” 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!” Melanie Nathan, Executive Director, African Human Rights Coalition.
By Melanie Nathan, November 26, 2015.
We have received a report that the Ugandan Parliament, today, passed the draconian Non-Governmental Organizations Bill of 2015, restricting more freedoms for Ugandan citizens. Uganda now joins other countries in East Africa attempting to use legislation to curb the operations of NGOs and civil society organizations.
This Bill was touted by Ugandan Parliamentarians as follows:
“The Non-Governmental Organisations Bill, 2015 has been developed with an object of repealing and replacing the Non-Governmental Organisations Act Cap. 113. The intended purpose is to provide for an enabling environment for NGOs and strengthen the capacity of the NGO Board to register, regulate, coordinate and monitor NGO activities. The Bill further proposes establishment of regional NGO Board offices from the district level to the sub-county levels and grants the NGO Board powers to dissolve NGOs.”
The government of Uganda, demonizing its NGO’s as agents of foreign governments, has long feared and sought ways to silence what it perceives as outside influence from Western countries. Indeed foreign governmental aid, foundations and donors provide funding for the operations and programs of NGO’s, thereby assisting in the issues that NGO’s pursue.
Accordingly the government believes that the sovereignty of Uganda is impacted by Western bidding, when causes, for example involving human rights, are pursued by such NGO’s. A perfect example is the so called’ clash of cultures;’ while Uganda outlaws homosexual sex through its antiquated Penal Code, and seeks to further criminalize homosexuality and same-sex relations through new Anti-Homosexuality legislation, such as the ‘Kill the Gays Bill’, the West provides funding to human rights defenders operating through NGO’s, defending human sexuality rights and equality for LGBTI people. NGO’s defending human rights are not favored by the Parliamentarians in the country where over 85% of them are determined to further legislate harsh punitive measures against gays. The less defense and influence to impact the derailing of such legislation, the better for their anti-gay cause.
The NGO Bill of 2015, introduced in April –
“…Is an effort “to streamline the regulation of Non Governmental Organizations.” According to the bill, “the rapid growth of Non-Governmental Organizations has led to subversive methods of work and activities, which in turn undermine accountability and transparency in the sector.” The bill would require organizations to register for a permit with an established NGO board. The board can revoke an organization’s permit if it deems it to be engaging in “any act, which is prejudicial to the interests of Uganda and the dignity of the people of Uganda.”The bill would also require foreign employees of NGOs to be vetted and approved at a Ugandan diplomatic mission for his or her suitability for the employment” prior to arriving in Uganda. Penalties for violating the bill range from fines to imprisonment for the officers of the organizations that choose to operate without a permit.
The vagueness of the bill gives the government the latitude to silence organizations it deems to be operating against the “public interest” of Uganda, a term which is conveniently undefined. NGOs often fill gaps left by government in delivering social services to citizens. But beyond NGOs that work in development areas such as health or education, organizations that seek to demand transparency in government as well as sectors such as the oil and gas industries could also be subject to increased government control and scrutiny under the NGO bill, should it pass into law.” (WAPO)
The Ugandan government started cracking down on independent organizations before passage.
In 2014, the dictatorial president Yoweri Museveni signed a bill into law imposing life sentences for gay sex and long prison terms for so called promotion of homosexuality. The West responded harshly, cutting or redirecting millions of dollars in aid, cancelling military training and imposing visa restrictions. The Bill was invalidated by the courts due to the fact that Parliament passed it without a quorum. The court never ruled on the constitutional validity of the law. A new Anti-homosexuality bill is now being considered by a Parliamentary committee and its seems this knock out against NGO’s could help thwart attempts to fight the bill.
The United States, in comparison with its tough reaction to the anti-gay bill, has remained relatively quiet about the NGO bill.
Beyond LGBTI issues, the U.S. sends more than $750 million to Uganda each year. Much of U.S. development assistance is implemented through NGOs on the ground.
Uganda is in the midst of preparing for 2016 elections. Museveni has been in power for 30 years. Already the government is cracking down on opponents. A vigorous civil society is crucial for this election to be truly competitive. Unfortunately prior to its passage we hardly saw any interest in curbing it from the West. It seemed as if the United States and other countries barely stood up for Uganda’s civil societies and have as yet failed to speak up against the repressive NGO bill.
Updated December 10, 2015.
Here is the NGO Act 2015 as provided by the Ugandan Parliament: http://www.hrapf.org/publications/laws/non-governmental-organisations-act-2015