Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo
Ugandan lawmakers continue their efforts to curtail civil liberties, this time with a bill that could negate the very essence of freedom of association and expression.
According to the groups Chapter Four Uganda and Human Rights Watch, the new Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) bill would grant the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the National Board for Non-governmental Organisations broad powers to supervise, approve, inspect, and dissolve all NGOs and community based organisations.
Among several troubling, broad, and vaguely worded provisions, one article would require all organisations to “not engage in any activity which is … contrary to the dignity of the people of Uganda.”
“If this bill is passed in its current form, it will obstruct the ability of all Ugandans to work collectively through local and international organisations on any research or advocacy that may be deemed critical of the government,” said Nicholas Opiyo, executive director of Chapter Four Uganda. “Vague and overly broad provisions open the door to silencing peaceful government critics and activists of all sorts.”
Under the bill, organisations would be required to apply for an operating permit, which could be denied “where it is in the public interest to refuse to register the organisation, or … for any other reason that the Board may deem relevant.” The “public interest” is not defined, which would enable the authorities to interpret the requirement broadly and subjectively, the groups said.
Another troubling provision of the bill would allow the board to revoke a permit for nearly any reason – “if in the opinion of the Board, it is in the public interest to do so.” Operating without a permit could lead to fines, prosecution, and criminal penalties of between four and eight years in prison for the organisation’s directors.
While the bill does not specifically mention LGBT groups, Uganda’s government has shown itself to be at odds with NGOs advocating for LGBT equality, claiming that they are “promoting homosexuality.”
In 2012, Uganda’s Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, said that LGBT rights NGOs were “going around implanting in the minds of small children and persons below 18 attitudes of perverted, disoriented feelings in their sexual expressions”.
He claimed that these NGOs were raising funds from overseas for these purposes under the “guise of promoting humanitarian concerns,” which is why he asked the Ministry of Internal Affairs to ban these organisations.
The new legislation seems intended to do just that.
A complete version of the bill was published in the government gazette on April 10, and is expected to be debated in parliament soon. Chapter Four Uganda and Human Rights Watch have called on Uganda’s development partners, African regional bodies and any government that supports civil society worldwide to vigorously object to the bill.