UGANDA: Fears over government crackdown on civil society

reportint20121112170405503Civil society organisations in Uganda are apprehensive about a new government order that requires all registered NGOs to “update their files” with the National NGO Board or risk being automatically de-registered.

The announcement came from the National NGO Board, a statutory regulator of civil society organisations under the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

NGOs have been given three months to submit this information – using a form available on the Ministry website – between 1 September and 29 November 2013. Failure to do so will result in the automatic deregistration of an NGO.

“ARTICLE 19 finds this to be yet another legal barrier to the shrinking space in which civil society in Uganda operate.  There are various alternative measures that the NGO Board could undertake in order to update their records, which do not include threatening organisations with de-registration. This measure potentially threatens to further restrict the right to freedom of assembly and association in the country”, said Henry Maina, Director of the freedom of expression group ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.

The announcement states that there are currently 10,511 registered NGOs, some of which might not be active.

The new order appears to be part of wider state led efforts to restrict civil society in the country. It follows a public announcement by the Minister of Internal Affairs General Aronda Nyakairima, a former Chief of Uganda Defense Forces, about his commitment to deal with “errant” civil society organisations. The NGO Board announcement also comes less than a month after the Ugandan Parliament passed the controversial Public Order Management Bill, severely restricting freedom of assembly in the country.

James Male Kiwalabye, from the Uganda NGO Forum, a voluntary umbrella body for NGOs in Uganda, said: “Although the NGO Board claims they want to clean-up their registry, we hold that it is another way of weakening civil society by deregistering some of the NGOs.”

“The entire process is not clear. We are not yet aware whether these applications will be formally reviewed and if certificates may be revoked on the basis of the information that is provided. The authorities have not done enough to publicise and raise awareness about the need for NGOs to re-register, especially outside the city of Kampala. The submission form can only be accessed physically at the Ministry’s offices, or via their website, which is not working,’ added Maina.

ARTICLE 19 has called upon the NGO Board to abandon the re-registration process. Instead NGOs should be asked to update the information in non-punitive manner, the group said.

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