The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL NGO Law Monitor partner in Uganda, Livingstone Sewanyana and Josephine Ndagire, of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI).
An April 2020 presidential order declared a 14-day nationwide lockdown to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. The order prohibited movement by private vehicles and imposes a curfew from 7pm until 6:30am. All members of the public, except for individuals transporting cargo, were instructed to stay indoors. The order also prohibited gatherings of more than five people. Learn more about how Uganda’s COVID-19 response impacts civic freedoms with the ECNL-ICNL COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker.
Civil society organizations (CSOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play an active role in Uganda. For example, they spearheaded the reform of electoral laws ahead of the 2016 general elections through the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU). Moreover, many NGOs are dedicated to the protection of rights rooted in international instruments and the Bill of Rights in Uganda’s Constitution.
Legislation in recent years has, however, narrowed the legal space for civil society in Uganda. For example, on October 2, 2013, the President assented to the Public Order Management Act (POMA). Section 9 of POMA granted the police broad powers to prohibit public meetings. After POMA’s enactment, disproportionate force has been used against meetings organized by opposition members and civil society representatives.
In addition, on January 30, 2016, the President assented to the Non-Governmental Organisations Act (NGO Act). This Act undermines the right of freedom of association. Section 44, for example, prohibits NGOs from carrying out activities in any part of the country unless they have approval from both the District Non-Governmental Monitoring Committee (DNMC) and the local government, and have also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with government officials. NGOs may not expand operations to new geographic areas unless they receive a recommendation from the National Bureau for NGOs through an area’s DNMC.
NGOs that engage in advocacy and monitoring of government activities have also often been subject to pressure. For example, on July 4, 2018, the Uganda Electoral Commission suspended the CCEDU’s accreditation for its election-related activities and denied the CCEDU the right to appeal. In February 2019, the suspension on CCEDU was lifted.
Furthermore, on July 26, 2018, the Constitutional Court, in a 4-1 decision, upheld the constitutional amendment removing the presidential age limit, meaning that President Yoweri Museveni, who is now 76-years old, can run for a sixth term in 2021. However, all five justices unanimously opposed extending the term of Parliament; they declared it unconstitutional because MPs did not seek or obtain the people’s consent on the matter.
The 2021 elections have been a key issue since the 2016 elections. On December 12, 2018, the Electoral Commission launched a roadmap for the 2021 elections, which triggered renewed calls for electoral reforms. In a ruling following a petition arising from electoral disputes in the 2016 elections, the Supreme Court provided a two-year time limit within which reform proposals had to be tabled before Parliament to ensure that future elections would be free, fair, and inclusive. These electoral reform proposals were later presented to Parliament and following presidential assent, the laws governing presidential, parliamentary, and local government elections were amended.
In addition to electoral reforms, it is worth noting there are other signs of positive developments in Uganda, but they often have not been fully implemented. For example, human rights defenders attending the sixth Annual Human Rights Defenders Forum convened by the Human Rights Centre-Uganda on March 22, 2019 called upon Parliament to enact a law to protect human rights defenders. One week later, on March 31, the President signed into law the Human Rights (Enforcement) Act. The Act provides for rights violators to be held individually liable for their actions and for public officers who violate another person’s rights or freedoms to be held personally accountable alongside the state. Although this Act was a sign of progress, no known cases have been considered under the Human Rights (Enforcement) Act to date.
Similarly, in what appeared to be a progressive step toward conflict resolution and national development and healing, the Government approved the National Dialogue Process, which involves representatives of government, the leader of the opposition in parliament, and members of a working group of NGOs. This working group includes the Inter-religious Council of Uganda (IRCU), Women’s Situation Room, CCEDU, the Elders’ Forum, the Inter-party Organization for Dialogue (IPOD), the National Consultative Forum, and the Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET). The National Dialogue Process was launched on April 15, 2019, but to date no progress has been made.
|Organizational Forms||Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), trusts, and community based organizations (CBOs)|
|Registration Body||NGOs and CBOs: National Bureau for NGOs|
|Barriers to Entry|
|Barriers to Activities|
|Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy||While there are no legal barriers per se, NGOs promoting human rights may be subject to governmental intimidation.|
|Barriers to International Contact||Burdensome requirements on the hiring of non-citizens.|
|Barriers to Resources||All foreign funding must be received in the Bank of Uganda (Central bank). NGO funds shall be channeled through the national budget if a policy on development co-operation being drafted by the Ministry of Finance comes into effect. NGOs to declare sources of funding to the Financial Intelligence Authority.|
NGO to have MoUs with all donors, sponsors, affiliates and foreign partners that specify the terms and conditions of ownership, employment, resources mobilized for the NGO and any other relevant matter.
|Barriers to Assembly||Police approval required for public gatherings.|
|Population||34.6 million (As per the National Population and Housing Census 2014 Report)|
|Type of Government||Republic|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||Male: 62.2 years|
Female: 64.2 years (2014)
|Literacy Rate||Male: 77.4%|
Female: 67.6% (2014)
|Religious Groups||Roman Catholic: 39.3%; Anglican: 32%; Muslim: 13.7%; Evangelical: 11.1%; other: 3.7%; none: 0.2% (2014 census)|
|Ethnic Groups||Baganda 16.5%; Banyakole 9.6%; Basoga 8.8%; Bakiga 7.1%; Iteso 7.0%; Langi 6.3%; Bagisu 4.9%; Acholi 4.4%; Lugbara 4.4%; other 32.1% (2014 census)|
|GDP per capita||$637 (2014)|
Source: National Population and Housing Census 2014, Uganda Bureau of Statistics.
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale|
(best – worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||162 (2018)||1 – 182|
|World Bank Rule of Law Index||43 (2018)||100 – 0|
|World Bank Voice & Accountability Index||31 (2018)||100 – 0|
|Transparency International||149 (2018)||1 – 175|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Not Free|
Political Rights: 6
Civil Liberties: 4 (2018)
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free|
1 – 7
1 – 7
|Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index||Rank: 24 (2018)||178 – 1|
International and Regional Human Rights Agreements
|Key International Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Yes||1995|
|Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)||Yes||1995|
|Second Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP2)||No||—|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)||Yes||1987|
|Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)||No||—|
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)||Yes||1980|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)||Yes||1985|
|Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women||No||—|
|Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)||Yes||1986|
|Optional Protocol to CAT||No||—|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||Yes||1990|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)||Yes||1995|
|International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED)||No||—|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||Yes||2008|
|African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights||Yes||1986|
|African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child||Yes||1994|
|Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community||Yes||2001|
|Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa||Yes||2010|
|Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights||Yes||2001|
|African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance||No||—|
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
The Constitution of Uganda was promulgated in 1995. Relevant provisions include the following:
Article 29. Protection of freedom of conscience, expression, movement, religion, assembly and association.
1. Every person shall have the right to—
(d) freedom to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peacefully and unarmed and to petition; and
(e) freedom of association which shall include the freedom to form
and join associations or unions, including trade unions and
political and other civic organisations.
Article 38. Civic rights and activities.
1. In the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed in this Chapter, no person shall prejudice the fundamental or other human rights and freedoms of others or the public interest.
2. Every Ugandan citizen has a right to participate in peaceful activities to influence policies of government through civic organizations.
Article 43. General limitation on fundamental and other human rights and freedoms.
1. In the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed in this Chapter, no person shall prejudice the fundamental or other human rights and freedoms of others or the public interest.
2. Public interest under this article shall not permit –
- political persecution;
- detention without trial;
- any limitation of the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed by this Chapter beyond what is acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society, or what is provided in the Constitution.
Article 50. Enforcement of rights and freedoms by courts.
1. Any person who claims that a fundamental or other right or freedom guaranteed under this Constitution has been infringed or threatened, is entitled to apply to a competent court for redress which may include compensation.
2. Any person or organisation may bring an action against the violation of another person’s or group’s human rights.
3. Any person aggrieved by any decision of the court may appeal to the appropriate court.
4. Parliament shall make laws for the enforcement of the rights and freedoms under this Chapter.
Article 51. Uganda Human Rights Commission.
1. There shall be a Commission called the Uganda Human Rights Commission.
2. The Commission shall be composed of a Chairperson and not less than three other persons appointed by the President with the approval of Parliament.
3. The Chairperson of the Commission shall be a Judge of the High Court or a person qualified to hold that office.
4. The Chairperson and members of the commission shall be persons of high moral character and proven integrity and shall serve for a period of six years and be eligible for re-appointment.
Ugandan law also contains “directive principles”, which are non-binding provisions relevant to constitutional interpretation:
- Directive principle II (vi) provides that Civic Organizations shall retain their autonomy in pursuit of their declared objectives.
- Directive principle V (i) provides that “the state shall guarantee and respect institutions which are charged by the state with responsibility for protecting and promoting human rights by providing them with adequate resources to function effectively.”
- Directive principle V (ii) states that “The state shall guarantee and respect the independence of nongovernmental organizations which protect and promote human rights.”
On December 20, 2017, Parliament passed the Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 2017. The Act removed the Presidential age limit of 75 years provided for under Article 102 (b) of the Constitution, increased the term of Parliament and Local Government Councils from five to seven years, and restored presidential term limits. While upholding the removal of the presidential age limit, the Constitutional Court nullified the provisions seeking to extend the term of Parliament and Local Governments to seven years as well as the restoration of presidential term limits. The Supreme Court has since upheld the Constitutional Court’s position.
National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector
Relevant national laws include the following:
- Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (as amended), 1995.
- Constitutional Amendment Act, 2006.
Constitution (Amendment) Act, 2017.
The Anti- Money (Laundering) Act, 2013
The Non-Governmental Organizations Act, 2016.
The Non-Governmental Organizations Regulations, 2017.
The Non-Governmental Organizations (Fees) Regulations, 2017 .
