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Law aimed at helping acid victims remains in limbo

August 13, 2017

ISLAMABAD: The Acid and Burn Crime Bill, 2014, which was once cleared for passage by a committee of the lower house but remained pending for over three years, has been deferred once again without being considered by the National Assembly.

Legal experts, however, believe that there is still room for improvement in the bill and suggest that it should be passed as an amendment to the existing law, rather than a new law.

There are certain positive recommendations in the bill, which place an emphasis on the completion of investigation within 60 days, treatment of victim without waiting for police go-ahead, government should bear the cost of the treatment of patient and compensation should be given to victim.

Marvi Memon criticises govt for dragging its feet; legal expert cautions against passing ‘parallel’ laws

PML-N MNA Marvi Memon, who moved the bill on the assembly floor last week, said that this law should be considered the “version 2.0” of legislation that was passed under the previous PPP regime.

However, she lamented that the PML-N government had dragged its feet on the issue. “It was passed by the committee and sent back to the house, which should have passed it and sent it to the Senate.” But the interior and law divisions did not raise objections at the proper time, she said, criticising her own government for not following the laid down procedures.

She recalled Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Oscar winning documentary on the subject, and said that Pakistan’s efforts were setting an example at the international level.

While Law Minister Zahid Hamid admitted that there had been a long delay in the examination of the bill by the relevant stakeholders, he asked for the bill to be deferred once again, so that the interior division could have time to examine the bill and make amendments.

Due to different loopholes in the existing law, activists say, as many as 98pc of cases filed by acid victims are never decided. All stakeholders, including police and doctors need to be trained and more awareness should be given to masses to ensure the implementation of law.

The latest version of the bill suggests that an administrative body, consisting of representatives of police, civil society and human rights organisations etcs should be constituted to oversee cases and. It suggests capital punishment if a victim dies and not less than seven years imprisonment if the victim survives.

Talking to Dawn, legal expert Aftab Alam said that administrative and criminal laws had been combined in this bill.

“I believe this is extra legislation, because in Pakistan the definition of the crime has never been a problem.

“Problems arise during the implementation phase; the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2011 has already acknowledged acid throwing as a crime and, after that, not only has the number of cases been reduced, the conviction rate has also increased by 10pc,” he said

“Passing the bill as a parallel law will authorise station house officers (SHO) to register cases under either law, and everyone knows that police often uses the weak sections of law when they want to protect a suspect. Moreover, it is not mentioned in the law if the offense is compoundable or not,” he said.

The latest version of the law directs medical officers to start treating the victim as soon as he/she is brought to the hospital. In the past, medical officers used to wait for police before starting treatment.

It suggests that, as an interim relief, the government will bear the expense of the treatment. Moreover, it says that compensation will be paid to the victim, but the amount is not specified. The condition and financial position of the victim should be taken into consideration while announcing compensation, Mr Alam said.

“An effort has been made to give a timeframe for investigating acid and burn cases, as police have been directed to complete investigation within 60 days. However, these cases will still be tried in normal courts. I suggest that dedicated judges should be deputed for acid burn victims,” he said.

“Another positive thing is that the bill has suggested witness protection measures, but it is left to the desire of the court. I believe that protection should be provided if a witness demands it, because a number of cases are not decided because witnesses refuse to record their testimony or they change their statements,” he said.

Mr Alam said that generally, one investigation officer has to deal with many cases at the same time and are not equipped to investigate cases of acid-throwing, adding that the investigation process had to be modernised.

“The medico-legal report plays an important role in the investigation, but sometimes, acid victims reach the hospital very late. Other times, cases go unreported,” he said.

Giving the example of India, where the government pays compensation to an acid victim, Mr Alam said that the compensation for the acid victim should be part of the law, because the victims suffer throughout their life and should at least be considered equal to a terrorism victim.

Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2017