Government says it has learnt of a Press Release by Human Rights Watch titled “Uganda: Bill threatens Rights, Independent Groups”.
Ofwono Opondo, the Executive Director, says Uganda already has an NGO Act which is being updated through this amendment.
He said there was no evidence so far that NGOs, CBOs & CSOs have been unfairly or unjustly dissolved or their activities interfered with except where some have cheated the public.
“Uganda needs the law revised and strengthened to protect the public especially because of the changing times of criminality.”
He said some NGOs have been found to be involved in extortion of money from the public, financial fraud, money laundering and human trafficking especially of vulnerable children.
“Apart from the criticism from HRW, government would appreciate helpful comments to improve the Bill.”
“Let Human Rights Watch write specific proposals either to the minister before the Bill is taken to the committee of parliament.”
He cautioned NGOs including HRW not pretend to be the only guarantors of the rights of Ugandans.
“That responsibility and obligations rests with the government of Uganda. NGOs do not enjoy diplomatic immunity, and thus are subject to written down rules and regulations.”
Human Rights Watch report:
Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Monday that a proposed bill to regulate nongovernmental groups would severely curb Ugandans’ basic rights.
“The bill would subject groups to such extensive government control and interference that it could negate the very essence of freedom of association and expression.”
A complete version of the bill was published in the government gazette on April 10, 2015, and is expected to be debated in parliament soon.
The new Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) bill would grant the internal affairs minister and the National Board for Non-governmental Organisations broad powers to supervise, approve, inspect, and dissolve all nongovernmental organizations and community based organizations, and would impose severe criminal penalties for violations.
Among several troubling, broad, and vaguely worded provisions, one article would require all organizations to “not engage in any activity which is … contrary to the dignity of the people of Uganda.”
“If this bill is passed in its current form, it will obstruct the ability of all Ugandans to work collectively through local and international organizations on any research or advocacy that may be deemed critical of the government,” said Nicholas Opiyo, executive director of Chapter Four Uganda.
“Vague and overly broad provisions open the door to silencing peaceful government critics and activists of all sorts.”
Under the bill, organizations would be required to apply for an operating permit, which could be denied “where it is in the public interest to refuse to register the organisation, or … for any other reason that the Board may deem relevant.”
Operating without a permit could lead to fines, prosecution, and criminal penalties of between four and eight years in prison for the organization’s directors.
“Criminalizing behaviour that is inherently legitimate guts the very essence of the right to freedom of association,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“The possibility of long prison terms for carrying out civic work without a permit should be scrapped, along with many other provisions.”
Another troubling provision of the bill would allow the board to revoke a permit for nearly any reason – “if in the opinion of the Board, it is in the public interest to do so.”
The lack of specificity about advance notification means that board officials or those they authorize would have free rein to enter a group’s premises at any point, question staff, and copy or seize documents, all tactics more commonly reserved for a criminal investigation, Chapter Four Uganda and Human Rights Watch said.
The bill contains no provisions for judicial oversight or a way to challenge its decisions in court, leaving groups without a clear remedy in cases of conflict with the board.
A large number – perhaps thousands – of nongovernmental organizations operate in Uganda. The government of President Yoweri Museveni, now in his 30th year of power, allows latitude for some groups, particularly those involved in service delivery.
Museveni is his party’s sole presidential candidate in elections scheduled for early 2016.
The current legal regime expressly mandates that the National Board for Non-governmental Organisations include officials from the Internal Security Organisation (ISO), the government’s main domestic intelligence agency, and the External Security Organisation (ESO), the external intelligence agency.
Leaders of independent groups pointed out in 2011 that the presence on the board of officials from ISO and ESO – both of which report directly to the president and have been alleged to be involved in unlawful treatment of civilians – indicated that regulation of independent groups was “premised on a narrow security and control objective rather than development considerations.”
“The run-up to the 2016 elections is a time to encourage divergent views, not clamp down on them.”
Read full report here: http://www.hrw.org/news/2015/04/20/uganda-bill-threatens-rights-independent-groups