The Companies Act (2012).
The Human Rights (Enforcement) Act, 2019
The Trustees Incorporation Act, Chapter 165 (1939).
Income Tax Act, Chapter 340 (1997).
Value Added Tax Act, Chapter 349 (1997).
The Value Added Tax (Amendment) Act (2005).
East African Community Customs Management (EACC) Act (2004).
Public Order Management Act (2013).
- The Uganda Communications (Amendment) Act, 2018.
Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives
1. In January 2020, the People’s Government vowed to defy a police ban on political gatherings in homes after District and Division Police Commanders (DPCs) were directed to disband all political meetings in private homes. Police Spokesperson, Fred Enanga, said police had noticed a continuous violation of the Public Order Management Act (POMA), where politicians hold illegal political meetings in their respective homes or those of their allies. Addressing the press, the Vice President of the People’s Government, Erias Lukwago, described the ban as ridiculous, and an insult to people’s intelligence. He asserted they will hold meetings in homes and in public places during their upcoming meetings across the country. The ban emerged shortly after opposition singer-turned-political activist, Bobi Wine, showed “blatant disregard for the law” when he tried to convene an indoor meeting that police described as an illegal public assembly. Civil society activists believe the ban is official and consider it a result of a biased interpretation of the POMA. The expectation is the ban will be enforced against a select group of politicians who often hold political meetings at their homes.
The “People’s Government” is a pressure group initiated by former presidential candidate, Dr. Kizza Besigye following his loss to President Museveni in the 2016 presidential elections. Besigye is affiliated with the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), which is the country’s major opposition political party. Besigye disputed the official poll results in 2016 and has since self-proclaimed himself “the People’s President.”
2. During the February 18, 2016 general elections, the government shut down social media. After the elections, the government then presented the Uganda Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The Bill seeks to amend section 93(1) of the Uganda Communications Act, 2013 to remove the requirement for parliamentary approval of regulations made by the Minister of Communications. If Parliament approves the Bill, the Minister of Communications will have the power to control communications with wide discretion without approval from Parliament. This will erode the principle of checks and balances that section 93(1) of the Uganda Communications Act, 2013 sought to protect.
3. In February 2014, President Yoweri Museveni assented to the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Under the provision on Promotion of Homosexuality, anyone who “funds or sponsors homosexuality or other related activities” or “who acts as an accomplice or attempts to promote or in any way abets homosexuality and related practices” is subject to criminal sanction. The phrase “other related activities” is left entirely undefined, and interpreted broadly, advocating gay rights could be considered a “related practice” that promotes or abets homosexuality. While in August 2014 the Act was nullified on the technicality of a lack of quorum, on October 29, 2014, Parliament re-introduced a bill, the Prohibition of Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices Bill, which criminalizes engaging in and the promotion of homosexuality. Unlike the previous Anti-Homosexuality Act, this bill criminalizes sex with or between transsexuals and funding or sponsoring anyone who has the intent to promote an “unnatural” sexual practice. The Bill would pose a threat to persons that “promote” homosexuality, which could be widely interpreted to include both NGOs that advocate for gay rights as well as their donor partners. It has not yet been passed, however.
4. During the consultative process on the NGO Act, 2016, the government decided to separate faith-based organizations from NGOs, and it has now started the process of creating a regulatory framework for faith-based organizations. The Directorate for Ethics and Integrity drafted and circulated a concept note for the development of the National Policy on Faith-Based Organizations in Uganda in April 2016. It does not appear actions has been taken, however.
5. On April 19, 2018, the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) announced that NGOs will be required to declare their sources of funding to the FIA to ensure transparency and avoid money laundering in the sector. Speaking at a Thought Leadership Forum in Kampala, Michael Olupot, the FIA Deputy Executive Director, said that NGOs in Uganda were vulnerable to terrorist financing, and he therefore welcomed measures to supervise their activities and sources of funding.
On May 17, 2018, the State Minister of Finance, David Bahati, while appearing before the parliamentary budget committee, also announced that as of the next financial year all NGO funds will be channeled through the national budget, allegedly to promote transparency and avoid duplication of services. He stated that the Ministry of Finance was in the process of drafting a development co-operation policy for compliance by NGOs and development partners. This development poses a potential threat to NGO independence, priorities, and ability to demand accountability from the state.
Ugandan law allows for the establishment of a variety of civil society organizations.
Nongovernmental Organisations (NGOs)
NGOs are governed by the NGO Act, 2016, which was gazetted on April 10, 2015. In Section 3, an organization is defined as “a legally constituted non-governmental organization under the Act.”
Trusts and Foundations
Trusts are governed by the Trustees Act, Cap. 164, 1954; and the Trustees Incorporation Act, Cap. 165, 1939. Foundations can be registered either under the Trustee’s Incorporation Act or as companies limited by guarantee under the Companies Act, Cap. 110, 1961. Trusts and foundations are established to provide grants and in some cases loan financing at a more affordable rate to NGOs, CBOs and private organizations in support of their goals and objectives.
