Urgent Interventions

Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process (COMANGO) declared an “unlawful organisation”

MYS 001 / 0114 / OBS 003

Obstacles to freedom of association /



January 14, 2014

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a jointprogramme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH (theInternational Federation for Human Rights), requests your urgent interventionin the following situation in Malaysia.

Brief description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources, including Aliranand Suara Rakyat Malaysia(SUARAM), that the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process(COMANGO)[1]has been declared an “unlawful organisation” as mostof its 54 members are “non-Islamic” and allegedly lack official registration.It is believed that this declaration follows COMANGOsubmission to the second cycle of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Malaysia, which took place in October 2013.

According to theinformation received, on January 8, 2014, the SecretaryGeneral of the Home Ministry of Malaysia declared COMANGO, through a mediastatement, an “unlawful organisation”, without attaching any gazetted order bythe Home Minister to that effect.

Under Section 5 of the Societies Act 1966, only theHome Minister may issue an order that declares a society to be unlawful if itis used for purposes prejudicial to or incompatible with the interest of thesecurity of Malaysia, public order or morality.

Among the reasons given in the media statement by theSecretary General to declare COMANGO unlawful is that
organisations that wish to organise legitimate activitiesin the country must be registered with the Registrar of Societies (ROS) underSection 7 of the Societies Act 1966. The statement added that any organisationwhich fails to adhere to the regulations can be penalised under Section 41(1)(b) of the Societies Act 1966. The statement notes that only 15 of the 54organisations that form COMANGO are registered under the Societies Act 1966 andthat COMANGO itself is not registered with the ROS.

The Observatory recalls that the right tofreedom of association makes no distinction between formal and informal groupsand is applicable to both types. Defenders should have the right to form groupsin order to carry out legal human rights activities without the obligation toregister as legal entities, in accordance with Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civiland Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 5 of theUN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. As a result, outlawing COMANGO forfailing to register under the Societies Act 1966 is equivalent to a seriousviolation of the right to freedom of association.

To ban COMANGO, the Secretary General also claimed that the coalition “champions rights that deviate from Islam”. COMANGO rejected theSecretary General’s accusation and said that its work is in conformity with the Federal Constitution, human rights principles andMalaysia’s own human rights commitment as a UN member State. The Secretary General also stated that many of the endorsees of thereport prepared by COMANGO for the UPR of Malaysia are not Islam-basedorganisations.

The Observatoryis concerned by the use of Islam by the Government of Malaysia as a political tool to silence criticisms of human rights violations,and to demonise human rights defenders in the country.

Moreover, the Observatory notes that the Government of Malaysia hasengaged with COMANGO many times since it submitted its first report to the UNHuman Rights Council in 2008. Throughout thisperiod, the status of COMANGO had never been questioned. COMANGO was alsoinvited to participate in several consultations with Malaysia’s representative to the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission ofHuman Rights (AICHR), and with AICHR itself. In September and October 2013,COMANGO met with members of the Malaysian Government delegation before andduring Malaysia’s review in Geneva.

According to the information received, COMANGO is planning to file ajudicial review with the High Court to overrule the decision made by theSecretary General to declare the organisation unlawful.

The Observatory is concerned over what appears to be an act of reprisal against COMANGOfor its engagement with international human rights mechanisms, notably the UPR,and calls upon the authorities of Malaysia to retractimmediately the Home Ministry’s statement declaring COMANGO as an unlawful organisation, and to put an immediate end to the harassment of COMANGO as well asagainst all human rights defenders in the country, as it seems to merely aim atsanctioning their legitimate human rights activities.


Pleasewrite to the authorities in Malaysia, urging them to:

i. Retract immediately the Home Ministry’s statement declaring COMANGO anunlawful organisation;

ii. Publicly affirm the legitimacy of the work ofhuman rights organisations and defenders in Malaysia;

iii. Ensure in all circumstances that COMANGO as well as all human rightsdefenders in Malaysia are able to carry out their legitimate activities withoutany hindrance and fear of reprisals;

iv. Conform to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human RightsDefenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9,1998, especially:

- its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individuallyand in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection andrealisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national andinternational levels”, as well as

- its Article 12.2, which provides that the State shall “take allnecessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities ofeveryone, individually and in association with others, against any violence,threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure orany other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exerciseof his or her rights”;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamentalfreedoms in accordance with international human rights standards andinternational instruments ratified by Malaysia.


· Dato'Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, Prime Minister, PrimeMinister’s Office Malaysia, Main Block, Perdana Putra Building, FederalGovernment Administrative Centre, 62502 Putrajaya, Selangor, Malaysia. Fax: + 60 3 8888 3444, Email:

· Mr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Minister of Home Affairs, Ministry of HomeAffairs, Blok D1 & D2, Kompleks D, Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajaan Persekutuan,62546 Putrajaya, Malaysia. Fax: +60 3 8889 1613 /8889 1610, Email:

· Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, Chairmanof the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), Tingkat 11, Menara THPerdana, Jalan Sultan Ismail, 50250 Kuala Lumpur, 50250 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia;Fax: +60 3 2612 5620; Email:;

· H.E. Mr. Mazlan Muhammad, Ambassador, PermanentRepresentative of Malaysia to the United Nations in Geneva, InternationalCentre Cointrin (ICC), Bloc H (1st floor), Route de Pré-Bois 20, 1215 Geneva15, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 710 75 01. Email:

· Embassyof Malaysia in Brussels, 414 A avenue de Tervueren, 1150 Woluwe-Saint-Pierre,Belgium, Fax: + 32 2 762 50 49. Email:

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies ofMalaysia in your respective country aswell as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in Malaysia.


Geneva-Paris, January 14, 2014

Kindlyinform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in yourreply.

TheObservatory, an OMCT and FIDH venture, is dedicated to the protection of HumanRights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

Tocontact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

  • E-mail:
  • Tel and fax OMCT: +41 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29
  • Tel and fax FIDH: +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

[1] Organisationsin COMANGO include organisations registered under the Societies Act 1966, theCompanies Act 1965, unincorporated associations, and civil society coalitions.

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