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Report No. 226


In Uganda according to Acid Survivor's Foundation(ASFU) Acid violence in affects both men(48%) and women(52%) in almost equal numbers1 The motives behind the attacks are domestic arguments, land disputes, business rivalry etc. There are also cases of victims that have been injured by mistake for being there at the time of the acid throwing as there were in Cambodia. These are often children who were being carried by the mother victims at the time of the attack.

ASFU is also aware of many cases where victims have no idea why they were the target of an attack. Acid violence crosses the social strata of society in Uganda - from the very poorest to some very influential and wealthy people. ASFU has found that attacks are not only carried out by the person with the grievance but in 15 % of cases, the acid is thrown by an assassin; who can be hired at a very low cost.

1. Baseline Survey with International Comparative Analysis of the Legal Aspects of Acid Violence in Uganda,2004.

ASFU suspects under-reporting of acid violence cases due to public stigma attached to victims, poor access to justice, police inefficiency and the victim's lack of finances to fight the case through the police system and then the courts.

The relevant section to arrest, prosecute, convict and sentence perpetrators of acid violence under the Ugandan Penal Code is Section 216(g) (formerly S209) and it carries life imprisonment and reads as under:-

"Any person who, with intent to maim, disfigure or disable any person, or to do some grievous harm to any person or to resist or prevent the lawful arrest or detention of any person -

(f) puts any corrosive fluid or any destructive or explosive substance in any place; or

(g) unlawfully casts or throws any such fluid or substance at or upon any person, or otherwise applies any such fluid or substance to the person of any person, commits a felony and is liable to imprisonment for life."

However, it has been reported that the above section is not applied consistently by the police or the courts. Many attackers have been charged under other sections of the Penal Code, for example, under Section 219 for "grievous harm" which carries a sentence of upto seven years only. Another problem that arises is that police officers have too much discretion in terms of the degree of charges that they are able to bring on. Moreover, the police are not consistent in bringing charges, as charges that are filed often seem to be dependent on the individual decision of the police officer rather than one of policy.

A charge is also often levied according to the level of injury rather than by investigating the intent and motive behind the attack. Therefore if the victim manages to avoid major injuries, the perpetrator is released or only charged with a minor assault, despite the fact that the perpetrator had intended to disfigure or kill the victim.

ASFU has recorded cases where there had not been physical injury and therefore no prosecution of the perpetrator or only a light sentence, resulting in the victim living in fear of a later attack. In Uganda only a few acid attacks have been charged under attempted murder which seems unfair given the premeditated nature of acid attacks.1 Apart from this in Uganda the police are often corrupt, the prosecutors inefficient and sometimes cases are dropped because the victims are either silenced by threats or paid off.

As eluded to above, there is no consistency in sentencing, a fact confirmed generally in the sentencing system of Uganda. Sentences vary from a few months (most of which is spent on remand) to life imprisonment. Police and judiciary discretion apply and since many do not understand the severity of acid cases, often light charges and lenient sentences result. Generally sentences are too lenient given the permanent damage caused to the victim in terms of health, job, family and social status. Prior to ASFU intervention, in 62% of known acid cases in Uganda, perpetrators received custodial sentences of less than 10 years. Since the intervention of ASFU, the figure has dropped to 46%.

There is currently no form of compensation available to victims of acid attacks, despite the significant costs incurred by victims and their families as a result of the attacks. No government fund exists to provide any form of compensation, fines are not imposed on perpetrators and ASFU has no records of any civil actions being brought against perpetrators.

Concentrated sulphuric acid, commonly used in Uganda for re-charging batteries is readily available at petrol stations, street sides and from outlets in the industrial areas of cities for purchase by any individual without any questions being asked.

Currently there is no adequate legislation to control and regulate the sale and supply of acid and there are no laws to control businesses that use acid in their manufacturing process, nor for those who transport, import and export such chemicals. There are no licensing laws controlling the sale and supply of acid by vendors and no records are kept of those who buy acid and the reasons for their purchase.

However, though it is hardly used Section 230 of the Ugandan Penal Code punishes a person with imprisonment for 6 months and a fine of two thousand shillings " who does with any poisonous substance any act in a manner so rash or negligent as to endanger human life or to be likely to cause hurt or injury to any other person or knowingly or negligently omits to take such care with any poisonous substance in his or her possession as is sufficient to guard against probable danger to human life from such poisonous substance."

The Inclusion of Acid Attacks as Specific Offences in the Indian Penal Code and a law for Compensation for Victims of Crime Back

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