Following a campaign launched by two survivors of acid attacks, the Toxic Chemicals Prohibition and Control Bill was recently passed in Uganda. The action was encouraged by an online petition on Change.org, which garnered nearly 300,000 signatures in two months.
Acid violence has long been a neglected crime in this east African nation, with close to 400 reported cases in the past thirty years, according to the petition creators. Furthermore, the Independent Online estimates that 1,500 acid attacks are recorded globally every year – although this number does not account for the many victims too frightened to report the crime. The survivors – usually women – face a lifetime of disfigurement and shame, not to mention costly medical bills. They are vulnerable to attack for any number of reasons, such as marital troubles or land disputes.
Petition co-creator Gloria Kankunda remains badly scarred from an acid attack that took place several years ago, when she was three months pregnant. She described the horrific encounter with the Thomas Reuter Foundation: “I thought it was a robbery,” she recalls. “Suddenly I felt a burning sensation on my face and body. That’s when it hit me that it might be acid.”
The assault disfigured more than 70% of her body and has resulted in over 20 operations in two years. Being the wife of Ugandan Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana, Gloria’s case was a high profile one, and yet her attackers were never brought to justice. The court case was dismissed when she couldn’t testify, being in hospital at the time. “If I haven’t received justice despite the high profile nature of my case, what chance do the rest of victims have?” she said.
In spite of such a setback, Kankunda was determined to ensure greater safety for women in the future. Along with fellow survivor Hanifa Nakiryowa, she created the Centre for Rehabilitation of Survivors of Acid and Burns Violence, and in December they created the petition appealing Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni Kaguta to pass the new law.
The Toxic Chemicals Prohibition and Control Bill will regulate the sale and possession of toxic substances, such as concentrated sulphuric acid – which is currently obtainable from street vendors and petrol stations for less than a dollar in Uganda, according to the Independent Online.
The two women declared the petition a victory on change.org last week, but believe that there is more to be done in Uganda. “We must advocate for the fair and consistent implementation of this law,” the website reads. “And given that the Toxic Chemicals Bill is broad in nature and inadequate in fully addressing the crime of acid violence, CERESAV will also be calling for a separate bill that specifically addresses acid violence.”
You can continue to support the cause of these brave women here.