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Colombia Introduces Harsher Prison Sentences for Acid Attacks

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Natalia Ponce de Leon during the promulgation of the law. Photo: Casa de Nariño.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Natalia Ponce de Leon during the enactment ceremony of the law. Photo: Casa de Nariño-Presidency of Colombia.

At the beginning of 2016, Colombia passed Law 1773, also known as the Natalia Ponce de León Law, which has toughened sentences and taken judicial benefits away from the perpetrators of attacks using acid and other chemicals. The law is named after a victim of one of these attacks, whose case sparked the debate over the lack of legislation in Colombia on this type of violence.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos emphasised the importance of legislation like this which manages to “combine measures and link institutions to face up to this type of attack on human integrity in the best way possible”.

Natalia Ponce de León, now a symbol of the fight against acid attacks in Colombia, was the special guest at the enactment ceremony. During the ceremony she revealed her face, normally covered with a mask, after its 20 operations. She expressed her gratitude to all those who made it possible for this law to be passed, something she had fought for through the foundation she runs.

In 2014, when she was 33, Ponce de León was attacked in the entrance to her apartment building in Bogotá by a young man who had been obsessed with her. As she stated in a report by newspaper El País:

Él intentó matarme, tuve quemaduras en todo el cuerpo, me destruyó la cara totalmente, perdí la calidad de mi vista, tragué ácido lo cual afectó mis vías respiratorias, no pude volver a trabajar, ahora estoy dedicada a mi recuperación, me han sometido a 16 cirugías y me faltan muchas más, hay días de depresión, de tristeza. Pero la vida sigue y aquí estoy para continuar y esperando que se haga justicia.”

He tried to kill me. I had burns all over my body, my face was totally destroyed, I lost a lot of vision, and I swallowed enough acid to affect my airways. I can't go back to work; I can only focus on my recovery. I've had 16 operations already and I need a lot more. I do have days of depression or sadness, but life goes on and I'm here to carry on and wait for justice.

The Office of the Attorney General of Colombia said 190 attacks involving acid or a corrosive substances have been recorded since 2012.

Ponce de León also appealed to Colombians to join her new initiative to create a care unit for burns victims.

The new law treats acid attacks as a specific crime. It increases prison sentences from 12 years and 5 months to 20 years for the cases where the victims are left with reversible damage. For cases like Ponce de León's when victims are left with permanent damage, sentences have gone from 20 years and 9 months to 30 years or more, depending on the severity of the harm. If the attack leaves the victim's face deformed, the punishment is up to a third longer.

Ponce de León's efforts and foundation have generally been supported on social media. Twitter user Ricardo Galán's reflection draws attention to her attacker, who is currently in prison waiting for judgement.

Does anyone know if Colombia's attorney general has brought Natalia Ponce's attacker to justice? What is the point of a law with her name, given complete impunity?

Juan Davíd C tweeted at the country's president, mentioning another law that has been passed:

@JuanManSantos the good has to be highlighted, and I'm happy that you've signed laws against mistreatment of animals and against acid attacks, thank you

Others celebrated, like Alina Mican:

The Natalia Ponce law is a huge step against impunity and for the prevention of acid attacks in Colombia. @Carlos_Guevara @MovimientoMIRA succeeded

However, others protested against the name the law was given:

The law against acid attacks shouldn't be called Natalia Ponce, out of respect for the women that were attacked before (pretend that you care).

And user Jesús Adel, among others, expressed his solidarity but didn't entirely support the new law. He would prefer to see tougher sentences:

God bless Natalia Ponce de León, such a brave lady, her attacker should be in prison for life.

Twitter users have made their support public using the tags #NoMoreAcidAttacks (#NoMásAtaquesConÁcido) and #NoMoreAcid (#NoMásÁcido). Jorge Peñuela tweeted:

#NataliaPonce is the face of strength, struggle and forgiveness. #NoMoreAcidAttacks for the respect for life, and the right to live in peace.

Felipe Potes wrote the following:

You have to have such a dark heart to throw acid at someone… NO MORE! #NoMoreAcid.

Finally, in November Natalia Ponce summed up her strength on Twitter:

From the ashes the phoenix is reborn, and so is the Natalia Ponce de León Foundation #NoMoreAcid #NPDLFoundation.

Every year about 1,500 cases of acid violence are recorded worldwide, according to Acid Survivors Trust, but the real figure is probably far higher.

  • Great news …..BUT ..if you run a paramilitary group and rape women, kill people, operate the largest organized crime organizations ….you get to stay in Cuba for 2 years, can run for politics, and receive social payment while you “reintegrate”!

    A little bit of irony on the part of the government?

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