Community Based Organizations (CBOs)
CBOs are predominantly self-help oriented, with the principle aim of improving individual or household welfare, although a few groups play a wider community development role. They are defined by their relatively small size (usually involving 10-20 households) and limited geographic area and are generally formed along communal work lines, e.g., forming groups to work collectively on members’ farms or to support funeral ceremony preparations. CBOs with larger community development roles are supported and sometimes initiated by organizations outside the community.
The NGO Act, 2016 defines a CBO as “an organisation operating at a subcounty level and below whose objectives is to promote and advance the wellbeing of the members of the community” (Section 3). CBOs are registered with the National Bureau for NGOs through the DNMCs and SNMCs (Sections 20, 21 and 29).
Public Benefit Status
Section 4(d) of the NGO Act, 2016 states that one of the “Object[ive]s of the Act” is to “provide the development of strong organizations and to facilitate the formation and effective function of organisations for public benefit purposes.”
Notably, the Income Tax Act restricts “exempt organization” status to organizations, institutions or irrevocable trusts that qualify as religious, charitable, or educational institutions of a public character that have been issued a written ruling by the Commissioner currently stating that it is an exempt organization (Income Tax Act, Section 2(bb)).
Charitable organizations established under the Companies Act do not benefit from any tax exemptions.
Barriers to Entry
Section 29(1) of the NGO Act, 2016 requires NGOs, including all “private voluntary groupings of individuals” to formally register with the National Bureau of NGOs. Similarly, registration is required of all Community-based organizations (CBOs), defined as organizations operating at the “sub county level and below whose objectives [are] to promote and advance the well-being of its members or community,” and all self-regulatory bodies (SRBs). Moreover, Section 35(1) requires all organizations registered at the time the Act takes effect to re-register under the new law within six months.
Sections 20 and 21 establish District NGO Monitoring Committees (DNMCs) and Sub-county NGO Monitoring Committees (SNMCs). One of the functions of the DNMCs is to consider applications for registration by CBOs while SNMCs are mandated to recommend CBOs to the DNMC for registration.
There are penalties for carrying out activities through unregistered organizations in Section 40 of the NGO Act, 2016.
Burdensome registration procedures
NGOs must submit a registration application to the National Bureau for NGOs. Applications must be accompanied by specification of the operations of the organization, area of intended operation, staffing of the organization, geographical area of coverage, location of the organization’s headquarters and date of expiry of the previous permit.
Section 4 of the NGO Regulations, 2017 imposes burdensome requirements for an NGO seeking to register with the National Bureau of NGOs. These include having a certified copy of a certificate of incorporation, a copy of the organization’s constitution, a chart showing the organization’s governance structure, proof of payment of a prescribed fee, sources of funding, copies of a valid identification document for at least two founder members, the minutes and resolutions of members authorizing the organization to register with the NGO Bureau, a statement of compliance with Section 45 of the NGO Act (staffing requirements), and a recommendation from the responsible Ministry or government department or agency or, in case of a Community-Based Organization, a recommendation of the District Non-Governmental Organizations Monitoring Committee. For foreign organizations, a recommendation is required from the diplomatic mission in Uganda of the organization’s country of origin.
To renew a permit, Section 12 of the NGO Regulations, 2017 prescribes for a range of documents to be furnished to the NGO Bureau, including a copy of audited accounts, a copy of the annual report, minutes of an annual general assembly or the governing body, a work plan and budget or strategic plan, and evidence of payment of prescribed fees.
Section 30(1)(a) of NGO Act, 2016 states that an “organisation shall not be registered under this Act, where the objectives of the organisation as specified in its constitution are in contravention of the laws of Uganda.” Section 31 would allow the government to deny registration to groups advocating for changes in the law. Similar language has been used to deny registration to groups advocating for LGBT rights because homosexuality is considered illegal in Uganda. However, recent court rulings in Botswana and Kenya have reaffirmed that the freedom of association includes the rights of LGBT people to form organizations.
Barriers to Operational Activity
Section 45 of the NGO Act, 2016 provides that an NGO shall comply with certain staffing regulations. An NGO must submit to the National Bureau for NGOs a chart showing its structure and staffing and specifying its foreign work requirements, requirements for Ugandan counterparts of foreign employees, planned period to replace foreign employees with qualified Ugandans, and compliance with the labor laws of Uganda.
Section 31(5)-(6) of the NGO Act, 2016 requires that, in addition to obtaining registration status, an organization also apply for and obtain an operating permit from the National Bureau for NGOs. Under Section 31(6), permits are issued for an unspecified period of time “not exceeding five years” and for an unspecified “prescribed fee” paid annually.
Section 44 of the NGO Act, 2016 imposes a list of “special obligations” on all registered organizations, which include obligations to “co-operate with the local councils in the area” as well as the relevant monitoring committees; to “not engage in any act which is prejudicial to the security and laws of Uganda” or that is “prejudicial to the interests of Uganda and the dignity of the people of Uganda”; and to “be nonpartisan.”
