Malaysia: IHL debate competition – of gas and glory
The final round of the IHL debate competition at Universiti MARA in Shah Alam, Selangor saw teams from Malaysia and Singapore animatedly discussing the universality of IHL, with a Singaporean team emerging as winners. The competition was held from 11 to 13 May and the ICRC, which has co-organized the debates since 2007, caught up with some of the participants after the finals.
“The glory of winning a debate is certainly a factor,” says Mohammad Aerie Rahman with a grin, “but it’s secondary to the joys of debating.”
Runner up Rahman, from Malaysia’s MARA University, adds that he admires the universality of IHL and believes that its principles must be applied without distinction to every person, simply by virtue of them being human. “This is one of the highest moral laws,” he adds.
Competition winner Alvin Tan from the National University of Singapore believes that IHL is relevant to all countries, and adds, “If it isn’t seen as relevant yet, then it should be.”
Tan, who is studying political science, sees the competition as an excellent platform from which debaters can expand both the breadth and the depth of their IHL knowledge, given the challenging nature of the motions debated and the clarity of the information provided by ICRC representatives.
ICRC Asia Pacific legal adviser Richard Desgagne was impressed with the quality of the discussions this year. “The debates were livelier and more creative this time, with a greater diversity, and the debaters were more mature." The competition was originally open only to Malaysian universities, but over the years it has expanded to universities and colleges in South-East Asia, attracting teams from Indonesia and Singapore.
“This year, we chose topics that were less predictable and more relevant to current situations. This gave the debaters a wider space to work with, which they used effectively,” Desgagne added.
This year’s motions for debate included one on whether to ban the use of teargas, which was certainly a revelation for first-time participant Hadza Min Fadhli Robby. Robby, who is studying international relations at Gadjah Mada University in Jogjakarta, sees IHL as highly relevant to his country, as he feels that Indonesia has many problems that are covered by humanitarian studies.
“This competition has broadened my knowledge of the issues related to IHL, as the motions proposed in the debates were both interesting and shocking,” said Hadza. “I certainly didn’t expect a motion on the use of teargas!”
Aerie Rahman sums up the aspirations of the competition: “Targeting young people is a strategic approach, as debating these topics will would mould students capable of appreciating IHL and its raison d’être.”