“Until such time as Ethics & Integrity are defined in our Constitution, and the role of the Minister can therefore be properly understood and interpreted, we call for the removal of this Ministry
By Melanie Nathan, August 17, 2012.
Uganda’s Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights & Constitutional Law (CSCHRCL) which was was honored By The United States Department of State’s Secretary Hillary Clinton, receiving the highly prestigious Human Rights Defenders Award 2011, called for strong measures against Minister Simon Lokodo and his Ministry of Ethics and Integrity.
The Coalition received the award at a time of growing domestic and international concern at the rapidly shrinking space for civil society in Uganda today. In February this year, the Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Rev. Simon Lokodo, prematurely (some say unlawfully) closed down a workshop organized by a member organization of the Coalition. In June a second workshop was raided and forcefully closed down by police. A week later, the Minister made unwarranted and flagrantly false remarks about the Coalition’s work, which he described as ‘”recruiting” young children’ into homosexuality and as ‘promoting a negative culture’ and threatened to close down 38 organizations.
Similar language has been used on several occasions in recent weeks by the Minister of Internal Affairs, both while launching Uganda’s NGO Policy, and during the launch of the 3rd meeting of the East African Community Chiefs of Prisons. As such, it seems to be a shared Government position that NGOs are promoting what the Government views as ‘negative cultures’ in the disguise of promoting human rights in Uganda.
The Coalition has issued a Statement noting :
“In light of the Minister of Ethics & Integrity’s unfounded allegations, as well as the erosion of human rights and civil society which the statement of the Minister of Internal Affairs suggests, this press statement serves to clarify the structure, objectives and activities of the CSCHRCL (the Coalition). The Coalition is, a body which was introduced in 2009 in response to the tabling of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in October 2009. The Coalition—which now stands at 50 member organisations—brings together organisations with a shared concern over the recent history of attempts to intimidate and silence ordinary, law abiding Ugandans: we include organisations working on women’s rights, HIV, refugee rights, disabled rights, LGBTI rights, sex-work rights, IDP rights, journalists rights, health rights, and democratic governance, among others. We are concerned that the actions of the Minister of Ethics & Integrity follow a recent pattern of intimidation and clamping down against oppositional civic action, including against those raising concerns about the unconscionable oil agreements, land-grabbing and the general lack of freedom of association and assembly in the country.”
The provisions of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill include a direct attack not just on sexual rights activists, but also on civil society more broadly. It is a bill which seeks to allow some elements within the state to exercise unconstitutional levels of control over ordinary civilians and civil society at large. In short, it is an attempt to increase the repression of civil society under disguise of ‘protecting’ a particular vision of morality. It noted:-
“The Coalition has consistently spoken out against the unconstitutional Bill, and has met on a regular basis since it was established three years ago; visitors to these meetings have included, Members of Parliament, the public as well as the staff of many embassies. The Coalition has hosted a number of major events, in public spaces such as Makerere University’s School of Law auditorium and major hotels in and around Kampala. The Coalition’s work is placed on the internet (www.ugandans4rights.org) and as such is available to the general public. The organisational membership of the Coalition has been listed on each of the press statements made in the public media. As such, any attempt to portray the Coalition as engaging in secret activities is absurd. Contrary to what the Minister, who speaks on behalf of the government, has always asserted, opposing a piece of legislation or even providing leadership or health skills to a marginalized group is not an ‘illegal activity.’ The Minister’s actions are thus unconstitutional and have no foundation in law.”
In light of the recent actions of the Minister for Ethics & Integrity, and the statement of the Minister for Internal Affairs, The Coalition, in its statement, urged the Government to “think carefully before further jeopardising the already threatened civil society space in Uganda. The state of a country’s Civil Society is a key indicator of the state of governance in that country; weak civil society reflects weak governance. The full enjoyment of the rights to freedom of assembly and expression is fundamental to democracy; attacks on these rights are attacks on democracy. The extent of sexual rights enjoyed serves as a clear indicator of the capacity of a country to accommodate diversity and pluralism: Weak sexual rights are an indicator of weak democracies.”
The current attacks on civil society, while diverting attention from critical issues related to land and other resources, are rapidly undermining the Ugandan Government’s considerable achievements historically, as well as the standing of our country in the eyes of the world.
“We are also concerned that the Minister of Ethics has consistently misapplied his mandate by using his office to intimidate and frustrate organisations working towards protection of human rights for all. The Coalition therefore calls upon the Government of Uganda to clarify the role of the Minister of Ethics & Integrity, and to cease the unconstitutional threats to civil society organizations. We urge the Government to bring an end to indiscriminate and manifestly illegal actions of abuse against civil society and the rights of all Ugandans. Instead, there is a need to prioritize the curbing of the rampant abuse of young children in schools, homes and churches by the very teachers, parents and spiritual leaders who are supposed to protect them.”
In a clear and unequivocal demand the Coalition strongly asserts that “Until such time as Ethics & Integrity are defined in our Constitution, and the role of the Minister can therefore be properly understood and interpreted, we call for the removal of this Ministry, as the anti-corruption functions it has to date failed to accomplish are well catered for elsewhere. We further call on Civil Society and the General Public to join us in expressing our collective opposition to the government’s increasing efforts to suppress the working environment of civil society and to strongly oppose the Minister’s blatant misinterpretations of the Constitution, as well as his continued efforts at intimidating, suppressing and abusing the rights of sexual and gender minorities in Uganda.”
Uganda’s Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law is honored for effectively defending the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, often at great personal risk. The Coalition, which is comprised of 40 Ugandan NGOs, has successfully defended the rights of LGBT individuals in Ugandan courts, sparked public dialogue on LGBT rights in Uganda, and challenged widespread misperceptions and prejudices. The Coalition’s structure, effectiveness, and engagement with Ugandan civil society, government officials, and the Ugandan public provides a model for other human rights activists around the world.
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