New synergies to reduce torture and ill-treatment in policy custody in South East Asia

Friday, April 23, 2021

The Association for Prevention of Torture (APT), Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM) in Malaysia, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) and Cross Cultural Foundation (CrCF) in Thailand are launching a three and a half year cooperation, to foster national and regional synergies to prevent incommunicado detention and forced confession in the three countries. The European Union supports this cooperation.

Torture and ill-treatment are more likely to happen in the first hours of detention. This was confirmed by the independent research commissioned by the APT, Does Torture Prevention Work?, published in 2016. Forced confession and incommunicado detention have been prevalent in Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, for many years. According to thematic reports issued by SUARAM, TFDP and CrCF, these illegal practices continue due to several enabling factors: the gap between existing laws and practice; the on-going trends and culture in policing; and the persuasive narrative that supports these practices in the name of public security and safety.

To tackle these root causes, the APT, SUARAM, TFDP and CrCF embark on a three-year and a half project: “Reducing risky practices leading to torture and ill-treatment in police custody in Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand”. The new cooperation will focus on a) increasing transparency in police custody, by enhancing oversight capacity, b) improving police practices by implementing safeguards and non-coercive interviewing and c) changing public mind-sets to reject torture by the police, by increasing knowledge on rights and mobilising artists and youth. “This cooperation will encourage us to think outside of the box and pilot new approaches to torture prevention” noted Barbara Bernath, Secretary General of the APT. “Embarking on this journey of prevention with three leading civil society organisations known to drive the efforts for change in the criminal justice system in the three countries is a fantastic opportunity to foster synergies and bring about change”, Bernath continued.

To formalise the mutual partnership and strengthen the existing relationship between the four civil society organisations, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed today during an online ceremony.  

During the event, SUARAM, TFDP and CrCF reiterated the valuable contributions the project will bring to their on-going advocacy to prevent torture in their countries.

Sevan Doraisamy, the Executive Director of SUARAM stated, “There are room and positive reception for popular mediums such as cartoons and films to influence narratives that condone torture. In the Malaysian context, the Cartoonist against Torture initiative spearheaded by SUHAKAM and Act4Cat Campaign provides a strong foundation for expanding the use of these creative mediums through the project”

Emmanuel C. Amistad, the Executive Director of TFDP on the other hand, deliberated further on the project’s benefit on enhancing transparency in detention. “Transparency in detention means enabling unhampered access to police detention by independent oversight in order to monitor their practices. The project’s aim to institute and introduce effective measures and guiding principles that enables transparency in detention will strengthened our long standing work with the Commission on Human Rights and the Interim National Preventive Mechanism.”

Meanwhile, Pornpen Khongkachonkiet, the Executive Director of CrCF touched on the prerequisite to effective dialogue and cooperation with the law enforcement, “We need to have the right language to engage, build trust and enhance the political will of the police force to stop the use of risky practices such as forced confession and incommunicado detention. Building confidence and trust of the police is important to pave way for closer cooperation.”

The event was also attended by the four civil society organisations’ long standing partners in the three countries; the  Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHRP), the National Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) and the Department of Rights, Liberty, Protection, Ministry of Justice of Thailand (DRLP-MOJ). While this new project will continue to build on these existing relationships, it will seek to foster greater synergy amongst a wide range of actors, bringing together law enforcement agencies, artists and youth.

The APT, SUARAM, TFDP and CrCF are grateful for the generous financial support provided by the European Union (EU) and look forward to working together towards a common goal of eradicating any practices that condone torture and ill-treatment in Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, as well as the South East Asian region. As Amistad succinctly concluded, “What we really hope to achieve is a society where torture is banished, a society where the dignity of each and every individual is supreme, a society where we can love and care for each other, a society where the only thing contagious is kindness. These are the dreams worth fighting for and our step today is towards the fulfilment of these dreams”

Disclaimer: the European Union funds the project “Reducing risky practices leading to torture and ill-treatment in police custody in Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand”. However, the content of this press statement is the sole responsibility of the APT, SUARAM, TFDP and CrCF and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Press enquiries: For media opportunities and information pertaining to the project, please contact: 
Shazeera Ahmad Zawawi, Senior Adviser, Research and Innovation, Association for Prevention of Torture (APT)

About SUARAM                                                    

SUARAM has conducted extensive documentation, monitoring and advocacy work relating to police brutality,   torture prevention and indefinite detention over the past   30   years.   Apart from advocacy in this area,   SUARAM   is also the coordinating body   for the Movement for the Abolishment of the Sedition Act 1948 (GHAH), organiser for Youth Internet Governance Forum 2019, Co-secretariat for Malaysian CSO Cluster for Reform and Co-Secretariat in the Coalition of Malaysian NGO in the UPR Process (COMANGO).SUARAM is also part of the national network coordinated by the   National   Human   Rights   Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) called ACT4CAT, a network that advocates for UNCAT ratification by Malaysia. SUARAM   is also a   member of regional and international organisation including   Forum-Asia   (one   of   the   founding member),   Asian Alliance against Torture   (A3T,   one   of   the   founding member), FIDH, OMCT and I4C. For more details about SUARAM, visit:

About TFDP

TFDP   is   a   membership organization and a Mission Partner of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the   Philippines   (AMRSP).   TFDP   documents human rights violations, assists victims and their families, organizes missions, conducts human rights education work, campaigns against torture, and promotes advocacy for the protection of human rights defenders. TFDP is part of Forum- Asia,   a   network of   81   NGOs in   21   countries   that   promote   and   protect human rights across Asia. In the regional and international levels, TFDP is a   member of the   OMCT-SOS   Torture   Network,   Asian   Forum for   Human Rights and Development (FORUM Asia) and Asia Alliance against Torture (A3T). For more details about TFDP, visit:

About CrCF

CrCF works on justice and the protection, promotion and monitoring of human rights in Thailand. CrCF’s philosophy and activities are focused on strengthening human rights and delivering sustainable judicial reform throughout society. Particular emphasis is placed on marginalised people including ethnic minority groups,   stateless people,   migrant   workers and the victims of conflict.   CrCF’s   strategies   include   strategic   litigation   and   legal   aid; capacity   building;   research   and   advocacy.   CrCF is also a   member of regional and international organisations including   Forum-Asia,   Asian Alliance against Torture (A3T, one of the founding members) and OMCT. For more details about CrCF, visit: