The freedoms of expression, assembly and association continue to be violated in Uganda. Authorities use legislation on organization of assemblies to undermine the right to protest, especially when those protests aim at opposing the government. State and non-state actors frequently target, threaten and intimidate human rights defenders, journalists, independent media and political activists (CIVICUS Joint Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review 26th Session of the UPR Working Group, March 2016).
The constitution of Uganda 1995 chapter 4; article 29, clearly gives the citizens the right to freedom of assembly and association without any interference. Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has ther4 right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and no one may be compelled to belong to an association. Uganda is also a party to various pertinent International Conventions including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1966, and the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 1966.The Treaty for East African Cooperation (EAC) advocates for the promotion of a supportive operational environment for NGOs. The Treaty enjoins Member States to facilitate and ensure public participation and civic involvement in decision making both at national and regional level. Similarly, the vision and principles of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM)/New Partnerships for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) to which Uganda subscribes underscore the pivotal role of Civil Society in sustainable national social, economic and democratic development.
Despite Uganda being a signatory to key international, regional declarations and legal instruments of human rights, there are escalating cases of violation of freedom of expression and assembly in Uganda. This has been observed during the elections of 2016, defiance for opposition leaders, Civil Society assemblies and restricted media coverage among others.
The Public order management Act out in place by Government to create order in the public is not in conformity with the provisions in these documents and the NGO amended Act also provides restricted space for NGO operations. It is a common occurrence that NGOs working on sensitive sectors of Government in demand for transparency and accountability have been intimated to be closed to an extent of some losing their important documents by thugs breaking into their offices. For CSOs, constricted political space means that their activities and potency are necessarily limited to matters outside the explicit political arena and the arena of formal democratization. On this point – Oloka-Onyango, Professor of Law at Makerere University School of Law rightly ponders whether genuine democracy can be realized within the context of a political framework in which there is a continued exercise of a monopoly over the articulation of views about governance, the suppression of organized opposition and the curtailment of political space.
In the last two years government officials at both the national and local levels have deployed an array of tactics to intimidate and obstruct the work of NGOs and Civil society in certain sectors. The methods used range from closing meetings, reprimanding civil society for their work, and demanding retractions or apologies, as well as occasional resort to threats, harassment, physical violence and heavy-handed bureaucratic interference to impede the registration and operations of NGOs. Of recent, the increasing use of these tactics is obstructing the work and impact of NGOs and, more broadly, obstructs Ugandans’ rights to free association and assembly. http://www.chimpreports.com/5602-hrw-joins-battle-between-government-ngos/
Government effort to initiate these laws is seen as a good strategy for promoting the rights of NGO operations, Civil Society and communities. But there is no deliberate commitment to sensitize masses on these laws. This has been used as a weapon to violate citizens’ rights because they do not know how these laws protect them. Many citizens have ended up in cells others beaten severely and others lost property like cameras during media coverage on sensitive issues. In the recent community meetings we held with support from CIVICUS that involved members of the Civil Society, local leaders and community people, majority of responses highlighted increased violation, intimidation, and restricted space for exercising freedom of assembly and expression.
To worsen the situation participants reported that these laws are unknown to the public. Our analysis during community dialogues indicated 95% of participants were ignorant of these laws. Surprisingly this cuts across all sects including local council leaders, police and CSOs. ‘’Ignorance of law is no defense’’ in Ugandan context. The question is who is who is responsible to see that these laws are known to the citizens?. Recommendations by the concerned citizens who participated in the dialogues;
- There should be deliberate efforts by Government to roll out massive sensitization on the public order management Act and the new amended NGO Act to the general public. Once people are ignorant of these laws which are made for them, they end up do wrong things which are against the law and cannot defend themselves in case of any other person violating their rights. Civil Society and media should take a crucial role to make people aware of their rights to accelerate demand for accountability.
- There is need to translate the public order management bill into the local languages such that people can read and understand it. They should also be availed / given access to copies of these laws as reference documents.
- Deliberate efforts should be on training law enforcers on these laws such that they can operate within their mandate minus violating the rights of the common people.
AFHI Uganda Commitment.
Continue to pursue a greater role of increasing awareness of the Public Order Management Act and the NGO new amended Act to the community members. Our mandate is to see that the rights of people promoted and protected. We have a stake in ensuring that no harm is caused to the citizens of Uganda by building their capacity to understand these laws such that they can defend themselves before the law. We strive to see that citizens are able to appreciate their rights to freedom of expression and assembly as enshrined in the Uganda constitution of 1995 and the international UN frameworks and conventions on human rights. For democracy to prevail and respect of human rights in Uganda to flourish, it is our role as Civil Society Organization (CSOs) to keep reminding Government of these citizenry privileges.
As an organization, we will continue to partner with human rights organizations locally and internationally such CIVICUS and others to continue the struggle of promoting and protecting the rights of Citizens in Ugandan. ‘’We believe in partnership because it is strength’’. In a bid to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goal 16 peace justice and strong institutions.
“The Public Order Management Act 2013,” http://www.parliament.go.ug/new/images/stories/acts/2013/The%20Public%20order%20management%20act%2, 02013.pdf, accessed 17 February 2016. 22 “Police release presidential candidate Besigye,” Daily Nation, http://www.nation.co.ke/news/Police-releasepresidential-candidate-Besigye/-/1056/3077538/-/13pfittz/-/index.html, accessed 17 March 2016. 23 “Police arrested four black Monday activists,” Redpepper, http://www.redpepper.co.ug/police-arrests-fourblack-monday-activists/, accessed 18 March 2016. 24 Ibid. 25 “Police warns Black Monday activists on trespass,” New Vision http://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1312887/police-warns-black-monday-activists-trespass, accessed 18 March 2016.
*Published by Action for Humanitarian Initiatives Uganda.