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Uganda
01.09.21
Urgent Interventions

Uganda: Suspension of 54 civil society organisations

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

UGA 002 / 0921 / OBS 090
Restrictions to freedom of association /
Harassment
Uganda
September 1, 2021

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Uganda.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about the decision made by the National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organisations of Uganda (NGO Bureau) suspending the activities of 54 organisations, including the African Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO)[1], Chapter Four Uganda[2] and the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS)[3].

On August 20, 2021, the NGO Bureau, mandated under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, announced in a press release that the activities of 54 organisations in Uganda were suspended because the organisations were found to be “non-compliant with the NGO Act, 2016”.

According to the NGO Bureau, 23 NGOs were operating with expired permits, 15 NGOs failed to file annual returns and account audits, and six NGOs were operating without registering with the NGO Bureau. In all the three cases the organisations would be violating the NGO Act, 2016.

Nonetheless, 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. Indeed, the Bureau did not respect the deadlines for informing the organisations, as established by 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.

In the press release, the Executive Director of the Bureau, Stephen Okello, also calls upon the relevant national and local stakeholders to help the Bureau in enforcing the suspension. Furthermore, Mr. Okello asked the District NGO Monitoring Committees (DNMCs)[4] to file an inventory of NGOs operating in their regions as of June 30, 2021 in order to monitor them for compliance with the law.

In reaction to its suspension, AFIEGO published a press release on August 20, 2021 outlining how this recent incident of legal harassment is part of the larger pattern of intimidation that NGOs and civil society have faced for several years. AFIEGO, along with its partners organisations, have been harassed and their members have been arbitrarily detained on multiple occasions because of their roles as human rights and environmental defenders in the oil and gas sector. The Observatory recalls that on May 26, 2021, Maxwell Atuhura, a Ugandan human rights defender working with AFIEGO, was arbitrarily arrested while conducting a fieldwork to interview communities affected by the Tilenga project, developed by the French oil company Total and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC).

Furthermore, several organisations that have been targeted have denounced the false pretext on which this arbitrary decision is based. AFIEGO declared its registration with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) as a company limited by guarantee, and complied with all requirements, including filing annual returns with the URSB and ensuring that all other legal requirements were met. As for GLISS, the Executive Director, Godbar Tumushabe, confirmed that the organisation was a policy think tank registered as a company limited by guarantee, but that the NGO Bureau informed them on August 20, 2021 that they had requalified the organisation as an NGO in view of its activities. The Observatory recalls that, on September 20, 2017, police officers raided the premises of GLISS in Kampala as well as the house of Godbar Tumushabe.

The Observatory underlines that the legal harassment against the 54 organisations is part of an ongoing, widespread repression of civil society actors in the country. Several individual cases of harassment and intimidation have been recorded, in addition to the broader efforts to harass civil society actors through legal or judicial channels. In addition to the incidents mentioned previously, the Observatory also recorded the arbitrary detention of nine environmental human rights defenders in September 2020.

The Observatory expresses its serious concern regarding the decision of the NGO Bureau to prevent the activities of the 54 organisations over alleged “non-compliance” issues as the decision impinges on their ability to operate freely and conduct their work without prejudice.

Furthermore, the Observatory is alarmed by the extent of administrative harassment denounced in the past and urges the authorities to repeal any decision that may unduly restrict the rights to freedom of association.

The Observatory urges the authorities to respect the right of the organisations to be heard and to be registered according to the definition of their activities. Moreover, a clear definition of the elements of the NGO Act, 2016 must be discussed between the organisations and the NGO Bureau.

The Observatory further urges the authorities to immediately revoke the suspension, to establish an Adjudication Committee as required by the law, and to put an end to all acts of harassment -including at the judicial level- against environmental and human rights organisations in Uganda.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Uganda asking them to:

i. Immediately cancel the decision of the NGO Bureau to suspend the activities of the 54 organisations in Uganda, which contravenes the right to freedom of association;

ii. Put an immediate end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against human rights organisations, as well as all human rights defenders in Uganda;

iii. Take all necessary measures to guarantee the right to freedom of association and expression in the country, in accordance with relevant international and regional human rights standards, in particular Articles 19 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Addresses:

• Mr. Kaguta Yoweri Museveni, President of the Republic of Uganda, E-mail: museveni@starcom.co.ug / aak@statehouse.go.ug
•Mr. William Byaruhanga, Attorney General, and Hon. Ephraim Kamuntu, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of Uganda, E-Mail: mojca@africaonline.co.ug
• Ms. Jane Frances Abodo, Director of Public Prosecutions, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs of Uganda, Email: admin@dpp.go.ug
• Dr. Katebalirwe Amooti, Acting Chairperson, Uganda Human Rights Commission, Email: uhrc@uhrc.ug
• H.E. Christopher Onyanga Aparr, Permanent Mission of Uganda to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: mission.uganda@ties.itu.int
• H.E. Mirjam Blaak Sow, Embassy of Uganda to the EU in Brussels, Belgium. Email: ugembrus@brutele.be, info@ugandamission-benelux.org
• H.E. Attilio Pacifici, Head of the Delegation of the European Union in Uganda, Email: delegation-uganda-ppi@eeas.europa.eu
• Mr. Cathal Gilbert, HRD Focal Point, Delegation of the European Union in Uganda, Email: cathal.gilbert@eeas.europa.eu.

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Uganda in your respective countries.

***
Paris-Geneva, September 1, 2021

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel FIDH: +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18
· Tel OMCT: +41 (0) 22 809 49 39


[1] The Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) is a public policy research and advocacy company limited by guarantee dedicated to influencing energy policies to benefit the poor and vulnerable people. AFIEGO works with communities and leaders to ensure that clean energy resources are used in a way that promotes equitable development, environmental conservation and respect for human rights

[2] Chapter Four Uganda was formed in 2013 to support human rights and pro-democracy activists in their efforts to promote open government, defend human rights, strengthen civil society and facilitate the free flow of information and ideas and host a robust and coordinated process of defending civil liberties.

[3] The Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS) is Africa’s leading independent public policy research and think tank based in Kampala, which aims to accelerate socio-economic transformation and inclusive development in the Great Lakes sub-region by providing evidence-based policy options that put men, women and the youth at the center of development policy and policy implementation.

[4] The NGO Act. 2016 provides for the establishment of DNMCs in each district, which are the operational bodies on the ground, monitoring and collecting information on local organisations.

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