At the end of January, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed a bill that seeks to regulate NGOs. According to activists, some of its provisions could threaten Global Fund–supported programs targeting key populations.
“The Bill has many vague provisions whose interpretation could be prejudicial to organisations such as those working on the rights of marginalized groups,” Sylvia Nakasi, policy and advocacy officer for Uganda Network of AIDS Service Organisations, told GFO.
According to clause 31(4) of the bill, the NGO board (appointed by the government) has the power to revoke or not to issue the permit of organizations whose “objectives are in contravention of the law of the country.” Thus, NGOs working with criminalized groups (such as sex workers and men who have sex with men) are not likely to be registered.
In Uganda, homosexuality is outlawed and punishable by imprisonment. In 2014, the government passed a bill that compelled citizens to report suspected homosexual activities to the police. However, the bill was annulled by the Constitutional Court a few months later.
Clause 40 of the latest bill lists the obligations of the NGOs. It says, for example, that the organizations “should not engage in any act which are prejudicial to the security and laws of Uganda” and “the interests and the dignity of the people of Uganda.”
“The term ‘security’ is not defined,” Nakasi said. “Given recent propaganda that portrays NGOs as foreign agents,” she added, “working on sexual minorities issues or the rights of terrorism suspects can easily be regarded as affecting the security of Uganda.”
Neither is “interests and the dignity of the people of Uganda” clearly defined. “Many Ugandans still feel that issues of sexual minorities are an imposition of Western values on Ugandans, and that they are part of an agenda or conspiracy to strip Uganda and Ugandans of any semblance of identity regarding religion, culture and morals and its sovereignty,” Nakasi said.
Kikonyogo Kivumbi, a key populations’ representative on the CCM and LGBTI activist, worries about the impact the bill will have on already hard-to-reach populations. “We fear that the bill would cause LGBTI and sex workers organisations to close down and their leaders to be jailed.”
When asked about the bill, The Global Fund was very cautious. “We are monitoring the situation closely and are in touch with partners about the potential impact of the bill. That’s all we can say at this time”, says Dumitru Laticevschi, the Uganda fund portfolio manager.
In a press release dated 26 February, the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum recommended that the entity responsible for enforcing the law, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, “come up with regulations that clearly define the vague terms used in the Act” and “delay the coming into force of the Act.” The Forum added that “if the regulations do not resolve the vagueness, then CSOs should challenge the identified provisions in the Constitutional Court.”