Stop bullying human rights defenders; remove Comango ban

Aliran notes with dismay the declaration by the Home Ministry’s secretary-general that the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs, Comangos, is an ‘unlawful organisation’.

human rights coalition in Malaysia
The Comango team – Photograph: Malaysiakini

The secretary-general argues, “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.”

He adds, “‘Any organisation which fails to adhere to the regulations can be penalised under Section 41(1) (b) of the Soceities Act 1966.”

Sadly, the secretary general has missed the point that Comango is a coalition of 54 organisations, and not a society. Furthermore, unregistered coalitions like Bersih have been deemed legal by a High Court judgement on 24 July 2012. Many other coalitions working on a variety of issues e.g. migrant workers’ rights, environmental issues, women’s issues and gender equality come to mind.

In fact, the government of Malaysia had already engaged with Comango for several years since September 2008, in the Universal Periodic Review process of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Throughout this period, the status of Comango had never been questioned. In fact, they had been invited to participate in several consultations with the government.

A second reason claimed for the banning of Comango is that it is championing rights that deviate from Islam. Comango has denied this allegation as none of their work is contrary to the Federal Constitution, human rights principles or Malaysia’s own human rights commitment as a member-state of the UN.

Like Comango, Aliran is appalled that the secretary-general has seen fit to use Islam as a tool to silence human rights violations and to demonise human rights defenders.

The crux of the matter is that the government is unable to accept views that differ from theirs and has used such differences to deny civil society organisations their freedom of association and expression which ought to be the basis of any democracy worth its name.

Given that Malaysia was, until recently, a member of the UN Human Rights Council, this move to ban Comango is ridiculous and shows their lack of understanding of what constitues upholding human rights standards mean.
Aliran calls for the immediate withdrawal of the ban. The government must stop attacking Comango.

Dr Francis Loh
President, Aliran
11 January 2014

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