Re: [ASEANcats] COMANGO – Malaysia – Move to Outlaw Human Rights Groups is an Assault on Freedom

Press Release

Declaration of unlawfulness of COMANGO is highly flawed and must be revoked

 

The Malaysian Bar questions the legitimacy of the announcement by the Ministry of Home Affairs that the Coalition of Malaysian Non-Governmental Organisations in the Universal Periodic Review (“COMANGO”) is unlawful.

 

Firstly, the announcement came by way of a media statement by the Secretary General of the Ministry of Home Affairs, and referred to alleged non-compliance by COMANGO with the Societies Act 1966 (“Act”).  There is no mention of any order made by the Minister of Home Affairs under section 5 of the Act declaring COMANGO unlawful.  Instead, it refers to the fact that since COMANGO is not registered under section 7 of the Act, then by virtue of section 41(1)(b) of the Act COMANGO is an unlawful society.  However, under section 3A of the Act, the powers, duties and functions “as may be necessary for the purpose of giving effect to and carrying out the provisions of this Act” lie with the Registrar of Societies.  There is no provision for the Secretary General of the Ministry of Home Affairs to make pronouncements under the Act.  There is further no provision for the delegation of power by the Minister to the Secretary General in this regard.

 

Secondly, the media statement assumes that COMANGO is a “society” within the definition of that term in the Act.  However, COMANGO in its name clearly states that it is a coalition of non-governmental organisations.  It is not settled law that coalitions need to be registered under the Act.  In fact, the argument was raised in Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan & Ors v Menteri Dalam Negeri & Ors [2012] 5 MLRH 181 that coalitions and unincorporated associations need not be registered.  It is public knowledge that the High Court in that case held that the Minister of Home Affairs’ declaration that BERSIH was an illegal organisation was “tainted with irrationality”, and quashed the declaration.

 

Thirdly, the media statement alleges that one of the aims of COMANGO is to champion rights that deviate from the religion of Islam.  When one looks at the submission made by COMANGO to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2013, a copy of which was delivered at about the same time to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, only four out of 63 recommendations deal with issues relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning (“LGBTIQ”) communities, sexual orientation and gender identity.  Even these four recommendations are presented in the context of ending discrimination in law and practice.  It is hard to imagine these four recommendations, which are grounded upon a call to non-discrimination of human beings, as constituting a threat to the belief and practice of Islam in Malaysia.

 

Fourthly, the media statement is mischievous in that it makes the highly prejudicial reference that most of the member organisations of COMANGO are non-Muslim-based, as though there were something wrong or illegal about that, when in fact there is not.  This is highly irregular and very irresponsible.

 

Fifthly, the media statement is in error when it states that only 15 of the 54 member organisations of COMANGO are registered under the Act.  The Ministry of Home Affairs does not appear to have access to accurate or up-to-date records, as several organisations listed as not being registered under the Act are in fact registered under the Act, including Association of Women Lawyers, Christian Federation of Malaysia, PS The Children, and Women’s Centre for Change, Penang.

 

Sixthly, the media statement again mischievously states that every society that intends to carry out activities legally in the country must be registered with the Jabatan Pendaftaran Pertubuhan Malaysia.  It conveniently omits to state that some of the member organisations of COMANGO are in fact not societies, but companies registered under the Companies Act 1965 or bodies registered under some other law regarding registration of organisations, and therefore not required to be registered under the Act.  By failing to make this point clear, the media statement perpetuates the impression that something illegal or amiss is taking place.

 

Seventhly, the media statement totally avoids mentioning that the Malaysian Government has been engaging with COMANGO since September 2008 when preparations for the 1st Universal Periodic Review of Malaysia by the United Nations Human Rights Council were being made.  The Malaysian Government has had more than five years to check on the background of COMANGO and has had no problems working with it until now.  To now declare COMANGO to be unlawful when for the past five years the Malaysian Government has had direct dealings with it smacks of mala fide.

