President Museveni Urged to Reject Ugandan NGO Bill
Freedom House and the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law call on Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni to reject the Non-Governmental Organizations Registration (Amendment) Bill that was passed by Parliament in April 2006.
This bill amends an existing NGO registration statute and requires NGOs, including those already in existence, to re-register annually. This process is administered by a politicized National Board made up of government appointees, including members of the "Internal Security Organization" and the "External Security Organization."
Moreover, the law vests unchecked discretion in the Board, allowing it to deny registration if it decides that an organization is against "any government policy, plan or public interest," without definition or limit attached to these terms.
"This law could have very serious consequences for Uganda's democratic development," said Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House. "Over the past decade, civil society in the country has grown tremendously and includes numerous types of NGOs working on vital issues such as health, poverty reduction and women's rights. This new law threatens to stifle the important work of these independent voices."
Douglas Rutzen, President of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, which tracks NGO legislation and provides technical legal assistance in over ninety countries, notes, "Sadly, this bill follows the example of those in illiberal regimes like Zimbabwe and Uzbekistan. It imposes undue political control over the NGO sector and will constrain the renaissance of civil society that is occurring in Uganda." Noting that this law has been pending for years, Mr. Rutzen added, "We call on President Museveni to reject the law and to enter into a serious dialogue with local civil society to develop a law that meets the needs of all parties."
In the past few years, similar restrictive NGO laws have been passed in other African countries, including Eritrea, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, as well as in former Soviet nations like Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Belarus.
President Museveni has ruled Uganda since 1986 and was criticized last year for engineering a change in the Constitution so that he could serve a third term. Political parties were banned in Uganda until July 2005. Analysts cite corruption as another potentially crippling obstacle to the country's democratic development.
"While some steps have been taken toward the consolidation of democracy in Uganda, many of these have been merely cosmetic. The Museveni government must become accountable to its constituents in a way that allows civil society and opposition parties to develop and freely speak out against the government," said Ms. Windsor. "We call on the U.S. government to follow the lead of the European Union and publicly address the issue, including revoking Uganda's status as a threshold country for the Millennium Challenge Account," she added.
Freedom House is an independent private organization supporting the expansion of freedom throughout the world. Freedom House has been monitoring democratic performance in Uganda since 1972.
The International Center for Not-For-Profit Law (ICNL) is an international organization that promotes an enabling legal environment for civil society, freedom of association, and public participation around the world.
For more information on Uganda, visit:
Related Freedom House press release on Millennium Challenge Account funding
For more information on NGO legislation worldwide, visit http://icnl.org/knowledge/pubs/index.htm
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.