Uganda: NGO Bill would restrict Civic Space

Uganda: NGO Bill would restrict Civic Space - Civic Space

ARTICLE 19 is concerned by the contents of the recently published, government-sponsored Non-Governmental Organizations Bill (‘the Bill’), which is currently being debated in the Ugandan Parliament. According to the Government, the intention of the Bill is to replace the current NGO Registration Act and provide a conducive and enabling environment for the NGO sector.

ARTICLE 19 notes that the Bill contains several troubling provisions which follow the global trend of regressive legislation regarding NGO activity, and civic space more generally.  We note that the Bill joins a volume of recent legislation which includes the Public Order Management Act (POMA) of 2013, and the annulled Anti Homosexuality Act (AHA) of 2014, all of which stifle effective democratic engagement in the country.  

“The Bill grants the NGO Board broad powers to refuse to register an NGO, to issue permits with instructions that place conditions on the staffing of NGOs, and to restrict the employment of foreign nationals,” said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 East Africa. “The law is supportive of Civil Society Organisations only insofar as an organisation’s activities are politically convenient to the Government” he added. 

It follows that NGOs working on controversial issues such as governance, electoral reform, oil, land ownership, corruption and human rights, especially LGBTI rights, legitimately fear that the Bill would form the basis for state harassment and restriction of their work. 

ARTICLE 19 is concerned that the proposed NGO legislation infringes on rights to freedom of association and expression under international human rights law, and  the Constitution of Uganda.  This Bill reveals a deliberate move by the government towards the control of NGO and civic activities, in the guise of regulation. 

Furthermore, Article 43 of the Uganda Constitution explicitly provides that ‘public interest’ shall not permit ‘political persecution’ or ‘any limitation of enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed by the Bill of Rights, beyond what is acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.’ ARTICLE 19 believes that the proscribed requirements are not satisfied by the provisions in the Bill. 

There is therefore an urgent need to review the entire Bill to ensure its complies with human rights standards, and the Constitution of Uganda. The Bill should not be used as a means to restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and civic engagement which are critical to any open and democratic society. 

Press note:

Please contact: Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa, henry@article19.org