Virtue Foundation to recommend concrete steps governments and businesses can take to combat acid violence, a horrific form of violence committed against women in many countries

New York, New York. Attackers have thrown acid on the faces and bodies of thousands of women in South Asia and Southeast Asia to punish them for refusing to accept proposals of marriage or sex and for other discriminatory reasons. Acid attacks continue to rise in many countries. A new report being issued today, Combating Acid Violence in Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia, is the first comprehensive, comparative study of acid violence to identify the underlying causes of acid violence and to provide concrete recommendations that governments and businesses should adopt to curb acid violence.

The report is the culmination of a nearly two-year collaborative effort among the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School, the New York City Bar Association, the Cornell International Human Rights Clinic, and the Virtue Foundation.

Acids used to commit attacks are available for purchase on street corners in Bangladesh, India, and Cambodia, countries where acid attacks occur at relatively high rates. “An important way to curb intentional attacks on women’s bodies with acid is to limit the easy availability of acid,” said Professor Sital Kalantry, Associate Clinical Professor and Faculty Director of the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School.

Even when governments fail to act, businesses can play a crucial role in curbing acid misuse. “Evidence suggests that acid attacks occur at higher rates near areas where industries that use acid are located, such as cotton industries in Pakistan and rubber industries in Cambodia,” noted Professor Kalantry. The report points out that companies that produce and distribute acid in countries with high rates of acid attacks should ensure that their distributors and local suppliers are following appropriate licensing, safe handling, storage, labeling, transfer, and disposal procedures for acid.

As parties to an international treaty on women’s rights, India, Cambodia, and Bangladesh have an obligation to act with due diligence to prevent, investigate, and punish acid violence. Despite this, the report notes that perpetrators of acid attacks enjoy widespread impunity for their crimes. India and Cambodia currently lack specific criminal laws or acid regulations designed to address acid violence. “Governments should bring perpetrators to justice and send a message to society that violence against women will not be tolerated,” said Stephen Kass, Chair of the Committee on International Human Rights of the New York City Bar Association.

“Acid violence also has devastating health consequences for victims, including immense physical pain, blindness and other loss of physical functioning, loss of facial features and severe mental suffering,” added Oculofacial surgeon Dr. Ebby Elahi, Director of Global Health and International Programming at Virtue Foundation, Associate Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology and Preventative Medicine and Global Health at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and Attending Physician at Beth Israel Medical Center and Elmhurst General Hospital. In all three countries, acid violence survivors face immense challenges in obtaining adequate healthcare. The report recommends that governments should provide victim redress, including compensation for necessary healthcare costs. Dr. Elahi concluded: “The multi-disciplinary, collaborative approach utilized by the Report is the best way to prevent attacks and eradicate acid violence in the region and globally.”

The 65-page report is available for download.

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