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Urgent Interventions

New developments regarding obstacles faced by COMANGO in its enjoyment of the right to freedom of association

New information

MYS 001 / 0114 / OBS 003.1

Obstacles to freedom of association


February11, 2014

The Observatory for the Protection of Human RightsDefenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has received newinformation and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation inMalaysia.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliablesources about new developments regarding obstacles faced by the Coalition of Malaysian NGOsin the UPR Process (COMANGO) in its enjoyment of the right to freedom ofassociation[1].

Accordingto the information received, on February 11, 2014, members of COMANGO found that the passagedeclaring that COMANGO was an illegal organisation had been removed from thestatement published on January 8, 2014 on the Home Ministry official website.

The Observatory expressesdismay over the Home Ministry’s failureto issue a new statement to restore COMANGO’s legal status.

TheObservatory recalls that on January 8, 2014, through a media statement, the Secretary General ofthe Home Ministry of Malaysia declared COMANGO an “unlawful organisation” because most of its 54 members were “non-Islamic” andallegedly lacked official registration. Itwas believed that this declaration followed COMANGO submission to the second cycle of the UnitedNations (UN) Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Malaysia, which took place in October 2013.

The Observatory regrets the decision by the HomeMinistry to restore COMANGO’s legal status without making a public announcementeither to COMANGO or to the media, contrary to its statement declaring thecoalition illegal last January. Accordingly, the Observatory calls upon theauthorities of Malaysia to clarify COMANGO’s current status and to publiclyretract the Home Ministry’s statementdeclaring COMANGO as an unlawful organisation, in conformity with international human rights standards.

Background information:

Under Section 5 of the SocietiesAct 1966, only the Home Minister has the power to issue an order that declaresa society to be unlawful if it is used for purposes prejudicial to orincompatible with the interest of the security of Malaysia, public order ormorality.

Among thereasons given in the January 8 media statement by the Secretary General todeclare COMANGO unlawful was that organisations that wish to organise legitimateactivities in the country must be registered with the Registrar of Societies(ROS) under Section 7 of the Societies Act 1966. The statement added that anyorganisation which failed to adhere to the regulations could be penalised underSection 41(1) (b) of the Societies Act 1966. The statement noted that only 15of the 54 organisations that form COMANGO were registered under the SocietiesAct 1966 and that COMANGO itself was not registered with the ROS.

To ban COMANGO, the SecretaryGeneral also claimed that thecoalition “championsrights that deviate from Islam”. COMANGO rejected the Secretary General’saccusation and said that its work was in conformity with the Federal Constitution, human rights principles, andMalaysia’s human rights commitment as a UN member State. The Secretary General also statedthat many of the endorsees of the report prepared by COMANGO for the UPR ofMalaysia were not Islam-based organisations.

The Observatory recalls that the right to freedom of association makes nodistinction between formal and informal groups and is applicable to both types.Defenders should have the right to form groups in order to carry out legalhuman rights activities without the obligation to register as legal entities, inaccordance with Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 5 of the UN Declaration on HumanRights Defenders. As a result, outlawing COMANGO for failing to register underthe Societies Act 1966 is equivalent to a serious violation of the right tofreedom of association.

Moreover, the Observatory notesthat the Government of Malaysia has engaged with COMANGO many times since itsubmitted its first report to the UN Human Rights Council in 2008. Throughout this period, the status of COMANGO was neverquestioned. COMANGO was also invited to participate in several consultationswith Malaysia’srepresentative to the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights(AICHR), and with AICHR itself. In September and October 2013, COMANGO met withmembers of the Malaysian Government delegation before and during Malaysia’sreview in Geneva.


Please write to the authorities in Malaysia, urging them to:

i. Publicly retract the Home Ministry’s statementdeclaring COMANGO an unlawful organisation and affirmthe legitimacy of the work of human rights organisations and defenders inMalaysia;

ii. Ensure in all circumstances that COMANGO as well as all human rights defenders in Malaysiaare able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance andfear of reprisals;

iii. Conform to the provisions of the UN Declarationon Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the UnitedNations on December 9, 1998, especially:

- its Article 1, which states that “everyone has theright, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strivefor the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms atthe national and international levels”, as well as

- its Article 12.2, which provides that the Stateshall “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competentauthorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, againstany violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination,pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or herlegitimate exercise of his or her rights”;

iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for humanrights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rightsstandards and international instruments ratified by Malaysia.


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

· Mr.Ahmad Zahid Hamidi,Minister of Home Affairs, Ministry of Home Affairs, Blok D1 & D2, KompleksD, Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajaan Persekutuan, 62546 Putrajaya, Malaysia. Fax: +603 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, Permanent Representative of Malaysia to the United Nations inGeneva, International Centre Cointrin (ICC), Bloc H (1st floor), Route dePré-Bois 20, 1215 Geneva 15, Switzerland. Fax: +41 22 710 75 01. Email:

· Embassy of 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 orembassies of Malaysia in your respective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in Malaysia.


Geneva-Paris, February 11, 2014

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of thisappeal in your reply.

The Observatory, an OMCT and FIDH venture, is dedicated to theprotection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support intheir time of need.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

· Tel and faxOMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

· Tel and faxFIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80

[1] Organisations in COMANGO include organisations registeredunder the Societies Act 1966, the Companies Act 1965, unincorporatedassociations, and civil society coalitions.

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