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Burnt to the bone: Uganda's acid attack survivors seek justice

Monday February 17 2020

Linette Kirungi poses in Kampala on October 25, 2019 as she gets on with her daily life.

Linette Kirungi poses in Kampala on October 25, 2019 as she gets on with her daily life. She was attacked with acid by her boyfriend in 2012. PHOTO | SUMY SADURNI | AFP 

AFP
By AFP
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Ugandan university student Linette Kirungi was on her way to class when she heard footsteps behind her. The next thing she felt was liquid on her face -- then burning agony.

She had just turned down a marriage proposal from her ex-boyfriend. He responded by throwing acid.

"I screamed and fell down," the 27-year-old told AFP.

"The pain was too much. The skin was peeling off."

Acid is cheap and easy to find. Some just use acid for car batteries. It melts the flesh, sometimes to the bone.

That attack was in 2012.

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Today, Kirungi works to support survivors of acid attacks in Uganda -- and close a legal loophole that allows attackers to easily evade justice.

In Uganda, in 2018, 42 cases were reported to the End Acid Violence campaign group, listing motives including jealousy and relationship arguments.

More go unreported, activists say, who are pushing the government to declare acid attacks a "serious crime" and police to take action.

Jennifer Mutesi, who had acid poured over her
Jennifer Mutesi, who had acid poured over her face in 2011 by a co-worker that was jealous of her success. She lost sight in one eye and she remembers that as the acid was burning her, people in the streets were filming the situation with their mobile phones rather than helping her. PHOTO | SUMY SADURNI | AFP

Uganda's Justice Minister Ephraim Kamuntu said he wanted to stamp out the attacks.

"We are working... to see that a new law is in place to stop this crime," Kamuntu said.

But Kirungi, whose ex-boyfriend was never arrested, said that police lose interest if victims don't follow the case -- but they are in hospital struggling with the pain.

"You are in the intensive care unit, and at times you find you even don't know what is happening," Kirungi said. "Once you fail to appear they will close the case."

Survivors of the attacks can spend months in hospital, often lose their jobs, and then end up homeless.

"You fear people seeing you," said Jennifer Mutesi, who also was attacked with acid.

"If they see you, they are scared of you. And you cry, because of the pain, and your appearance."

Daniel Kasolo, who was attacked with acid when
Daniel Kasolo, who was attacked with acid when he was 18 years old by his close friend, poses for a portrait at his home in Nansana on November 1, 2019. He lost an eye and lost hope in humanity, believing that people were cruel. He eventually found love and is now happily married with two children and owns a mobile phone shop in Nansana. PHOTO | SUMY SADURNI | AFP

It is not just a Ugandan problem. Such attacks happen worldwide.

ActionAid, an international organisation working for social justice, say acid attacks mainly target women -- and the method is used because of the importance placed on a woman's physical appearance.