FIDH and others decry suspension of 54 NGOs in Uganda

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Joint statement on Uganda’s NGO Bureau suspension of 54 NGOs in the country.

27 August 2021 — Uganda’s NGO Bureau, the country’s regulatory authority for non-governmental organisations (NGOs), should immediately rescind the decision to suspend 54 organisations that they have classified as NGOs, which comes in the context of intensifying intimidation and harassment of civil society organisations. The suspension is intended to restrict the rights to freedom of expression and association and stop the activities of independent civil society organisations that are perceived as critical of the authorities.

On 20 August 2021, the National Bureau for NGOs (NGO Bureau) ordered the immediate suspension of these organisations claiming that they had failed to comply with NGO legislation, including by operating with expired permits, failing to file accounts, or failing to register with the Bureau.

According to the Uganda National NGO Forum, most of the organisations were not informed of the Uganda NGO Bureau’s decision or given an opportunity to respond in advance.

Uganda’s 2016 NGO Act imposes burdensome requirements for application for permits for NGOs with multiple layers of registration with periodic renewal applications, and organisations are required to have memorandums of understanding with the district they operate in. There is also lack of clarity over which organisations fall under this regulatory regime.

The suspension of the organisations is arbitrary, as it goes against Section 33 (2) of the NGO Act, which requires the Bureau to give 30 days’ notice in writing to permit holders to enable them to show cause why the permit should not be revoked. Moreover, suspending civil society organisations also exposes them to additional legal risks if they are unable to pay staff or suppliers.

Many of the organisations work in critical areas such as legal practices to help poor or marginalised people, accountability and transparency in the oil sector, or monitoring human rights in the context of the elections. To shut down organisations working so closely with Ugandans abruptly will hurt people who rely on their services or advocacy.

The rights to freedom of expression and association are guaranteed under Articles 9 and 10 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to which Uganda is a state party. Accordingly, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued guidelines on freedom of association and assembly as provided for in the African Charter, that among other things prohibits states from compelling associations to register to be allowed to exist and to operate freely. Further, informal organisations shall not be punished or criminalized under the law or in practice based on their lack of formal status. This decision by the NGO Bureau is a clear demonstration of the repressive nature in which Ugandan authorities have continued to clamp down on civic space and human rights.

The NGO Bureau is mandated to play a regulatory and facilitative role in creating an enabling environment for non-profit organisations in Uganda, but this has not been the case in the recent past.

We acknowledge the positive discussions held between the Minister of Internal Affairs and Civil Society Leaders on 24 August and implore the minister to expeditiously follow through the commitments made to redress the anomalies in the suspension of some of the affected NGOs and establish an adjudication committee as required by the law. We further call on authorities in Uganda to ensure that civil society actors involved in promoting fundamental rights can freely exercise their rights consistent 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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  • Co-signatories

    Signed off by the following civil society organisations:

    1. ActionAid International Africa
    2. Advocacy Network for Africa (AdNA)
    3. AfricanDefenders (the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
    4. Amnesty International
    5. Asylum Seeker, Refugee & Migrant Coalition (ASRM Coalition)
    6. Campaign for Good Governance (CGG – Sierra Leone)
    7. Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI)
    8. Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD – Ethiopia)
    9. Center for Constitutional Governance
    10. Center for International Governance, Peace and Justice (CIGPJ – South Sudan)
    11. Center for Youth Advocacy and Development (CEYAD)
    12. Centre for Democracy and Development (CCD)
    13. Change TanzaniaPr3
    14. Chapter One Foundation Zambia
    15. CIVICUS
    16. Civil Society Human Rights Advocacy Platform of Liberia
    17. Civil Society Reference Group - Kenya
    18. Consortium of Ethiopian Human Rights Organizations (CEHRO)
    19. Crown The Woman – South Sudan
    20. Digital Society of Africa
    21. DITSHWANELO - The Botswana Centre for Human Rights
    22. Echoes of Women in Africa Initiative (ECOWA – Nigeria)
    23. Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Center (EHRDC)
    24. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    25. Foundation for Democratic and Accountable Governance (FODAG – South Sudan)
    26. Haki Africa
    27. Haki Kenya Organisation
    28. Human Rights Defenders Network (HRDN – Sierra Leone)
    29. Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)
    30. Independent Human Rights Investigators (IHRI – Liberia)
    31. Initiative for Equality and Non-discrimination (INEND)
    32. Inuka Kenya Ni Sisi!
    33. Institute for Democracy and Leadership – Swaziland
    34. Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC)
    35. Khulumani Support Group
    36. Kongamano La Mapinduzi Movement
    37. Mozambique Human Rights Defenders Network
    38. Network of the Independent Commission for Human Rights in North Africa
    39. Nigerian Human Rights Defenders Network
    40. OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture) within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
    41. Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)
    42. Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU)
    43. Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf)
    44. Partnership for Justice (PJ)
    45. Protection International Kenya
    46. Resource Rights Africa (RRA)
    47. South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network (SSHRDN)
    48. Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
    49. Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC)
    50. World March of Women - Kenya
    51. Yiaga Africa
    52. Youth and Society (YAS - Malawi)
    53. Youth Forum for Social Justice
    54. Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
    55. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)

  • Member organisations - Uganda

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