“Human Rights Defenders often protect others whilst neglecting themselves. When a defender protects his/her life, he/she can even protect others better”-reflection from a workshop participant
In 2019, Ngetha Media Association for Peace had an opportunity to convene Legal Compliance and Safety Awareness for Human Rights Defenders in the Northern and Mid Albertine region. The event was jointly organized by NMAP and Chapter Four Uganda in Pakwach town council between 24th – 25th, July 2019.
Based on how the civic space in Uganda has continued to shrink drastically and also due to the changes in the legal regime governing civil society organizations in the country with many laws used unjustifiably by the government to limit the right to freedom of association, assembly, and expression for activists. Ngetha Media Association for Peace and Chapter Four Uganda saw it reasonable to have this engagement with human rights defenders specifically those from organizations working on various aspects of human rights, namely land rights, environmental protection, and general human rights advocacy works in the West Nile and Albertine regions of Uganda.
At least 15 human rights defenders representing several organisations participated in the event. Out of the 15, human rights defenders who benefitted from the event, 6 were female human rights defenders from Hoima, Buliisa, Masindi Nebbi, Pakwach, and Nwoya districts
The event was facilitated by a team of two professional legal experts and human rights lawyers including Mr. Anthony Masake and Mr. Peter from Chapter Four Uganda who directed the two days workshop and assisted in its facilitation during sessions concerning legal matters and NGO’s operations procedures.
The workshop was organized with major goal and objectives to build capacity of the participating organizations and human rights defenders on key legal issues and share information steps that organizations may need to ensure legal compliance due to the unpredictable legislation and legal regimes in Uganda and also to build capacity and share experiences on physical security at organizational and individual levels with an aim of improving human rights defenders’ safety and security.
The workshop was opened by Joshua Oyergiu of Ngetha Media Association for Peace who welcomed and emphasized participants to take advantage of the training workshop, pay attention and ask all the necessary questions concerning legal issues affecting their work since they had the right experts in the room (human rights lawyers) with them.
While mentioning the background and objectives of conducting the workshop, Joshua also clarified on some of the legal challenges that NGOs and CBOs encounter during their work like being restricted by the public order management act to hold community dialogues, the act on the use of internet and computers citing an example of one activist Mr. Kabuleta who was arrested because of his social media posts criticizing government.
Anthony Masake of Chapter Four Uganda while giving his introductory presentation during the workshop, he gave an outline of the different topics to be covered during the course of interaction namely; Legal frameworks and policies at local government, the NGO Acts, the Anti-money Laundering Act, Public Order Management Act, legal obligations and gaps within organizations upgrade of CBOs to NGOs, requirements to register an NGO, Taxation issues of organizations. Anthony also remarked that;
“Since the civic space in Uganda is closing time and again, human rights defenders need to be informed of different policies and laws which govern their work”.
He took the participants through the contextual analysis in security management by human rights defenders, identifying threats and challenges, and security planning where he said;
“Human Rights Defenders often protect others whilst neglecting themselves. When a defender protects his/her life, he/she can even protect others better”.
One participant from Buliisa said;
“The government thinks we are fighting with them and we cannot convene meetings in the communities within the region. Police do not allow us to interact with people affected by Oil and gas development projects”.
A representative from CEDO in Masindi claimed about child protection challenges in cases where the perpetrators have lead persons at the district level like an incident where a girl’s rights were violated although the perpetrator was well connected. She said:
“We can’t work independently, we need coming together to bolster our synergies. We are working in isolation”.
A participant from Buliisa had this to say;
“In Buliisa, the police want us to ask for permission in order to conduct any kind of meetings due to the public order management act but even if we write to them, they do not respond to us”
Another participant working from the oil region said;
Oil companies hinder the free flow of information. For instance, when they organize for meetings with local communities, they only select uninformed persons who do not have real important information to attend such meetings.
Unpredictable legislation and legal regimes in Uganda. The government only chooses laws that favor them which are unknown to most of the HRDs. The legal regime is so challenging to HRDs in that they need to enroll for courses that can help them better understand and work within such regimes to close the knowledge gap that exists.
In most cases, key known HRDs in the community is most likely to be denied many opportunities especially professional work and government placements just because of their activism.
One of the participants asked if it is illegal for the district officials to ask for money from the local CBOs to get registered in the district something that she said is happening in Hoima district where officials made a resolution for every organization which needs to operate should pay five hundred thousand shillings. In answering this, Peter said it is against the laws and it is illegal, and to know that it is truly illegal, they don’t even issue receipts to the CBOs paying those fees.
Another participant said that in Acholi, the issues of Human Rights Focus is a great issue giving a scenario on how he wanted to sue the district for violating the rights of the marginalized communities in Acholi, the district happened to form a CSO led forum and he was made to lead it, a platform which he said never existed anywhere. He, therefore, emphasized fellow human rights defenders to start using these new NGO Act 2016 which most government officials don’t know to challenge them.
During his presentation, he sensitized participants about the difference between incorporation and registration of NGOs and CBOs, the difference between companies limited by guarantee and limited by share capital. He said that;
Once you are registered with a certificate of incorporation, legally it is only the court that can cancel your operations. An NGO has to incorporate first and register with the NGO bureau under the ministry of internal affairs in order to access permit of operation.
Participants were emphasized to acquire TIN numbers from Uganda Revenue Authority in order to be registered with the Financial Intelligence Authority to avoid inconveniences and doubts about their organizations by the government.
The workshop also gave a platform to human rights defenders to share about their experiences and challenges in the field of activism and also appreciate their work for the promotion and protection of rights for others who are vulnerable to violations. Ngetha Media Association for Peace committed to work and ensure that Human Rights Defenders working in the West Nile and Albertine regions are supported and always have to enable environments to execute their duties of defending people’s rights.