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New Uganda NGO bill: Better, but still bad for LGBTI groups

HRAPF logo
HRAPF logo

Some LGBTI rights activists in Uganda fear the worst from the newly passed NGO Bill, which still would need a presidential signature before becoming law.

For them, it is a back-door reintroduction of last year’s harsh Anti-Homosexuality Act, which was overturned by the Ugandan Constitutional Court in August 2014. Those activists predict that, in effect, a NGO Law would be used to ban all forms of LGBTI organizing by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on the basis that such activities would “offend the dignity of the people of Uganda.”

Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF)
Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF)

For the Ugandan legal analysts at the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), the bill as passed is flawed; it would allow violations of Ugandans’ rights to freedom of conscience, expression, movement, assembly and association, they say. But the bill as passed is also an improvement over the original version, which would have “disproportionately affect(ed) organisations working on socially blacklisted issues concerning marginalised groups,” HRAPF said.

After analyzing the new version of the bill, HRAPF reported that the new bill  had incorporated many changes proposed by Ugandan non-governmental organizations, which “addresses most of the concerns that HRAPF had raised.”

Among those changes was the elimination of a proposed ban on activities by unregistered NGOs. In the revised bill, only incorporated NGOs would be required to register.  “This would therefore allow entities working on issues that are socially blacklisted to continue doing their work even when they cannot be registered,” HRAPF said.

However, Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of HRAPF, said three provisions remain that could “disproportionately affect” groups working with marginalised people.

The HRAPF report said:

  • Logo of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG)
    Logo of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG)

    “The provision on refusal of registration on grounds that the objectives are in contravention of the law is specifically worrying because it has affected LGBTI organisations before. The Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) refused to register Sexual Minorities Uganda on the basis that its name and objectives showed a connection to work among people whose conduct is criminalised. …”

  • A provision barring organizations from acting in ways “prejudicial to the security interests and laws of Uganda, as well as the dignity of the people of Uganda” could “easily be used to harass organisations working on LGBTI and other issues that are regarded as socially unacceptable.”
  • A provision allowing courts to dissolve an NGO for threatening undefined “national security” or “gross violations of the laws of Uganda” could put NGOs “at the risk of being accused of ‘serving foreign interests’ and therefore ‘threatening national security.’ “

HRAPF acknowledged that an NGO bill was needed “due to gaps in the existing law.”

But it concluded that “the Bill as passed still has glaring gaps in the protection of organisations working on issues of marginalised groups including LGBTI persons, sex works, drug users and those working on abortion issues.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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