Inspections and Monitoring
Section 27of the NGO Act, 2016 allows the Auditor General to conduct involuntary inspections and request “any information” that appears “necessary for purposes of giving effect to this Act.” Sections 20 and 21 create two additional layers of governmental oversight at the sub-national level: District Non-Governmental Organisations Monitoring Committees (DNMCs), and Subcounty Non-Governmental Organisations Monitoring Committees (SNMCs). Among other functions, both are authorized to “monitor and provide information to the Board regarding the activities and performance of organizations.”
On February 20, 2019, the Uganda Police issued a circular requiring NGOs to provide information to the police about their operations. The circular informed NGOs, including the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, that the Crime Intelligence Directorate was carrying out security assessments, which involve threats, situational analysis, and developing a database of all NGOs operating in their area of jurisdiction. The Foundation for Human Rights Initiative was singled out to show proof of an NGO that received the circular issued by the Police. In what was described as a matter of national security, information required to be provided by NGOs included the name of the NGO and its location, date of establishment, contact details, names of directors, certificate of incorporation, constitution, certificate of operation, services provided, list of employees, list of projects funded, and monthly/annual returns filed by the NGO.
On August 8, 2019, the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) in what appeared to be a political witchhunt in the run up to the 2021 elections wrote to several banks requesting information dating back three years for its purported review of certain transactions involving accounts of thirteen entities listed below: Action Aid International Uganda, Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring, Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, National Non-Governmental Organization Forum, Human Rights Network Uganda, National Democratic Institute, Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Democratic Governance Facility, Kick Corruption Out of Uganda, National Association of Professional Environmentalists and Africa Institute for Energy Governance. All these of agencies are involved in human rights, democracy and governance work and were critical players in the 2016 General elections in Uganda.
However, on July 9, 2020, the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) raided the illegal detention centers dubbed “safe houses” operated by the Internal Security Organization (ISO), which is a notorious security agency that has long been accused of broad day kidnaps, torture, abductions, arbitrary arrests and detention of Ugandans, especially opposition activists, human rights defenders, and lawyers handling sensitive cases. ISO had usurped the powers of the police, and despite the lack of statutory mandate to arrest and detain citizens it has continually detained citizens in ungazetted detention places where they were held beyond the statutory period of 48 hours. Following the CMI raid and subsequent interrogation, the head of ISO, Col. Kaka Bagyenda, was dropped as the spy chief.
Section 40 of the NGO Act, 2016 provides imprisonment for anyone who “fails or refuses to produce to the Bureau a certificate, permit, constitution, charter or other relevant document or information relevant for the purposes of this Act.”
On July 4, 2018, the Uganda Electoral Commission informed the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU) that it was suspending its accreditation for election-related activities and did not grant the group the right to be heard. CCEDU was accused of being partisan and failing to adhere to the Election Commission’s legal framework and guidelines. Efforts to seek dialogue with the Electoral Commission did not initially yield any response, although in February 2019 the suspension was finally lifted.
In addition, on September 14, 2020, the Ugandan government reported that it suspended the operations of 208 refugee organizations, including 85 international groups, over non-compliance with Ugandan regulations. Only 69 aid agencies are now authorized to assist the 1.4 million refugees hosted by Uganda. According to the Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness, and Refugees, many organizations that were suspended lacked valid permits, possessed expired permits to operate, or were running unauthorized projects.
Barriers to Speech / Advocacy
Article 29 of the Constitution guarantees every person the right to freedom of speech and expression. NGOs wishing to speak out and engage in advocacy rely on this constitutional protection. Even though there are no express legal restrictions on NGO engagement in advocacy activities, the government often intimidates NGOs that seek to promote human rights and democracy.
NGOs in Uganda are allowed to participate in peaceful activities to influence government policies (Article 38 (2) of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda). Although there are no set rules governing NGO engagement in lawmaking, NGOs in practice do engage in legislative activities. For instance, once a bill is tabled in Parliament, various stakeholders, including NGOs, are invited to share their views through consultative meetings, workshops, and other means.
At the same time, however, NGOs are not allowed to engage in political activities or belong to any political group. As a result, they cannot directly or indirectly support a political candidate for elected office. However, since they are regarded as partners with government in promoting good governance and democracy in the country, they can actively participate in the election process through monitoring, observing, and documenting flaws in elections, sensitizing people on the qualities of candidates and urging them to vote wisely, and proposing ways of improving the electoral process.
Potentially restrictive initiatives nevertheless include the following:
1. In 2009, the Ugandan Parliament enacted the Regulation of Interception of Communication Bill. The law allows the Government to intercept any postal, telephone, email, and text message communications with the consent of a judge of the High Court.
2. On September 8, 2012, the Parliament passed the Communication Regulatory Act, 2012. The Act empowers the Uganda Communication Authority to create a committee to examine complaints raised by consumers or the government against content providers. Complaints may range from inappropriate programming to national security concerns. Although it was feared that this power, if improperly used, could infringe on the right to privacy and freedom of expression, there is no evidence such a committee has been created by the Uganda Communication Authority to review media content. The Act, moreover, is rarely invoked.
