Uganda lawmakers debate controversial NGO bill

2015-09-01 17:54

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Kampala - Ugandan lawmakers debated on Tuesday a bill that would give authorities sweeping powers to regulate civil society as rights groups warned it would "strangle" criticism of the government.

Orders from the parliamentary clerk put the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) bill at the top of Tuesday's agenda for discussion.

Civil society groups say the legislation would give the government unprecedented powers, including the ability to shut down NGOs and jail members.

Activist and lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, from the Chapter Four campaign group, on Tuesday called it "a draconian law that will restrict civic space."

Gay rights groups are particularly worried that if the bill is passed they might be targeted, in a country that has previously passed a tough anti-homosexuality law, later overturned on a technicality.

Groups working on sensitive issues such as oil, land ownership and corruption also fear the bill could stifle their efforts.

Accountability and transparency

The bill states that "rapid growth of NGOs has led to subversive methods of work and activities" arguing these "undermine accountability and transparency in the sector".

A clause requiring organisations not to engage "in any activity... contrary to the dignity of the people of Uganda" has sparked particular concern as it is open to wide interpretation.

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.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said the notion of NGO workers being locked up for doing something such as documenting a land eviction was "terrifying".

The group has also argued that in the run-up to next year's national elections the country needed more, not less, democratic space.

Read more on:    uganda  |  east africa

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