Harsh laws are prepared but not always implemented effectively, past records showOrdinances increasing the penalty for acid attacks and its sales has come into effect but ensuring that it is not to cash in on public sentiment is necessary, experts say.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli met survivors of acid attacks and activists demanding harsher penalties against perpetrators twice this month within a span of 10 days.
Soon, words were out from the Prime Minister’s Office that laws to discourage such attacks would be formulated.
President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Monday authenticated three ordinances—Acid and Other Fatal Chemicals (Regulation) Ordinance 2020, Ordinance to Revise some provisions in Criminal Codes and Criminal Procedure, and Nepal Police and Provincial Police (Operation, Coordination and Supervision) Act. All of them are related to deter acid attacks.
“We expect the ordinances to act as a deterrent measure in minimising the heinous crime,” said Raja Ram Dahal, an information officer at the Ministry of Law and Justice.
The new laws have doubled the jail term for the acid attacker to 20 years and significantly increased the fine to a maximum of Rs 1 million to go to the survivor.
Human rights experts, however, say while it is encouraging that the new laws have been enacted, they would like to see the government's effective role in its implementation.
They say rather than dearth of laws, their poor implementation is the reason behind increase in the number of criminal cases.
“In our case non-implementation of the laws is a more serious problem than having no laws,” Ram Dayal Rakesh, former member of the National Human Rights Commission, told the Post. “Having high sounding provisions alone is not enough.”
For instance, the criminal code that came to an effect in August 2018 increased the jail-term for anyone convicted of rape to 20 years from 15 years. But reports on rape suggest the law hasn’t been implemented effectively.
On September 15, a teenager rape victim took her own life in Saptari after she was forced into an out-of-court settlement by the village elders. The girl from Dakneshwori Municipality-7, who had been raped by four men, took her own life because she and her mother were reportedly forced by the panchayat, a traditional village council, to “settle the matter” outside the court of law saying that if the incident became public it would bring shame upon the community.
This case of a community trying to cover up the rape is not an isolated one.
“Often communities work against the victims and do not cooperate in bringing perpetrators to book,” said Basant Ram Bhandari, a former attorney general.
The police, who are the first custodians of the law, are also responsible for the non-implementation.
Experts say there are several examples that even in the cases of serious criminal offences, the police don’t even take the first information report and even if the complaints are received the cases are made weak. Such actions or lack thereof ultimately deprives the victims from justice, they say.
For example, despite an investigation by the government panel finding the then Deputy Superintendent of Police Gyan Kumar Mahato and his team’s torture was responsible for the death of a youth in Rautahat, the district police refused to receive the complaints. Bijaya Mahara, 19, from Garuda Municipality in the district died on August 26 midnight during treatment to injuries which, according an investigation panel, were sustained due to the police torture.
“There should be an environment for the victims to lodge the cases and for them to have faith that the government agencies will work towards justice delivery and actions against the perpetrators,” said Raju Prasad Chapagain, a human rights lawyer who has worked with Amnesty International and as a legal advisor for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nepal.
Similarly, despite having anti-untouchability laws, people from so-called Dalit community have been facing discrimination. In several cases they have been murdered by people from the so-called upper caste.
“Non implementation of laws only increases the morale of the people with the criminal mindset, contrary to the very objective of the law,” Chapagain said, “Enforcement of any laws is as important as having new ones.”
Besides, preventive measures are also crucial to stem such crimes along with new stronger laws.
“The focus of the government has been towards increasing the penalty but no attention has been given towards the preventive measures,” Om Prakash Aryal, a human rights lawyer, told the Post. “The government must realise the laws don’t get implemented on their own. The agencies responsible for their implementation should be effective.”
There are different factors involved for poor implementation of laws.
These start from the community and include the police, the judiciary and the agencies implementing the court’s verdict, according to Bhandari, the former attorney general.
“The honesty and efficiency of the police, the role of the judiciary and the agencies assigned with implementing the court's verdict are also responsible for the effective implementation of the laws,” he told the Post.
In the case of the new ordinance on acid attacks, however, social activists feel that there will be no problem with implementation.
“Unlike crimes like rape, there’s visible evidence of scar of the crime and this doesn’t need justification for implementation,” said Ujjwal Bikram Thapa, a social activist who had met the prime minister earlier this month.
As per the data provided by Burns Violence Survivors, a Kathmandu based organisation that helps survivors of acid and fire burns, 30 cases of acid and burn violence have been reported from 2010 until 2020. As per the data presented in a panel session held in February, 16 cases were reported between 2015-2016.
Finding the cause of the criminal activities and addressing them before someone gets victimised is more important than taking the legal actions after the crimes have been committed, according to Chapagain.
“In case of acid attack, many people, mostly women, wouldn’t have been victimised had the government regulated acid sales and kept its use under surveillance,” he said.
In the case of the new ordinance on acid attacks, prevention is the most important part of the law. While selling acid is not entirely banned since it has other purposes as well, sellers have to maintain a record of the buyers, keep a copy of identity documents of buyers and stop selling the corrosive chemical in the bottle of cold drinks and other drinks. If these provisions are violated, they are liable to face action.
“The law has such a harsh punishment for selling acid that sellers will be discouraged from its sales,” Thapa said.
But it all boils down to the implementation part.
“The government comes up with laws to cash the people's sentiment to gain popularity,” said Rakesh, the former human rights commissioner. “The government should work for strong implementation of the ordinances to prove it wasn’t just for publicity.”