Demand the Government of Uganda pass a law against acid attacks.
Demand the Government of Uganda pass a law against acid attacks.
My name is Linneti Kirungi and I am the Founder and Director of Hope Care Rescue Mission, a nongovernmental organization in Uganda supporting acid attack survivors. I am also an acid attack survivor and as a survivor, and on behalf of the hundreds of survivors with whom I work, I am requesting that you sign this petition demanding the Ugandan government pass a law regulating the sale of acid and ensuring strict punishments for perpetrators of this devastating crime.
Here is my story: I was a young girl, just 18 years old, when I met Trevor (a pseudonym.) I thought maybe we would spend the rest of our lives together. Everything was going on well. But around one year into our relationship, while on break from school, my sister helped get me a temporary job as a field clerk for a large company. When I told Trevor about the job, he said, "No, I cannot allow you to go and work there." When I asked why, he said it was because it was a male dominated company. Then I asked him, "Have you ever seen a company just for women?" I told him I cannot just sit down when I have an opportunity. On my first day at work, he started sending threatening messages to other people who worked at the company, warning them, “Don't mess with Linnet. She is my wife." But because it was my first day there, they didn't even know who I was. Trevor started following all of my movements. He had my friend's contacts and would call them and ask to talk to me. I started realizing this was a controlling kind of relationship.
When I started at Makerere University in Kampala in 2011, he started telling me that he wanted to get married. I told him, “I came to the university to study. I have not come here to get married.” I told him I value my future. So of course he was saying, “Linnet you are just coming up with excuses. You want to end the relationship.” After insisting several times that I was not ready to get married, he called me and said, “Linnet, can we meet and talk?" This was during exam time and I told him I had one paper to finish. I told him I can talk after that, the next day. He told me, “No, I want to talk to you now.” So he came to the university to look for me. I ran into him when I was headed to another dorm for a group discussion, and when I met him, he just grabbed my hand and said, "Can we sit and talk?" So I said, "What is that thing that cannot wait for just one day?" So what he did, I saw him raising his hand to slap me. I remember that time, I grabbed his hand to prevent him from slapping me. He said, "Linnet, I am sorry" but I told him, “Let's end this relationship. I don't think things are going to work out." He then told me, “I will not let you go. I think maybe you are seeing other people and that's why you want to leave me. If it means killing anyone else that comes between us, I will do that." But of course, I was young. I did not take these signs seriously. After that incident, he kept calling me, saying, “Linnet, you are my wife. I will not allow any other person to take you."
One morning, around 5am, he called asking me about my plan for the entire day. He asked, “At what time are you going to the university?” I told him I had to go early because I had a paper. Then he called four more times, asking, “Have you left yet?” On the last call, I was just leaving the dorm. I was walking with a group of friends and I started hearing the footsteps of someone walking behind. I got a strange feeling that we were being followed but when I turned to look, I did not see anyone. It was still very early, not yet 6am, and it was not yet light out. My friends eventually went in a different direction and the minute I was alone, I felt like I was hearing a voice telling me, “Linnet look behind.” When I turned, there was a person behind me trying to come in front of me. This person was struggling to enter the corridor before me. When he was almost in front of me, I saw him coming with a bucket, the buckets we use for showering. The person had covered himself with black. Then he poured. I happened to turn my face, and that's how my face survived and my left side was damaged.
The acid melted the clothes off my body and by the time someone found me, I was completely naked. I started to feel the pain. You feel as if something is pulling something inside your body, but of course the exact pain is not something I can explain to someone who has not been through it. My body became stiff, like a statue standing on the street. I saw myself burning but I could not do anything about it because my body was stiff. The friends who had walked with me that morning found me and asked, “What has happened?" It took my friends over two hours to find someone who was willing to take me to the hospital. Onlookers were terrified. When they tried to help by pouring water on me, my hair burst into flames. Acid was still flowing on my skin. I realized I was going to die. At one point, when the pain became so much, I went in the middle of the road to be knocked down but this plan did not work. There was one boda boda (taxi) driver who saw me and said, “Life is more important than anything else” and took me in his vehicle to the hospital. When we were moving, I saw my friend crying more than me. She came with some clothes to cover my body, but they said, “Don't put clothes on. They will burn into her skin.”
When I finally got to the hospital, I was rushed to the water room, where they poured water on me for seven hours. I remember when I came out from the water room was when I saw my family, and I saw them breaking down. From there, I lost consciousness. I woke up the next day in the emergency room and saw Trevor there. People at the hospital told me that he had come the night before, wanting to see me. I was shocked that the same person who had organized the attack was there to see whether the mission had been completed. I told my parents to get him out of there, to chase him away. The next day I found myself surrounded by media houses, all of them wanting to get the story.
I spent one year in Mulago Hospital in Uganda and had six surgeries. I would have had more, but could not afford them. As devastating as the attack was, the police’s response to my attack was in some ways more devastating. I reported my case to the police and within a few days, police officers came to the hospital to speak with me. They asked me, “Why don't you just sit down with the perpetrator and ask what you need from him?” I was shocked. I told the police, “Why would I sit down with someone who tried to end my life?” They told me, “If we take this case to court, if you win the case, the person will be arrested just for a few years. Instead of arresting the person, you can request a meeting with him and ask for compensation.” At that time, I was still struggling to survive and did not have the energy to fight this. I have since learned that this is a common issue: Survivors are not given time to recover from what they are going through. In many cases, you are the only eyewitness, but the court case is held before you are able to leave the hospital to testify. My perpetrator was never charged, never held legally accountable in any way.
As it is written into law now, someone convicted of an acid attack can be sentenced for up to seven years in prison. Not only is seven years an outrageously meager sentence for an act of attempted murder, but perpetrators are rarely charged. Of the over 200 acid attack survivors with whom I have worked in Uganda, only 20 percent of their perpetrators were charged or had any legal consequence for perpetrating the attack.
The other issue is that acid is readily available in the market in Uganda. When you move to the streets in Kampala, the way they sell tomatoes, the same way they sell acid. If I want to buy acid, they will not ask me anything, for my license, for what industrial use I am purchasing it. It makes it a very easy weapon to get. It is also inexpensive. In most cases, a liter of acid costs 3000 Ugandan Shillings, roughly one US dollar. With one liter, you can make someone very deformed, end someone’s life. In 2016, the government passed the Toxic Chemicals and Prohibition Bill into law. It was a good start but it was too general in nature. It brought all the other chemicals in one basket. How can you compare acid with pesticides? It is acid which has the worst impact on human beings.
One of the reasons that I believe acid attacks are not being taken more seriously by the Ugandan government is that the majority of victims are women. In general, Ugandan men do not want us to exercise our rights as women. If you see someone in power who is affected by this, you will see the government coming out and doing something about it. But, acid attacks rarely target these people. The biggest population affected are women, and these are usually women who are not well educated and lack resources for speaking out. In addition, the Ugandan government has allocated funding for other marginalized groups of people, like those with disabilities, but acid attack survivors are not considered disabled because we were not born with these disabilities.
Please help us put in place tough laws on the sale and use of acid as a weapon of violence and enforce harsher punishments for those who use acid as a weapon to kill or disfigure others. Please sign this petition to urge the Government of Uganda to pass a law against acid attacks!