Uganda passes law to ban gay rights groups

Activists at Uganda Pride 2015

Activists at Uganda Pride 2015

Ahead of the Pope’s visit to Uganda, the country’s lawmakers have passed another repressive law; this time allowing the state to control and ban human rights groups.

On Thursday, the Ugandan parliament approved the controversial Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) bill.

The law grants 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.

It’s believed that groups that lobby for LGBT rights are among the primary targets of the legislation. The Ugandan government has for years expressed its desire to outlaw these organisations.

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.

Nicholas Opiyo, Executive Director of Chapter Four Uganda, said in April that the law’s “vague and overly broad provisions open the door to silencing peaceful government critics and activists of all sorts.”

Melanie Nathan, Executive Director, African Human Rights Coalition, wrote on Thursday that, “Organisations involved with LGBT issues and human rights defenders will be especially hard hit as the onerous legislation will impinge upon basic freedoms, democracy and human rights. Democracy weeps!”

The timing of the law’s passage on the eve of Pope Francis’ visit to the country on Friday may be no coincidence. LGBT rights activist have called on the Pontiff to speak out against homophobia and their continued oppression.

Lawmakers previously tried to crack down on the LGBT community by passing the infamous Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2013, which was later struck down by the Constitutional Court on a technicality.

Previous colonial-era legislation criminalising gay sex remains in force in Uganda, allowing the courts to imprison anyone found guilty of homosexuality for life.

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