Global Human Rights Defence

Acid attacks in Pakistan: a reflection of a patriarchal society depriving women of their human rights!

The atrocious act of attacking human beings with acid is, tragically, a common threat that women face in Pakistan. According to the Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI)[1], 80% of acid attack victims are women, making it part of gender-based violence (ASTI, n.d.). Although men are also targeted by attackers, the issue affects women disproportionately and is more likely to occur in societies with pronounced gender inequality (ASTI, n.d.). This practice perpetuates gender inequality and reflects the poor position of women in the Pakistani society, who are at serious risk of attacks at any moment, not only from strangers but often also from their own husbands and family members (ASTI, n.d.).

Acid attacks were outlawed in 2011 in the Pakistani criminal justice system and the punishment for such an attack was set to life imprisonment[2]. The sale of acid and other corrosive substances was also made illegal, in the same attempt to eliminate this form of violence. Even though these measures were implemented by the government of Pakistan, they are not effectively enforced (Shaikh, 2020). The attacks continue and the ease with which the chemical is available in most parts of the country is surprising. An investigation carried out by Pakistani private news channel SAMAA TV revealed that bottles of acid were freely available at a local chemical shop for a mere 150 Rupees, even though the minimum fine for an acid attack is set to 1 million Rupees (Shaikh, 2020).

Frequent reasons that perpetrators cite for attacking a woman with acid include suspicions of cheating in a marriage, disputes over land ownership or general family disputes. Fathers will attack their daughters with acid for “looking at boys”,  and potential suitors will attack women for denying their marriage proposals (DW, n.d.). They are often an expression of the worst form of domestic violence, stemming from the patriarchal culture of the Pakistani society, in which women are seen as commodities and are continuously objectified (ASTI, n.d.). Not only that, but survivors of attacks live in fear of reporting to the police, since the rule of law in the country is weak and perpetrators often go unpunished. This may also be due to the fear of reprisal by the perpetrators.

Even if the estimated attacks that go unreported are still more than the ones that make it to a police station, the official numbers of reported acid attacks dropped after 2014 (Abbas, 2018). In 2017 Pakistan became the only country in the world in which violence against women decreased in any capacity, due to the decrease in the number of acid attacks reported after the year 2014 (ASF, 2018). Between 2014 and 2016 a 52% reduction in the number of acid attacks was reported, which led many to believe that positive change in the advancement of minority rights was being recorded in Pakistan (Abbas, 2018). However, the previously discussed issue of under-reporting of cases due to social stigma and gender inequality means that the decline in officially reported cases should be taken with a grain of salt, since they do not reflect the accurate numbers. To attest to this, the head of the burn unit at the largest hospital in Multan, Dr Naheed Ahmad, states that there has in fact not been a decrease in the attack victims coming into the hospital (Abbas, 2018).

Some encouraging legal developments include the Acid and Burn Crime Bill[3] passed in 2018. This bill mandates that free healthcare and rehabilitation services be given to victims of acid burns in order to help them cope with the physical and psychological disabilities that acid attacks entail (Gulf News, 2019). Even though the bill sets life imprisonment as the maximum penalty for a murder through acid attack, an amendment to the bill mentions that if someone intentionally causes harm but does not kill the victim the maximum imprisonment they can serve must not exceed 7 years (Anis, 2018). The bill was moved in parliament by an avid women’s rights proponent, Marvi Memon, who mentioned that its aim was to specifically criminalise acid attacks and expediate the legal proceedings to benefit the victims. Furthermore, in 2020 the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that “mercy petitions” filed by victims in which they legally state that they forgive the perpetrator of an acid attack will not be given any consideration in legal proceedings due to the gravity of the crime of an acid attack (Human Rights Watch, 2020). This step taken by the Court is incredibly important in combatting the culture surrounding reporting crimes as a woman in Pakistan, which is usually marred with fear, shame and disappointment in the justice system.

