Civic Freedom Monitor for Uganda
Update: Following the enactment of the Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2017, which removed the age limit for the President under Article 102(b) of the Constitution and extended the term of both parliament and local government from five to seven years, the Uganda Law Society and a group of opposition MPs filed a Constitutional Petition challenging the constitutionality of the Act. The Constitutional Court began hearing the petition on April 9, 2018 in Mbale. The NGOs under the Anti-Age Limit Campaign Coalition observed the court proceedings. Following the court hearing, the Constitutional Court announced that they would issue their ruling on notice.
In addition, on April 19, 2018, the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) announced that NGOs will be required to declare their sources of funding to the Authority as a measure to ensure transparency and avoid money laundering in the sector. See #8 in the Pending NGO/Legislative Initatives Section below in this report for more details on possible new restrictions on foreign funding to NGOs in Uganda.
Civil society organizations (CSOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play an active role in Uganda. For example, they spearheaded the reform of electoral laws ahead of the 2016 general elections through a coalition called Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU). Moreover, many NGOs in Uganda are dedicated to the protection of rights rooted in international instruments and the Bill of Rights in Uganda’s Constitution.
Legislation in recent years has unfortunately narrowed the legal space for civil society in Uganda. For example, on October 2, 2013, the President of Uganda assented to the Public Order Management Act, 2013. Section 8 of the Act grants the police powers to prohibit public meetings while Section 9 grants the police powers to decide suitable venues for holding public meetings. Since the enactment of the Act, there has been a disproportionate targeting of meetings organized by opposition members and/or civil society representatives.
In addition, the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014, which was nullified in August 2014, would have posed grave threats to NGOs engaging in any advocacy work for gay rights. Section 13 of the Anti-Homosexuality Act criminalized any person who “promotes homosexuality,” which may have been interpreted to include NGOs that advocate for gay rights. The Prohibition of Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices Bill, which was introduced in October 2014, is, however, similar in spirit to the Anti-Homosexuality Act.
Moreover, on January 30, 2016, the President assented to the Non-Governmental Organisations Act, 2016 (NGO Act, 2016). This Act poses a threat to the right to freedom of association. Section 44 of the Act prohibits NGOs from carrying out activities in any part of the country unless they have approval from the District Non-Governmental Monitoring Committee (DNMC) and the local government and have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to that effect. NGOs may not extend their operations to new areas unless they have received a recommendation from the National Bureau for NGOs through the DNMC of that area. Furthermore, the Act requires an NGO to have MoUs with all donors, sponsors, affiliates and foreign partners that specify the terms and conditions of ownership, employment, resources mobilized for the NGO and any other relevant matter. In addition, Section 5 establishes a National Bureau for NGOs that is granted broad powers, which under Section 7 includes the power to revoke an NGO’s permit.
Section 4 of the NGO Regulations, 2017 provides for burdensome documentation requirements for an organization seeking to register with the National Bureau of NGOs. In the case of renewal of a permit, Section 12 of the NGO Regulations, 2017 also requires a range of documents to be furnished to the NGO Bureau.
CSOs that engage in advocacy and monitoring of government activities are often subject to pressure. For example, on July 4, 2018, the Uganda Electoral Commission wrote to the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) that it was suspending its accreditation for election-related activities. Without granting CCEDU the right to be heard, the group was accused of being partisan and failing to adhere to the legal framework and Guidelines of the Electoral Commission. Efforts to seek dialogue with the Electoral Commission have not yielded any response from the Commission. Unless the suspension is lifted, CCEDU cannot observe forthcoming municipal, by-elections, and elections in newly created districts.
As reflected in the aforementioned developments, the legal framework for civil society in Uganda is supportive of NGOs only insofar as an NGO’s sphere of activity is politically and socially acceptable to the Government.
This report was originally published by The International Center for Not for Profit Law