Malaysia: University debate promotes fresh thinking on torture prevention

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

More than 800 students recently attended a debate on human rights and torture prevention involving teams representing two of Malaysia’s leading universities.

Held on 13 October 2022 at the University of Malaya (UM) during the busy orientation week, the teams from UM and the National University of Malaysia (UKM) debated the topic that ‘confession is necessary in police investigations’.

Taking the affirmative position, the three speakers from UM argued that confessions helped facilitate successful investigations, allowed the accused to receive more lenient sentences, and that the rights of suspects could be upheld by ensuring the presence of a lawyer during the police interview.

In response, the UKM team argued that confessions added no value to police investigations, which should instead be founded on the collection, analysis and presentation of evidence. Citing examples involving young people in Malaysia and India, the speakers also stressed that reliance on confessions can increase the risk of police violence.

Each speaker was allotted seven minutes, with an additional four minutes provided for each team to make concluding remarks. After an excellent and engaging debate, the team from UKM was adjudged to have won the debate.

Organised jointly by Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), the UM Student Union and the APT, the debate competition sought to address forced confessions and incommunicado detention in Malaysia.

More than 85% of survey respondents from the audience found the debate topic relevant and of interest, and almost 95% were satisfied or very satisfied with the event.

APT Regional Project Officer Manachaya Yankittikul said the debate competition was an opportunity to engage university students in a conversation on torture and ill-treatment in police custody.

“To have so many freshmen in the audience for the debate shows there is strong interest in understanding torture prevention principles, as well human rights-respecting approaches for obtaining reliable information during police interviews,” she said.

“University students can also play a vital role as advocates for social change, including urging authorities to promote a safe environment for everyone in police custody.