 

Finally, by embarking on this course of action, the Malaysian Government has publicly made known that it has no intention of promoting and protecting the right to free speech or the right to freedom of assembly.  Its only standard operating procedure appears to be to ban or declare unlawful any organisation or coalition of organisations that appears to promote views that are not in consonance with that of the Malaysian Government, or whose ongoing presence is a bane to its continuance in power.

 

The Malaysian Bar calls on the Malaysian Government to immediately retract the media statement and revoke the declaration of unlawfulness, flawed as it is on so many levels.  Instead, it should welcome and constructively engage with COMANGO to adopt and implement as many of the 63 recommendations as possible.  This can only lead to a more decent, honourable and human rights-positive country that all mature and right-thinking Malaysians hope for.

 

 

Christopher Leong
President
Malaysian Bar

10 January 2014

 

COALITION OF MALAYSIAN NGOS IN THE UPR PROCESS (COMANGO)

Media Statement, 9 January 2014 

The Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process (COMANGO) is shocked and perturbed that the Secretary General of the Home Ministry of Malaysia has declared COMANGO, through a media statement on 8 January 2014, an “unlawful organization” (“pertubuhan haram”) without attaching a gazetted order by the Home Minister to that effect. 

Under S5 of the Societies Act 1966, only the Home Minister may by order declare a society to be unlawful if a society is being used for purposes prejudicial to or incompatible with the interest of the security of Malaysia, public order or morality.

Among the reasons given by the Secretary General to declare COMANGO unlawful is that we are championing rights that deviate from Islam. This is untrue. 

The Secretary General also states that many of the endorsees of the report prepared by COMANGO for the universal periodic review (UPR) of Malaysia by the UN Human Rights Council are not Islam-based organisations, that some of the endorsees of the COMANGO report are not registered and that COMANGO itself is not registered with the Registrar of Societies as reasons for his declaration that COMANGO is ‘unlawful’. These reasons are not in accordance with S5 of the Societies Act 1966.

COMANGO is appalled that the Government is using Islam as a political tool to silence criticisms of human rights violations, and to demonise human rights defenders. It is bowing to alarmist tactics and is complicit in fanning rising and extremely divisive intolerance in this country. 

The UPR process of the United Nations Human Rights Council involves all 193 UN member states, including Muslim-majority countries. Many Muslim-majority countries have acceded to the human rights treaties branded as un-Islamic by extremist groups, which have been making inaccurate and unsubstantiated accusations against COMANGO. We are concerned that the Government has not only adopted the language and positions of these extremist groups, but also facilitated hate speech by funding groups such as PERKASA. The media statement by the Home Ministry affirms our view that the Government appears to be beholden to these extremist groups.

The list attached with the media statement is inaccurate and misleading. Organisations in COMANGO include organisations registered under the Societies Act 1966, the Companies Act 1965, unincorporated associations, and civil society coalitions. 

COMANGO refutes the Secretary General’s statement that only organisations registered with the Registrar of Societies are carrying out activities legally (“menjalankan aktiviti secara sah”).

We stress that none of COMANGO’s work has been contrary to the Federal Constitution, human rights principles or Malaysia’s own human rights commitment as a member state of the United Nations. Civil society’s participation including submissions of reports to the UN Human Rights Council, treaty bodies and the special procedures are recognised and well-established contributions to the UPR process. The UPR process requires governments to work in consultation with all stakeholders to improve the human rights situation in their respective country. COMANGO’s work falls squarely within these mandated processes in resolutions passed by the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. 

The Government of Malaysia has engaged with COMANGO many times since we submitted our first report to the UN Human Rights Council in 2008. COMANGO met with members of the Malaysian Government delegation during Malaysia’s review in Geneva in October 2013, as well as before the review, in September. COMANGO has also been invited to participate in consultations with the Government’s representative to the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission of Human Rights (AICHR), and with AICHR itself at the regional level.

Malaysia is actively vying to be part of the UN Security Council. As such the Government cannot be part of some UN processes and disavow others, particularly when the Human Rights Council is very much a key component of the larger UN human rights system. The UPR process is as a peer-review mechanism designed to prompt, support, and expand the promotion and protection of human rights to be equally enjoyed by every human being, with the goal of improving the human rights situation in every country. The Government’s action through the Home Ministry is in opposition to this goal and violates our rights to freedom of expression and association. 

