Kampala, Uganda (HRW) – President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda should not assent to the Nongovermental Organisations Act passed by parliament on November 27, 2015, Chapter Four Uganda, Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), and Human Rights Watch said today. He should request parliament to reconsider the law’s criminal penalties for violating vague and undefined “special obligations,” a provision that could make organizations vulnerable to politically motivated charges for legitimate work and encourage self-censorship.
The law has prompted significant debate and input since it was first presented in parliament in April 2015. A parliamentary committee report recommended numerous changes, which led to many significant improvements. But some of the most problematic and far-reaching provisions were retained in the version that parliament approved.
“Some parliamentarians worked very hard to improve the bill and their efforts should be lauded,” said Nicholas Opiyo, executive director of Chapter Four Uganda. “But we should not lose sight of the troubling parts of the law that could ultimately be used to silence dissenting voices. All Ugandans must be able to hold and express differing views about our country and our government’s actions without fear of criminal prosecution.”
The law lays out “special obligations” for organizations, including a requirement that groups should “not engage in any act which is prejudicial to the interests of Uganda or the dignity of the people of Uganda.” Another provision criminalizes any activities by organizations that have not been issued a permit by the government regulator, fundamentally undermining free association rights. The bill permits criminal sentences of up to three years for any violations of the act.