Three years have passed since Moung Srey Mom was seriously disfigured in an acid attack. Yet she still awaits justice as the perpetrators and their accomplices live free out of reach from the law.
On November 19, 2014, Ms Srey Mom, 33, was sitting in her shop, feeding her two-year-old daughter.
A woman who owned a nearby shop came by with a large plastic bag filled with acid and poured it on Ms Srey Mom and her child, causing devastating injuries.
The perpetrators fled the scene and disappeared. Local police officials said they escaped to Vietnam.
Ms Srey Mom was sitting in a hammock and making lunch this week as she described the various hardships of the life she lives today.
“My injuries may be getting better but my heart still hurts. I do not know when or if justice will ever come for me,” she said.
Sunday marks the three year anniversary of Ms Srey Mom’s attack, three years marked with suffering.
She had to stay in a hospital for several months for her injuries to be treated, and still has to go once per year to undergo surgery, removing burnt and melted skin that prevents her from moving around freely, particularly her neck.
She said she cannot go outside long because she has to take several baths a day. She can neither sit nor stand for long periods of time.
“If I do not take baths, my wounds will be itchy and hot, so I have to take many baths, day and night.”
She also needs to use medication when her wounds are too painful.
Ms Srey Mom looked at a picture of her before the attack and said she has not allowed anyone that knew her before the attack to see her since. She has become very reclusive.
“I escaped from those I knew. I feel so shy. I never would have thought that one day my life would be like this,” she said. “I hope justice will come to me one day. My last choice is to take my daughter and try to meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen and ask him for help.”
During her stay at the hospital, she asked the doctors to inject her with a lethal dose of medicine, because she did not want to live any more. However, the doctors and her family encouraged her to try to carry on.
“When I saw my body and felt the pain, I begged the doctors to make me die, but they wouldn’t let me give up.”
“Later, I remembered how bad it was growing up without my parents, so I stopped wanting to die and tried my hardest to stay alive for my daughter. I did not want her to be an orphan,” Ms Srey Mom said, tears rolling down her acid-scarred cheeks.
Since surviving the attack, none of her friends have tried to contact or visit her.
“I do not have any friends since I became like this. My appearance scares people, I feel like a ghost. When I was beautiful and rich, I had many friends, now I have no one.”
“I struggle every day for my daughter’s sake. I want to open a small business, but I would need at least $1,000 for it. Sometimes I do not even have rice to cook,” Ms Srey Mom said before getting up to hug her daughter who had just arrived back from school.
Her husband, Luy Sovannaroth, 34, was sitting on the floor near his wife. He said he still wants the attackers to be brought to justice.
“We do not have money, so the court won’t give us justice, yet we will try our best to find it,” he said.
Mr Sovannaroth works as a tuk-tuk driver to provide for his family.
When the couple and their daughter first moved in, the neighbours wondered what had happened to Ms Srey Mom’s body and face, and their pity was hard to bear once they found out.
“She might not be as pretty as before, but I still love my wife,” Mr Sovannaroth said. “I never wish to leave her alone.”
Last year, the provincial court charged the attackers’ parents with complicity in the attack, but released them after two days. Ms Srey Mom filed a complaint of appeal to the Supreme Court for the injustice of the Takeo provincial court verdict.
Minister of Justice Ang Vongvathna heard about the process and found it unjust towards the victim, and ordered the Takeo provincial court to reopen the case.
On June 6, 2017, the Takeo provincial court finally reached a verdict, seeking convictions for the charges of intentional violence with the use of acid and intentional violence with aggravating circumstances.
“The four perpetrators who were sentenced were Deng Leakhena, 22, Deng Meas, 28, who are at large, and their parents, Nhe Deng, 57, and Seng Kimleng, 55, who were sentenced to ten years in prison,” said provincial judge Chey Mealea.
After the verdict was announced, the defendants appealed and were later released.
“It is a very serious injustice against us that the parents are now free,” said the victim’s uncle, Loch Thorn. “I cannot accept this ruling, and we will complain to the Supreme Court.”
He said that so far Ms Srey Mom had not received any compensation.