3. Another law that would have had a negative effect on civil society that President Museveni assented to in February 2014 was the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The provision on Promotion of Homosexuality stated that anyone who “funds or sponsors homosexuality or other related activities”—which was not defined— or who “acts as an accomplice or attempts to promote or in any way abets homosexuality and related practices” is subject to criminal sanction. If interpreted broadly, the law could have considered any NGO advocating for gay rights to be engaging in a “related practice” that promotes or abets homosexuality, thereby subjecting that NGO to criminal punishment.
4. In August 2014, the Act was nullified on the technicality of a lack of quorum. However, on October 29, 2014, Parliament re-introduced a bill, The Prohibition of Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices Bill, which criminalized engaging in and promoting homosexuality. Unlike the previous Anti-Homosexuality Act, this bill criminalized sex with or between transsexuals and the funding or sponsoring anyone who had the intent to promote an “unnatural” sexual practice. The bill would pose a threat to persons that “promote” homosexuality, which could be widely interpreted to include both NGOs that advocate for gay rights as well as their donor partners. It has remained pending since February 2015. Nevertheless, even without the passage of this bill, gay rights NGOs have faced restrictions. For instance, the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), a group that promotes minority rights, suffered its second break-in on February 9, 2018. Overall, 30 NGOs have had their offices broken into since 2012.
5. In March 2014, the Government released a set of stringent regulations that all broadcasting media houses must observe. They must allocate prime time to promote government programs and public relations. Moderators will also be penalized for tolerating provocative and anti-government questions from callers.
6. In a public notice issued by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) on September 7, 2020, all persons engaged in the provision of online news sites were ordered to obtain authorization from UCC by October 5 or else the commission would instruct internet service providers (ISPs) and telecom companies to block the sites that fail to comply. Whereas the regulation of ISPs is intended to promote and safeguard the interest of consumers, operators, viewers and licenses, the fact that Uganda is in an election period and struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic means campaigns have to be conducted using radio, television and social media. The UCC orders, therefore, could easily limit access to information and gag free speech ahead of the 2021 polls.
7. Lastly, on October 29, 2020, The National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organizations, which is mandated under the NGO Act, 2016 to register, regulate, monitor, inspect, coordinate, and oversee the activities of all NGOs in Uganda, called a press conference to announce that National Election Watch-Uganda (NEW-U), a loose coalition of 65 NGOs that had been formed and launched in September 2020 to observe the 2021 General Elections, was an illegal organization and directed that its activities stop. The Bureau stated that following inquiries it made, it was established that NEW-U was not registered with the NGO Bureau, it had not been incorporated with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau, and had commenced business without incorporation, registration and permission to operate within the laws of Uganda.
Barriers to International Contact
Under the law NGOs may contact and cooperate with colleagues in civil society, business, and government sectors both within and outside the country (Article 29 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda).
There are no legal provisions requiring advance notice of international cooperation or prohibiting conferences or restricting travel. Article 29(2) of the Constitution guarantees every person the right to free movement in and outside Uganda. However, Section 45 of the NGO Act requires organizations, upon application of a permit, to submit to the Bureau a chart showing its organization structure as stipulated in its constitution, accompanied by a statement specifying its foreign staff requirements where necessary, indicating its requirements of Ugandan counterparts of the foreign employees, and the period for the replacement of its foreign employees with qualified Ugandans. The NGO Act, therefore, does not allow organizations to employ permanent foreign staffing.
As noted above in the Barriers to Operations section, Section 45 of the NGO Act, 2016 imposes a series of unjustifiably burdensome requirements on the hiring of non-citizens that are better left to existing immigration and labor laws, such as the requirement to ensure that all foreign employees present their “certificates, credentials and recommendations of his or her academic and professional qualifications and proven work experience” to the Ugandan diplomatic mission in his or her country of origin prior to entering Uganda.
Barriers to Resources
There are no significant barriers to resources in Uganda.
Barriers to Assembly
The Public Order Management Act (POMA) came into effect in October 2013 and includes several impediments.
Time, Place and Manner Restrictions. Section 5(2)(c) of the Act restricts the time of public meetings (except town hall meetings) to between 7:00am and 7:00pm. Sections 12 & 13 and Schedule 3 list restricted areas where entry is prohibited, such as the Parliament building, State House and Lodges countrywide, international airports, and courts. State House refers to the official residence(s) of the President of Uganda in Kampala, while State Lodges are scattered throughout the country.
