PETALING JAYA: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) wants the Government to engage in consultation and dialogue over the challenges of pluralism in the country.
The commission also called on the Government to review what it said were oppressive laws, particularly the Societies Act 1966 which restricted citizens' right to form and operate their own organisations.
Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam said the declaration of the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs (Comango) as illegal by the Home Ministry was denying civil society groups their fundamental right to freedom of association and expression.
"Such a statement by the ministry also goes to show that it has failed to recognise the roles played by civil society groups in a thriving democracy," he said in a statement.
He added that any such suspension and review of associations must be done impartially, and in compliance with human rights principles.
Hasmy urged the Government, as a member of the United Nations, to fulfill its commitments as proclaimed in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which is to protect human rights defenders such as Comango.
Echoing this sentiment, Bar Council president Christopher Leong called on the Government to immediately retract the media statement and revoke the declaration of unlawfulness by the ministry.
Pointing out that the Government had been engaging with Comango since September 2008 for the first Universal Periodic Review of Malaysia by the UNHRC, Leong questioned the action of declaring it unlawful now, despite having had five years to carry out the necessary background checks.
"The Government, by embarking on this course of action, 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," he said.
He added that the media statement against Comango assumed that it was 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 which in fact does not need to be registered, he said.