POSITION PAPER: ACID AND BURN LEGISLATION IN PAKISTAN
In Pakistan, the acid and burn legislation aiming at eradicating acid and burn violence – one of the worst forms of gender based violence- has been proposed after Naila Farhat’s case was taken to the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2009: it was the first acid attack case reaching this level of jurisdiction in the history of Pakistan, the victim won the case and it was followed by a suo moto action of the Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudry , in November 2009, who consequently advised or requested Pakistani parliamentarians to legislate on acid and burn violence on the model of the Bangladeshi law. In view of this decision, the Pakistani civil society initiated an evidence based advocacy and lobbying campaign in January 2010 in collaboration with the then Federal Ministry of Women Development, Federal Ministry of Human Rights, parliamentarians (MNAs and MPAs), UN agencies, legal and medical experts, media, the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) and acid survivors themselves, that initially resulted in the drafting of a comprehensive acid and burn crime prevention bill. This comprehensive bill was submitted to the then Federal Ministry of Women Development in July 2010. However, the Federal Ministry of Women Development did not follow up actively on this comprehensive legislation for acid and burn crime so meanwhile, a Parliamentarian, Marvi Memon, tabled a private member bill in May 2010 in the National Assembly that was entitled the Acid and Burn Crime Prevention Bill.
Hence, the legislative process became quite confusing: a private member bill had been tabled with no prior consultation with any other stakeholder while a widely supported comprehensive legislation was in process -or rather pending- with a government institution that had just been devolved. Keeping in view the best interest of the citizen- especially the acid attack victims- as well as the legal and political realities –including the passage of the 18th amendment of the constitution of Pakistan, the Pakistani civil society along with parliamentarians (MNAs and MPAs), UN agencies, legal and medical experts, media, the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) and acid survivors themselves opted for an inclusive and consensual 3 steps legislation apparel that was inspired from the Sexual Harassment legislation: 1) Amendment in the PPC 2) Comprehensive legal mechanism 3) Complementary law for acid. On 12th December 2011, those synergetic and participatory efforts led to the unanimous passage of Marvi Memon’s private member bill: the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2011 (Act XXV), by the senate.
This 1st achievement was highly celebrated at national and international level, and perceived as an extremely encouraging step towards eradicating acid violence in the country. However, the civil society insisted from 13th December 2011 onwards that it was only the 1st step of a more comprehensive legislative apparel and that more efforts and action from the government and the legislators would be required to also pass the comprehensive Acid and Burn Crime Bill (step 2) along with the Acid Control Bill (step 3) at provincial level. In fact, while the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2011 (HURT), Act XXV, specifically makes acid and burn violence a crime against the state and therefore makes it a non compoundable and non-bailable offence, and while it imposes a 1 million rupees fine on the perpetrator, and grants between 7 years to life time imprisonment punishment, it is important to also address other aspects of the crime that cannot be part of a simple amendment in the Pakistani Penal Code: investigation process (protection to victims, witnesses, delay of investigation), trial process (type of court and trial duration), rehabilitation and legal aid services to victims, funding and monitoring mechanisms, regulation of distribution and sale of acid.
Since February 2012, the civil society and especially EVAWG alliances provincial chapters along with Media, MNAs and MPAs, reinitiated a campaign to get the comprehensive Acid and Burn Crime Bill (STEP 2) passed at provincial level as the need to further legislate on the matter was highlighted by a geographical, quantitative and qualitative spread of acid violence in the country: attacks extended to FATA, Kashmir, were used as a tool to practice honour killing, to threaten girls from attending school, to victimise minorities further, additional attacks were reported from Dera Ismail Khan. Defective implementation of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2011 (Act XXV) was also a reason to urge for the passage of the Comprehensive Acid and Burn Crime Bill at provincial level as it proposes a monitoring board. But where do we stand to date?
In ICT the comprehensive Acid and Burn Crime Bill has now been submitted by Dr Atiya Inayat Ullah to the National Assembly. This bill is co –signed by 11 parliamentarians from PPP, MQM, PML-Q and reached the Minister of Interior on 3rd October 2012 for official clearance so that it could be tabled in the National Assembly. The bill has now been sent back to the National Assembly and should be tabled the sent to the relevant committee for discussion on the next session in January 2012.
In Khyberpukhtunkhwa, the increase in the notifications of acid attacks from KP-FATA within the last 4 months (10 cases in total) has finally convinced the KP government that the comprehensive Acid and Burn Crime Bill had to be passed. The Provincial Commission on the Status of Women along with the civil society and Women Development Department-KP, media and parliamentarians reviewed the comprehensive bill that has now been forwarded to KP law department and sent back to SWD and WED KP. The KP government plans to table this comprehensive bill as a government bill in January 2013 session.
In Punjab, the comprehensive bill has been submitted to the Women Development Department and discussed with the Punjab Law Department, till date however, no comprehensive bill has been tabled in the Provincial assembly.
In Sindh, Balochistan, Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan, no further action has been taken with regard to the comprehensive Acid and Burn Crime Bill.
If certain legal steps have been welcome such as inclusion of Burn Victims in the list of eligible beneficiaries for the Fund For Women in Distress, and if Punjab currently envisages to establish a 50 million board to benefit acid and burn attacks survivors, no half mending will be effective enough to counter acid violence in Pakistan. Apart from awareness and sensitization campaigns to generate behavioural change, a full fledge legislative apparel setting the norm which does not depend on political decisions and leaders but which is engraved into the legal framework of the country and which is adequately enforced, is imperative to make Pakistan a acid violence free country.
Valerie Khan Yusufzai
 Violence against women is a “global phenomenon that kills, tortures, and maims – physically, psychologically, sexually and economically” and it results in denial of security, dignity, self-worth, and the right to enjoy fundamental freedoms to women. Acid throwing is an extreme form of violence that harms victims both physically and psychologically and results in their social marginalization and stigmatization. In Pakistan, 70% of the victims are women and girls. See Acid Survivors Foundation data.