Grounds for Refusal of Permission and Dispersal. Section 6(1) permits the government to refuse permission to hold a proposed public meeting because “notice of another public meeting on the date, at the time and at the venue proposed has already been received by the authorized officer; or the venue is considered unsuitable for purposes of crowd and traffic control or will interfere with other lawful business.” According to section 6(3), where an authorized officer notifies the organizer that it is not possible to hold a proposed meeting on the date or at the venue proposed, the meeting shall not be held on that date or at that venue. Section 7(2) provides for the dispersal of a spontaneous gathering for similar reasons. Section 8 authorizes the responsible officer “to stop or prevent the holding of a public meeting where the public meeting is held contrary to the Act,” and to order the dispersal of a public meeting where “reasonable in the circumstances.”
Requirements on Organizers and Participants. The Act imposes potentially burdensome requirements on the organizers and participants of a public meeting. Section 10 requires organizers to provide sufficient stewards proportionate to the number of participants; ensure that the public meeting is concluded peacefully before 7:00 p.m.; and co-operate and co-ordinate with the police to ensure that all participants are unarmed and peaceful and that peace and order are maintained. Participants are required to act in a manner that ensures obstruction of traffic, confusion, and disorder are avoided. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in criminal prosecution and liability.
Implementation of the Public Order Management Act
In January 2020, District and Division Police Commanders were directed to disband all political meetings in private homes, alleging that politicians were violating the POMA by holding illegal political meetings in their respective homes or those of their allies. Civil society activists believe the ban on political meetings in private homse is official and consider it a result of a biased interpretation of the POMA.
Barriers to Public Participation
The Ugandan Constitution, 1995, enshrines several principles relating to public participation:
- “The State shall be based on democratic principles which empower and encourage the active participation of all citizens at all levels in their own governance”(Democratic Principle (I))
- “Every UgandanCitizen has the right to participate in the affairs of government individually or through his or her representatives in accordance with the law” (Article 38(1))
- Every Ugandan has a “right to participate in peaceful activities to influence the policies of government through civic ”(Article 38(2))
- “Every citizen has a right of access to information in the possession of the State or any other organ or agency of the State except where the release of the information is likely to prejudice the security or sovereignty of the State or interfere with the right to the privacy of any other person”. (Article 41)
National legislation and policy seek to make these constitutional protections meaningful in practice:
- The Access to Information Act, 2005,states that there is a right of “every citizen to access information and records held by the State or any public body, except where the release of such information will prejudice the security or sovereignty of the State” (Section 5(1)). It is further required that such information must be up to date as far as is practicable (Section 5(2)).
- The Local Government Act,1997, envision decentralization as a fundamental principle to ensure participation in decision-making (Article 176(2)(b)). The Decentralization Policy, 1997, envisions citizen participation through local councils comprised of special interest groups, including women, youth, the elderly, and persons with disabilities; through direct engagement through village meetings, local council meetings, budget conferences, or information fora (barazas); and through local government consultations with citizens and CSOs on policy issues.
In Dr. James Rwanyarare and Others vs. Attorney General, the court held that the right to public participation extends to non-state organizations, such as associations and political parties (Constitutional Petition No. 7, 2002). In Satyavs.Attorney General, the court recognized the right of public participation for individuals (Constitutional Petition No. 0036, 2012). And in SalehKamba vs.Attorney General, the court held that the purpose of the right of public participation is to ensure accountability and transparency of all government organs (Constitutional Petition No. 38, 2012).
According to parliamentary procedure, after its introduction for the first reading, a bill is provided to the relevant parliamentary committee, which is mandated to invite other stakeholders to state their views on the bill through public hearings (Rules of Procedure of the Parliament, Rule 114).
- Citizen awareness of these participatory mechanisms and opportunities is limited, although state institutions are mandated to raisepublic awareness of these mechanisms. For example, the Uganda Human Rights Commission must “formulate, implement and oversee programs intended to inculcate in the citizens of Uganda awareness of their civic responsibilities and an appreciation of their rights and obligations as free people.” (Constitution, 1995, Article 52(1)(g)) The Judicial Service Commission is mandated to “prepare and implement programs for the education of, and for the dissemination of information to, judicial officers and the public about the law and the administration of justice.” (Constitution, 1995, Article 147(c))
The right of vulnerable groups to participation is addressed in a number of places:
- The Constitution provides for affirmative action on the basis of gender, age, disability or any other reason created by history, tradition, or custom in favorof marginalized groups “for the purpose of redressing imbalances which exist against them.” (Article 32 (1))
- The Constitution provides that minorities have the right to participate in decision-making processes. (Article 36)
- The Persons with Disability Act, 2006,provides for participation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of life as equal citizens of Ugand (Sections 3(b) and (f))
The Local Government Act, 1997, provides for the participation of marginalized groups, such as persons with disabilities, youth, and women in local project planning and budget and monitoring. (Section 10)
The right to bring lawsuits against any law or professional practice that restricts civic participation has been entrenched in the Human Rights Enforcement Act (Articles 3 and 6). The Whistle Blowers Act, 2010, protects the right of individuals to disclose, in the public interest, information that relates to irregular, illegal, or corrupt practices.
