Hanifa Nakiryowa is the proud mother of two girls, a graduate of University of Nairobi, a former H.J. Heinz fellow in the Master of International Development program at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and an acid attack survivor.
In 2011, recently divorced Ms. Nakiryowa went to pick up her children from her ex-husband’s home in Kampala, Uganda. While waiting for her husband to open the door, an assailant threw something on her face. Nakiryowa said the acid felt cold initially but soon made her feel as if she had been engulfed in flames. As she screamed, Ms. Nakiryowa husband did nothing; he orchestrated the attack. Months later, a mirror’s glance revealed an unrecognizable face. Ms. Nakiryowa had lost parts of her nose; her nostrils appeared to have been melted. Breathing was difficult. But, the judicial system provided no relief. Instead of resigning herself to the mounting injustice of her situation, Ms. Nakiryowa formed an organization, the Center for Rehabilitation for Survivors of Acid Violence or CERESAV.
During her recovery, Ms. Nakiryowa met American psychologist, Dr. Angie Vredeveld. Together, the pair expanded CERESAV to the U.S. in 2014. The organization is committed to providing a refuge and advocating for acid attack survivors. As in the case of Ms. Nakiryowa, acid violence frequently occurs in intimate relationships. But it also happens in the context of business disputes. Regardless of the setting, the purpose of such violence is to disfigure, maim, or injure the target. Victims of acid attacks are both men and woman, poor and wealthy, educated and uneducated.
Dr. Vredeveld leads the US effort, which is headquartered in Cincinnati. There, she works with a handful of volunteers who help in a variety of ways–whether it be planning and hosting fundraisers, collaborating and networking with larger social activism groups, spreading awareness of acid violence, or selling jewelry made by survivors in Uganda.
At present, the organization seeks to reform Uganda‘s legal system. There is no law in that country that specifically prohibits acid violence or otherwise protects survivors. Building upon CERESAV’s successful efforts in other nations, the group is working to pass laws that will bring acid attacks in Uganda to an end.
Law students from the University of Cincinnati College of Law, helped CERESAV USA draft legislation modeled on a law passed in Bangladesh in 2002. Now the organization is asking for legal assistance to review, perfect, and submit that bill to Uganda’s parliament. To that end, CERASAV seeks law students and attorneys interested in social justice to join in this fight. Allying with CERESAV’s volunteer network is a unique opportunity to work with the only US-based human rights organization focusing on eliminating acid violence in Uganda and, in so doing, improving the lives of people confronting this threat on a daily basis.
CERESAV has had some success in Uganda, in an effort that has increasingly garnered international support. In December 2015, the group started a petition via change.org, calling for President Museveni of Uganda to sign the Toxic Chemicals Bill restricting the sale and purchase of acid in that nation. Though the petition started slowly, 100,000 people signed it in just 24 hours. Then the Malala Fund distributed it, resulting in a total of 278,000 signatures, and President Museveni signing the bill. But because this law only regulates the sale of acids by businesses, it hasn’t decreased acid violence thus far, which is why this new legislative campaign is essential.
CERESAV USA also plans to draft and advocate for a law that specifically protects the human rights of acid survivors and holds perpetrators of acid violence legally accountable. For too long, assailants have evaded the Ugandan justice system through bribes or otherwise paying for their freedom. Such legislation will provide justice for survivors, necessary reform to Uganda’s legal system, and put an end to this horrific violence.
Now, with international attention and legal momentum growing, CERASAV is poised to make a significant difference and invites others to participate. Dr. Vredeveld will discuss this international, humanitarian movement and explain how you can help pass an acid violence bill that will better the lives of acid survivors and advance social justice in Uganda.
How to find out more:
- Join us on Wednesday, October 19, 2016, at 12:10 p.m. in the Crow’s Nest at Cincinnati Law for an informal conversation about the organization, including CERESAV’s legal status, goals and other ways you can get involved.
- Like and follow CERESAV on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to stay updated on our continuous work in Uganda and Cincinnati. Or you can visit CERESAV’s website for further information, including survivor stories.