Declaring COMANGO as unlawful is a political ploy to distract the rakyat from national disunity, endemic corruption, unequal distribution of wealth, and unpopular decisions of the government such as the implementation of a Goods and Services Tax (GST), as well as rising living costs in terms of petrol, toll fees, and electricity.

COMANGO will be instructing solicitors to file a judicial review in the High Court to quash the decision made by the Secretary General. 

Honey Tan Lay Ean                                                             Yap Swee Seng

Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor                        Suara Rakyat Malaysia

(EMPOWER)                                                                        (SUARAM)

for and on behalf of the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs in the UPR Process (COMANGO) 

Email: empower05@gmail.com, detention@suaram.net

Tel: 03–7784 4977 (EMPOWER) and 03-7784 3525 (SUARAM)


On 11 January 2014 16:02, Amy Smith <amy.alex.smith@gmail.com> wrote:

Amnesty International article on Malaysia’s recent attempt to ban COMANGO, a coalition of 54 human rights organizations. Malaysia’s growing intolerance of human rights is indeed concerning!
Amy.

8 January 2014

Malaysia: Move to outlaw human rights groups is an assault on freedom

Comango had criticized Malaysia's human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council.

Comango had criticized Malaysia’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council.

© Eric Bridiers/U.S. Mission

Outlawing COMANGO is a deeply disturbing action aimed at silencing important critical voices that have advocated on the world stage for Malaysia to uphold international human rights law and standards

Hazel Galang-Folli, Malaysia researcher at Amnesty International
Wed, 08/01/2014

It is concerning to see the Malaysian authorities increasingly taking their cue from hardline religious groups and others seeking to silence those who espouse views that differ from their own agenda

Hazel Galang-Folli

Today’s attempt by Malaysia’s Ministry of Home Affairs to ban the country’s leading coalition of human rights NGOs is a disturbing assault on the rights to freedom of expression and association, Amnesty International said.

The Ministry alleged that the majority of the 54 groups that make up the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs (COMANGO) are “un-Islamic”, lack official registration, and are therefore prohibited.

“Outlawing COMANGO is a deeply disturbing action aimed at silencing important critical voices that have advocated on the world stage for Malaysia to uphold international human rights law and standards,” said Hazel Galang-Folli, Malaysia researcher at Amnesty International.

COMANGO responded to the move by saying that, as a coalition of different NGOs rather than a single organization, it is not bound by the requirement to register under Malaysia’s Societies Act, which dates back to 1966.

The coalition raised the ire of the Malaysian authorities in March 2013 when it submitted a report to the United Nations, ahead of Malaysia being scrutinized under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session late last year.

Its report pointed to a wide range of areas where the Malaysian authorities need to improve their human rights record – not only on freedom of religion and the discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals, but also on the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association. Amnesty International and other non-governmental organizations highlighted similar concerns in recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council last year ahead of its UPR of Malaysia.

“This move seems less about enforcing registration requirements and more about removing a thorn in the side of the authorities. Labelling human rights groups ‘illegal’ only adds to an already long list of human rights violations that Malaysia’s authorities need to remedy, as the UN’s Universal Periodic Review process again highlighted last year,” said Galang-Folli.

Freedom of religion was one of the key issues discussed during Malaysia’s UPR review, with several states making comments and recommendations. A representative of the Malaysian government defended the religious restrictions, saying that they were in the interest of public order.

Although Malaysians adhere to a variety of religious faiths, the Constitution prescribes Islam – followed by more than 60 per cent of the population – as the official religion. But the country’s legal system has its roots in Common Law, and Shari’a law has traditionally only applied to practicing Muslims.

“It is concerning to see the Malaysian authorities increasingly taking their cue from hardline religious groups and others seeking to silence those who espouse views that differ from their own agenda,” said Galang-Folli.


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