Uganda OKs bill that allows repression of activist groups

Entranceway to Uganda's parliament building. (Photo courtesy of The New Civil Rights Movement)
Entranceway to Uganda’s parliament building. (Photo courtesy of The New Civil Rights Movement)

The Ugandan parliament unanimously passed a bill late Nov. 26 that would give the government broad powers to disband any nongovernmental organization that it considered contrary to the public interest or “contrary to the dignity of the people of Uganda.”

Leaders of any organization operating without government approval could be imprisoned for up to eight years, according to the original text of the bill.

The specific language of the bill, as passed, was not immediately available, but its original text was condemned by a wide range of organizations, including groups seeking recognition of the human rights of LGBTI Ugandans.

Kikonyogo Kivumbi (Photo courtesy of the Global Fund)
Kikonyogo Kivumbi (Photo courtesy of the Global Fund)

Kikonyogo Kivumbi, an elected representative of Ugandan sexual minorities who are at high risk of HIV, said in August, “If passed in its current form, we have a founded fear that the bill would make LGBTI and sex workers organisations and safe spaces closed down and leaders jailed. … This endangers not only them and their communities but also the Ugandan population at large.”

Supporters of the bill claimed that it would help legitimate non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Ruth Nankabirwa, government chief whip in parliament, as quoted by Agence France-Presse, said, “It is there to help the NGOs work in a better environment, because as the government, we appreciate the work these organisations do. … The bill empowers the NGOs as opposed to curtailing their operations.”

Opponents disagree, citing concerns that the bill would hinder the work not only of LGBTI rights NGOs, but also those focused on sensitive issues such as oil, land ownership and corruption.

 Nicholas Opiyo, executive director of Chapter Four (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch)
Nicholas Opiyo, executive director of Chapter Four (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch)

Activist and lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, executive director of the Ugandan civil liberties group Chapter Four, told AFP, “The bill … is a hindrance to the activities of NGOs, it gives powers to the (government-approved) NGO board to deny some NGOs registration by hiding behind some clauses which cite public interest.”

Peter Kamalingin, country director of Oxfam Uganda, told The Guardian in September that the bill “undermines the very cause for which we exist and the very cause to which we remain committed, in terms of overcoming injustice and poverty.”

Melanie Nathan, U.S.-based executive director of the African Human Rights Coalition, “Organizations 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!”

Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of the legal rights advocacy group HRAPF  (Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum), said his group would analyze the provisions of the bill as passed and issue a report on “how they may or may not affect organisations working with marginalised groups.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor / publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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