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

Urgent Appeal

New information
MYS 001 / 0114 / OBS 003.1
Obstacles to freedom of association
February 11, 2014

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

New information:

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

According to the information received, on February 11, 2014, members of COMANGO found that the passage declaring that COMANGO was an illegal organisation had been removed from the statement published on January 8, 2014 on the Home Ministry official website.

The Observatory expresses dismay over the Home Ministry’s failure to issue a new statement to restore COMANGO’s legal status.

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

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

Background information:

Under Section 5 of the Societies Act 1966, only the Home Minister has the power to issue an order that declares a society to be unlawful if it is used for purposes prejudicial to or incompatible with the interest of the security of Malaysia, public order or morality.

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

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

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

Moreover, the Observatory notes that the Government of Malaysia has engaged with COMANGO many times since it submitted its first report to the UN Human Rights Council in 2008. Throughout this period, the status of COMANGO was never questioned. COMANGO was also invited to participate in several consultations with Malaysia’s representative to the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), and with AICHR itself. In September and October 2013, COMANGO met with members of the Malaysian Government delegation before and during Malaysia’s review in Geneva.

Action requested:

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

i. Publicly retract the Home Ministry’s statement declaring COMANGO an unlawful organisation and affirm the legitimacy of the work of human rights organisations and defenders in Malaysia;

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

iii. Conform to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially:
 its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, as well as
 its Article 12.2, which provides that the State shall “take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of his or her rights”;

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


· Dato’ Sri Mohd Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, Prime Minister, Prime Minister’s Office Malaysia, Main Block, Perdana Putra Building, 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, Kompleks D, Pusat Pentadbiran Kerajaan Persekutuan, 62546 Putrajaya, Malaysia. Fax: +60 3 8889 1613 /8889 1610, Email:
· Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM), Tingkat 11, Menara TH Perdana, 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 in Geneva, International Centre Cointrin (ICC), Bloc H (1st floor), Route de Pré-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 or embassies of Malaysia in your respective country as well as to the EU diplomatic missions or embassies in Malaysia.

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