Activists warn NGO Bill would 'gag' criticism

Ugandan rights groups have called on parliament to reject a bill that would give authorities sweeping powers to regulate NGOs, warning the legislation would place a "stranglehold" on criticism of the government. The bill states that "rapid growth of NGOs has led to subversive methods of work and activities", and argues that these "undermine accountability and transparency in the sector". But activists and civil society groups say the legislation would give the government unprecedented powers, including the ability to shut down groups and jail members.

 

Thirteen Ugandan and international groups have called for the draft law to be amended, arguing that its provisions are overly broad and vague, particularly one which requires organisations not to engage "in any activity...contrary to the dignity of the people of Uganda".

We know that this law would not stand a chance in a democratic society,

" Winnie Ngabiirwe, executive director of Global Rights Alert (GRA), told a press conference in Kampala.

 

 

 

 

Activists warned the restrictions would "gag" civil society.

Under the bill, Uganda's internal affairs minister and national board for NGOs would have powers to supervise, approve, inspect and dissolve an organisation if "it is in the public interest to do so." Operating without a permit could result in fines, prosecution and jail sentences of up to eight years for organisation directors.

Activists warned the restrictions would "gag" civil society.

Maria Burnett from Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the notion of NGO workers being locked up for doing something such as documenting a land eviction was "terrifying". "Who is there to define the dignity of Ugandans," she questioned, declaring the country needed more, not less democratic space in the run-up to next year's national elections.

Activists have warned the bill in its current form would lead to a crackdown on organisations working on sensitive issues, such as oil, land issues and corruption. Dennis Odwe, executive director of Action Group for Health Human Rights and HIV/AIDS, said the legislation could also be used against gay rights bodies.

"There is no clear definition of a subversive activity," he said.

This story was first published in The New Vision on 3rd July, 2015

By Francis Emorut
New Vision Reporter