Towards Creating an Enabling Environment

Freedom of Association and the Regulatory Framework for Civil Society Organisations in Malaysia



Civil society organisations (CSOs) in Malaysia are limited in scope and form by a network
of laws. The national legal framework in Malaysia with regards to registration and
operation of CSOs is governed by several different laws including the Societies Act 1966,
Companies Act 2016 (previously Companies Act 1965), Trustees (Incorporation) Act
1952 and the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971. Some of these laws remain
unduly restrictive and heavily burdensome and the impact is particularly felt by advocacy
orientated CSOs that work on human rights issues that are often considered controversial
or sensitive. While Article 10(c) of the Federal Constitution guarantees the right to
the freedom of association, the previous Barisan Nasional government consistently
used legislation to restrict the formation of associations unwarrantedly, by denying
registration or threatening to suspend or close groups. Due to these restrictions, over the
years, many CSOs particularly those working on human rights issues have had to register
as businesses and companies in order to operate legally.