Ugandan society is being undermined by intensifying attacks on a wide range of non-profit organizations — ones that seek LGBT rights, but also many good-government advocates, says the international watchdog group Human Right Watch.
In a new 50-page report titled “Curtailing Criticism: Intimidation and Obstruction of Civil Society in Uganda,” the group documents increasing government attacks on organizations that focus on oil revenue transparency, land acquisition compensation, legal and governance reform, as well as protection of human rights, particularly the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
Two quotations from non-government organizations in Uganda highlight the effects of the government attacks on Ugandan society:
[E]vidence of self-censorship by NGOs in fear of the repercussions of the law has meant that the value of a vibrant civil society in deepening democracy is progressively being eroded.
If your research raises a flag about people in power in this country, and how they are getting money out of this country, you are at serious risk. If you preach human rights, you are anti-development, an economic saboteur. You are not going to talk about land, oil, and good governance.
The government attacks include “closing meetings, reprimanding NGOs for their work, and demanding retractions or apologies, as well as occasional resort to threats, harassment, physical violence and heavy-handed bureaucratic interference to impede the registration and operations of NGOs. Of recent, the increasing use of these tactics is obstructing the work and impact of NGOs and, more broadly, obstructs Ugandans’ rights to free expression, association, and assembly,” the report said.
For LGBT people, the repression is intense, the report said:
Government officials demonizing homosexuality are targeting a vulnerable community and deliberately misinforming the public, stirring hatred and diverting foreign donor attention from deeply-rooted governance problems and growing domestic frustration with President Museveni and his party’s patronage politics.
The report had particularly harsh criticism for Simon Lokodo, the country’s ethics minister:
The minister has focused his attack on human rights work which supports the rights of LGBT people, and has closed meetings and trainings, threatened to deregister groups for their work on LGBT rights, and attempted to have some LGBT leadership arrested—despite having no legal powers to carry out these measures, and in clear contravention of Uganda’s own laws and obligations under international human rights laws.
He has also used “the promotion of homosexuality” — a spurious claim — as justification for his campaign against the NGO sector as a whole. He has suggested that the legitimate pursuit of the rights of LGBT people is a conspiracy aimed at destroying the country. In doing so he has painted an inaccurate and inflammatory picture of LGBT communities and human rights activism in Uganda.
The report proposed these policy changes:
- Instead of viewing the sector as a security threat the government should seek to create an enabling operational environment for NGOs.
- Any administrative requirements should be fair and proportionate to their legitimate goal, supportive of the role of NGOs, and implemented independently, impartially, and non-discriminately by the NGO Board.
- There should be public debate on disagreements between the government and NGOs over their research findings or policy and NGOs should not be threatened with deregistration.
- To create a positive environment for NGOs and human rights work, the laws governing NGOs should be amended to comply with international law, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and Public Order Management Bill should be thrown out of parliament, and no attempts to introduce provisions of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill through other legislation, such as via amendments to the penal code, should be undertaken.
- The government should rein in hostile rhetoric by any official actors and publicly support the essential role of civil society in a society based on human rights and rule of law.
In addition, the report said, “Uganda’s international partners should actively voice their concerns regarding threats to civil society and encourage the Ugandan government to uphold freedom of expression and association at every turn.”
- Human Rights Watch Reports Ugandan Government’s Increasing Harassment of LGBT NGO’s (oblogdeeoblogda.me)
- Hackers, military, leakers, judges join Uganda gay disputes (76crimes.com)
- Uganda aims to ‘weed out’ gay-friendly human rights groups (76crimes.com)
- Uganda: Growing Intimidation, Threats to Civil Society (hrw.org)
- Criticism of Uganda’s Government Leads to Harassment of NGOs (ipsnews.net)
- Uganda: Growing intimidation, threats to civil society (bikyamasr.com)