Amnesty International, a global human rights organization, has criticized the Ugandan government for suspending 54 NGOs in the country.
The government had recently ordered NGOs to suspend their operations, as part of a significant escalation in its efforts to tighten control over civil society.
Affected groups include the country’s leading human rights organization, Chapter Four, as well as religious, environmental, and democratic electoral groups.
The government said the organizations failed to comply with legislation covering their activities, including operating with expired permits, failing to provide accounts, or failing to register with authorities.
Some of the organizations that ordered their closure participated in the election observation process on Election Day in January 2021, during which security forces stormed and many of their leaders were arrested.
In the controversial poll, President Yoweri Museveni returned to his sixth term after a violent campaign marked by harassment and arrests of opposition figures, attacks on the media and the killing of dozens of people.
In response to a statement on Friday, Amnesty International called on the Ugandan government to immediately rescind the suspension order.
“The suspension aims to restrict the rights to freedom of expression and association and to halt the activities of independent civil society organizations considered critical of the authorities,” Amnesty International said in a statement.
“According to the Uganda National NGO Forum, most of the organizations were not informed of the Uganda NGO office’s decision and did not have the opportunity to respond in advance.
The Uganda NGO Act 2016 imposes onerous requirements to apply for permits to register multi-level NGOs with periodic renewal applications, and organizations are required to have MOUs with the region in which they operate. There is also a lack of clarity about which organizations are subject to this regulatory regime.
“The suspension of organizations is arbitrary, as it contravenes Section 33(2) of the NGO Law, which requires the office to provide 30 days’ written notice so that owners can establish why they were not allowed to revoke or revoke the permission.
“Suspending independent civil society organizations simply for doing their job is an assault on human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and association. Suspending civil society organizations also exposes these organizations to additional legal risks if they are unable to pay the salaries of employees or suppliers” .
Many affected organizations work in sensitive areas such as legal practices to help the poor or marginalized. Others work on accountability and transparency in the oil sector, and still others monitor human rights in the context of elections. The sudden closure of organizations working closely with Ugandans will harm the people who rely on their services or advocacy.
The right to freedom of expression and association is guaranteed under Articles 9 and 10 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Uganda is a state party. As a result, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has published Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly enshrined in the African Charter, which, among other things, prohibit states from forcing associations to register so that they can exist and operate freely. Furthermore, informal organizations cannot be punished or criminalized by law or in practice for their lack of formal status. This decision by the NGO office is a clear indication of the repressive nature in which the Ugandan authorities have continued to suppress civic space and human rights.
“The NGO office is mandated to play a regulatory and facilitating role in creating an enabling environment for NGOs in Uganda, but this has not been the case in the recent past.
“We appreciate the positive discussions that took place between the Minister of Interior and civil society leaders on August 24 and urge the Minister to urgently follow up on commitments made to address deviations in the suspension of certain affected NGOs and to establish the Judicial System Commission Assembly in the name of what the law requires. We also urge the Ugandan authorities to Ensure that civil society actors involved in promoting fundamental rights can exercise their rights freely in accordance with the Ugandan Constitution and the country’s international human rights obligations, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
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