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Cambodian acid attacks highlighted by new film

Written By vibykhmer on Thursday, March 12, 2009 | 7:59 AM


Tat Marina prior to the acid attack against her
Tat Marina and her brother following the acid attack (Photo: The Cambodia Daily)

March 12, 2009

ABC Radio Australia

A US production company has released a feature film highlighting the issue of acid attacks in Cambodia.

Finding Face features a case involving a heinous acid attack on a young karaoke singer by the wife of a senior Cambodian official in 1999. With many similar attacks going unpunished, the film's producers hope the movie will provide victims some sense of justice.

Presenter: Girish Sawlani
Speaker: Tat Marina, acid attack victim; Patti Duncan, producer, Finding Face; Skye Fitzgerald, producer, Finding Face; Jason Barber, human rights consultant, LICADHO

Click here to listen to the audio program (Windows Media)SAWLANI: Tat Marina was just 16 when she was brutally attacked by the jealous wife of a high level Cambodian government official.

The teenage Karaoke singer had been in a relationship with Cambodia's undersecretary of state Svai Sitha, but didn't realise who he was at that time or the fact that he was married.

When his wife Khoun Sophal learnt of her husband's affair, she was raged with jealousy. And in December 1999, she and an assailant, believed to be her nephew, attacked Marina and poured highly toxic acid on her face outside Phnom Penh's Olympic market.

The attack left her with severe burns to her face and body. Her lips were burnt to raw swollen blisters and had her ears removed by doctors as gangrene set in. While a warrant for Khoun Souphal's arrest was issued soon after, she's never been caught and is still believed to be hiding in Cambodia.

Marina's story's now being revisited in the documentary film Finding Face produced by the US based Spin Film. The film's co-producer Patti Duncan says putting the film together was an enormous challenge, but was driven by the need to raise awareness of acid attacks that have since increased substantially.

DUNCAN: She wanted to raise awareness about the topic of acid attacks, particularly in Cambodia where they have been on the rise. We hope that the film can also provide a vehicle for Marina as she continues to go through her own healing process.

ANONYMOUS VICTIM: They closed my case, they've never contacted me for any investigation or they never investigate anyone, they just close the case immediately, maybe right after the night of the accident, I don't know why they did this.

SAWLANI: Finding Face also explores the plight of other acid attack victims in Cambodia and underscores the fact that many of them will never find justice. Here's Jason Barber, a consultant with Cambodian Human Rights group Licadho.

BARBER: There's no reason to think that every acid attack in Cambodia ends up in the newspapers. So the real number of attacks we have no idea, I think no one has any idea. In '99 to 2004 I think there were 75 attacks reported, with more than 100 victims.

SAWLANI: In this respect the film's other producer Skye Fitzgerald sees Finding Face as a tool for justice for Marina and other victims.

FITZGERALD: The fact that there's never been any justice in any form and likely there'll never be any justice within the judicial system for her, this film is a way for them to seek some small form of justice and at least in the court of public opinion. There's a power and a strength to that that the family has reason to � that in itself is a goal worth achieving.

SAWLANI: In the months, and years following the brutal attack, the perpetrators husband, Svai Sitha had contacted Tat Marina in the United States expressing concern and even offering to take care of her needs. But he warned Marina and her family not to pursue a legal case. And with many of Marina's Cambodian based family members speaking out in the film, their safety is a matter of concern. But Co producer Skye Fitzgerald says any threats against them would incur a backlash.

FITZGERALD: We were very careful to collaborate with and brief a number of organisations including Human Rights Watch, the US embassy in Phnom Penh, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, local human rights NGOs. We're very careful to brief them over the nature of the family's vulnerability when the film was released, and to create what we like to call a cultural or public accountability so that if someone were so foolish as to make a threat against the family there's be a significant outcry within the international community.

SAWLANI: It's been more than nine years since the attack and Tat Marina has moved on and lives in the United States with her brother and young son. But the main perpetrator, Khoun Sophal remains at large.

While Marina's role in the film gives her with some sense of justice, she remains haunted by the ordeal.

MARINA: I always get nightmares every time, sometimes it's not every time. I've tried to leave my past behind but it's so hard. When strange people come out of nowhere and they saw me the way I look and they look at me what I've done to myself, and that is I come home at night time and always have a nightmare.

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