HUMAN Rights Watch has criticized a bill to regulate non-governmental organisations saying it would affect Uganda’s basic rights
By Carol Natukunda and Agencies
HUMAN Rights Watch (HRW) has criticized a bill to regulate non-governmental organisations saying it would affect Uganda’s basic rights.
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.
If passed, the bill would grant the internal affairs minister and the National Board for Non-governmental Organisations powers to supervise, approve, inspect, and dissolve all nongovernmental organizations and community based organizations, and would impose severe criminal penalties for violations.
But HRW together with another rights watchdog Chapter Four Uganda warned that 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.
“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,” the agencies said.
“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.”
The organizations worry that NGOs 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.”
The “public interest” is not defined, which would enable the authorities to interpret the requirement broadly and subjectively, the groups said.
“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. The significant punitive dimensions of the law threaten well-established international and regional standards of freedom of association to establish and run independent groups and the organizations’ freedom of expression,” the groups added
Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch stated: “Criminalizing behavior that is inherently legitimate guts the very essence of the right to freedom of association. The possibility of long prison terms for carrying out civic work without a permit should be scrapped, along with many other provisions.”
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