However, conviction rates for acid attacks have dropped from 2016 to 2018, the last year in which the ASF Pakistan[4] has collected data for acid attacks (Baloch, 2020). This is not encouraging, since it means that less people actually get convicted of the crime after a trial. Furthermore, the advent of COVID-19 has pushed the topic of combatting acid attack violence back on the agenda of Pakistani officials, since combatting the virus has taken front-stage (Baloch, 2020).

The rights of women, as a minority group, are frequently overlooked in an attempt to shield the ones responsible for the violation of their rights, something which must change! Women are frequently being denied their human rights in many different practices that are still occurring in the Pakistani society, like honour killings and forced marriages (Diljan, 2019). Perpetrators are still rarely captured and women in poor families are especially vulnerable. More than 90% of the reported cases are not settled because of the perpetrators’ wealth. Rich individuals are more easily able to evade the legal system and the police charges (Altaf, 2017). The police is reluctant to challenge their social status, which means that women suffering from the aftermath of an attack, especially the poor women who are most vulnerable, are not getting the justice they deserve!

Like most social change, reforms against acid attacks in Pakistan are still moving too slow for Pakistani women of today, who are still at a high risk of acid attacks. Women in Pakistan are a minority group, marginalised and discriminated against in the law and in society. ASF Pakistan speaks about how throwing acid in a woman’s face is a normalised act of anger and in the patriarchal Pakistani society (DW, n.d.). Women must not be objects to claim and to oppress, and revenge should not be sought from a “disobedient” woman by attacking her face and body with acid. The Pakistani government must start enforcing its laws against acid attacks in order to bring true change and respect for women’s rights in the country.


[1] Not-for-profit charity organisation, registered in the United Kingdom, which works towards the elimination of acid violence on a global level. It has six local partners in countries such as Cambodia, India, Nepal, including Pakistan. More information can be found on their website:

[2] This was accomplished through the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 2011 amending the Pakistani criminal code. It can be found on the website archives of the Gazette of Pakistan

[3] Available online at

[4] Acid Survivors Foundation Pakistan is an organisation that “aims to eradicate acid violence from Pakistan and ensure that survivors’ human rights are protected and enforced.” (ASF, About Us,


Abbas, H. (2018, February 28). In Pakistan, Acid Attacks Decrease But Challenges Remain. In Media for Transparency. Available at

Altaf, M. (2017, February 16). Acid Attacks in Pakistan. In the Nation. Available at

Anis, M. (2018, May 9). NA passes 10 bills including ‘Acid and Burn Crime Bill, 2017’. In

The News International. Available at

ASF (Acid Survivors Foundation). (2018). Acid and Burn Violence Statistics 2007-2018.

Available at

ASTI (Acid Survivors Trust International). (n.d.). A worldwide problem.

Baloch, S. M. (2020, July 14). ‘Now, I’m independent’: the Pakistan beaty salons employing

acid attack survivors. In The Guardian. Available at

Diljan, A. (2019, August 21). Acid attacks on women. In The Express Tribune. Available at

  1. (n.d.). Acid Attacks Mangle the Face of Pakistan. In DW. Available at

Gulf News. (2019, August 4). Pakistan: Cases of acid attacks on women drop by half. In Gulf

News. Available at

Human Rights Watch. (2020). World Report 2020: Pakistan: Events of 2019. Available at

Shaikh, L. (2020, January 3). Acid still freely available despite threat of life imprisonment. In

SAMAA. Available at


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Marguerite Remy
Coordinator Middle East and a Legal Researcher.

Marguerite is the coordinator of the team of legal researchers focusing on the Middle East and a legal researcher herself.

She developed her expertise in international human rights law, international criminal law and humanitarian law during her double bachelor in law and political science at Sorbonne-Paris 1 University and her LLM in public international law at Leiden University. Particularly interested in the Middle East for years, Marguerite has acquired a good knowledge of the region and its human rights issues through various field experience, including internships in a cultural service of the French embassy and in a local NGO, as well as a semester in a university in the region. Currently, her main interests are accountability mechanisms for crimes committed during recent armed conflicts, notably in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian situation and the Palestinian case at the ICC, and transitional justice issues.

Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Mattia Ruben Castiello
Media quality coordinator

Mattia is currently in charge of quality checking and improving all the social media and website handles of the Global Human Rights Defence.
With a bachelor in Psychology from Spain and a master in Cultural Anthropology from the Netherlands, Mattia’s passion now lies in Human Rights in regard to the refugee and migrant crisis. Having lived his whole life in East-Arica, Mattia has had the opportunity to work with a vast amount of non-government organisations and health institutions. This has provided him with knowledge in diverse cultural understandings as well as interest in concerning global issues.

Jeremy Samuël van den Enden
Coordinator Bangladesh & Communication Officer
Mr. Van den Enden has a MSc in International Relations and specializes in inequality, racial dynamics and security within international diplomacy and policymaking. He studies the contemporary as well as modern historical intricacies of human rights in the global political arena. Furthermore, Mr. Van den Enden assists GHRD in revitalizing its internal and external communication.
Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Prerna Tara
Human Rights Coordinator

Prerna Tara graduated from Leiden Law School with an LLM in Public International Law. She practiced in the India before starting her Masters. She has assisted in pro- bono cases and interned at some of the best legal firms in India which has brought her face to face with the legal complexities in areas of corporate law, white collar crimes etc. Her work at GHRD deals with human rights research spanning throughout the globe.

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Bianca Fyvie
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Bianca has widespread knowledge about social problems and human rights issues, with a specific focus on social justice in Africa and the empowerment of communities and individuals. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Stellenbosch University as well as a Master’s degree in Social Work and Human Rights from Gothenburg University. She has participated in courses on Women’s Leadership at Stellenbosch University, and has worked with organizations such as AIESEC towards furthering the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She also has experience in working directly with marginalized and vulnerable groups in South Africa while qualifying as a Social Worker.
Bianca is the coordinator for a group of interns doing research and reporting on Human Rights topics in a range of African countries. Her focus is on ensuring that these countries are monitored and have up to date reports and research conducted in order to allow relevant and updated information to be produced.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Hiba Zene
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Hiba Zene holds a Bachelor’s degree in International and European Law from The Hague University and, has significant legal knowledge in the field of international human rights law. She actively advocates for the protection of all human rights of vulnerable minorities and marginalised groups. Focusing, specifically on the human rights of children and women in Africa.
Hiba is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. As a human rights defender for GHRD she has examined and investigated various human rights abuses, violations and issues in Africa. She has led research missions addressing issues on Statelessness in Kenya, Child Abuse in Uganda, and Teen Pregnancy in Kenya.

Thaís Ferreira de Souza
Coordinator and Head Researcher (International Justice and Human Rights)

Senior Paralegal at PGMBM (Amsterdam office), working to bring justice for victims of wrongdoing by big corporations, with a focus on human rights and environmental law.
Previously, Thaís worked as a Visiting Professional at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, providing legal advice on international human rights law and international criminal law. She also worked at the State Court of Justice of the Rondônia State (TJRO) in Brazil from 2013 to 2017, initially as a legal clerk and posteriorly as a legal advisor to judges. In 2016 she served as the regional representative of the Brazilian Institute of Criminal Procedural Law (IBRASPP) in the State of Rondônia, Brazil and during her bachelor’s degree, she worked as a Research Assistant at the Research Group ‘Ethics and Human Rights’ of the Federal University of Rondônia for over three years.

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Fabian Escobar
Coordinator and Head Researcher

My name is Fabian Escobar, L.L.B. International and European Law candidate to The Hague University. I was born in Honduras and been living in The Netherlands, more specifically Amsterdam the last 8 years. I am passionate about Human Rights, Civil and Political Rights, fighting racism, and empowering women and ethnic minorities. In GHRD I am the coordinator for the Europe Team, I am thankful for being part of this team and that I have been given the opportunity to learn and apply my learning.