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

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

Brief description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources, including Aliran and Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), that the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process (COMANGO)[1][1] has been declared an “unlawful organisation” as most of its 54 members are “non-Islamic” and allegedly lack official registration. It is believed that this declaration follows 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.

According to the information received, on January 8, 2014, the Secretary General of the Home Ministry of Malaysia declared COMANGO, through a media statement, an “unlawful organisation”, without attaching any gazetted order by the Home Minister to that effect.

Under Section 5 of the Societies Act 1966, only the Home Minister may 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 media statement by the Secretary General to declare COMANGO unlawful is 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 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 54 organisations that form COMANGO are registered under the Societies Act 1966 and that COMANGO itself is not registered with the ROS.

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.

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 is in conformity with the Federal Constitution, human rights principles and Malaysia’s own 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 are not Islam-based organisations.

The Observatory is 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 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 had never been questioned. COMANGO was also invited to participate in several consultations with Malaysia’s representative to the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission of 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.

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

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

Action requested:

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

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

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

iii. 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;

iv. 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”;

v. 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: [email protected]

·       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: [email protected]

·        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: [email protected]; [email protected]

·       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: [email protected]

·       Embassy of Malaysia in Brussels, 414 A avenue de Tervueren, 1150 Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, Belgium, Fax: + 32 2 762 50 49. Email: [email protected]

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.


Geneva-Paris, January 14, 2014

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

The Observatory, an OMCT and FIDH venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

  • E-mail: [email protected]
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  • Tel and fax FIDH: +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80