Notwithstanding such progressive provisions in the law, there are barriers to participation:
- Citizens face routineharassment for actions in the public interest that involve public protests. Under the Public Order Management Act (POMA), 2013, public meetings that include gatherings, assemblies, processions, or demonstrations in a public place are restricted unless prior authorization has been granted by the (Section 8) On several occasions political party activists, students, journalists, environmental activists and human rights defenders have been harassed and their meetings forcefully dispersed. In Human RightsNetwork (U) and Others vs.Attorney General, the Constitutional Court nullified Section 8 of POMA that outlawed public meetings without police permission. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in January 2020, public meetings have, however, been restricted again, and several gatherings have since been dispersed by the police.
- Perhaps the most notable exclusion from participation is the LGBTI community. Marriage between persons of the same sex is prohibited(Constitution of Uganda, Article 31 (2a)) and the Penal Code prohibits same sex relations (Penal Code Act, Cap 120, Laws of Uganda, Section 145). Following the court nullification of the 2014 “Anti-homosexuality Act,” a new bill is before parliament seeking to criminalize same sex relationships.
|UN Universal Periodic Review Reports||The Outcome Report adopted by the 34th Session of the Human Rights Council on March 16, 2017 is not yet available on the OHCHR page, but can be accessed through the following link.|
|Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs||Uganda|
|USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes||Uganda|
|U.S. State Department||2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Uganda|
|Fragile States Index Reports||Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index|
|IMF Country Reports||Uganda and the IMF|
|International Commission of Jurists||Not available|
|International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library||Uganda|
While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change. If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at firstname.lastname@example.org.
People’s Government Wows to Defy Ban on Political Meetings in Homes (January 2020)
The People’s Government has vowed to defy a police ban on political gatherings in homes. District and Division Police Commanders (DPCs) were directed to disband all political meetings in private homes. Police Spokesperson, Fred Enanga, said police had noticed a continuous violation of the Public Order Management Act (POMA), where politicians hold illegal political meetings in their respective homes or those of their allies. Addressing the press at their offices the Vice President of the People’s Government, Erias Lukwago, described the ban as ridiculous, and an insult to people’s intelligence. He says they will hold meetings in homes and in public places during their upcoming meetings across the country.
Uganda police detain Bobi Wine, foil meeting with supporters (January 2020)
Ugandan police detained the singer and political activist known as Bobi Wine, who was prevented from holding his first public meeting with supporters as a presidential aspirant. Police fired tear gas as they dispersed a crowd of supporters outside the capital, Kampala. The foiled meeting had been authorized by electoral authorities. It was the first of several planned by Wine, a 37-year-old opposition lawmaker whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu. Police said he was arrested for showing “blatant disregard for the law” when he tried to convene what they described as an illegal public assembly instead of an indoor meeting.
Government probes 13 NGOs over money laundering (August 2019)
The Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) has asked Equity Bank for account details of 13 non-governmental organisations (NGO) to establish their source of funding. In an August 8, 2019 letter, FIA directs Equity bank to “search your databases and avail us account opening documents, bank statements for the last three years and any other information available to you linked to each of the above-listed entities for further review.”
Voter education is crucial as 2021 elections approach (March 2019)
Article 1 of the Constitution vests all power in the people of Uganda, who are required to exercise their sovereignty in accordance with the law. In order to do this, the people must be informed. Voter education and publicity create awareness and knowledge among voters.
Government Moves To De-Register 7,000 Dormant NGOs (September 2018)
The government will soon deregister over 7,000 non-active non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in a bid to stream the sector. Mr Owor Osinde, the Commissioner for Community Development in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, said thatwhereas the country has about 13,400 registered NGOs, only 6,000 are operational.
Popular Ugandan opposition MP Bobi Wine charged with treason (August 2018)
Robert Kyagulanyi, a musician-turned-MP whose arrest prompted protests in Uganda, has been charged with treason. The indictment at a civilian court on Thursday came shortly after military prosecutors dropped weapons possession charges against Kyagulanyi, who is better known by his stage name, Bobi Wine. There were scenes of celebration as the court dropped the weapons charges, and supporters were seen hugging the pop star. But he was rearrested moments later.
NGOs told to declare sources of funding (April 2018)
Non-governmental organisation (NGOs) have been challenged to be transparent by declaring their sources of funding. Speaking at a Thought Leadership Forum organised by Standard Chartered Bank in Kampala , Mr Micheal Olupot, the deputy executive director of Financial Intelligence Authority, told more than 200 development partners and NGOs that whereas NGOs in Uganda are not vulnerable to money laundering, they are vulnerable to terrorism funding, something that needs to be guarded against.
Police explain NGOs offices raid (September 2017)
Gulu, Lira, Bushenyi and Makerere University were rocked by protests, sparked by fears that a controversial bill that proposes the lifting of age limit was going to be tabled in Parliament. In a statement, police said Action Aid Uganda and Great Lakes Institute of Strategic Studies (GLISS) possibly received funding from foreign elements to facilitate the protests. “…Police, both in plain clothes and uniforms, stormed the premises of the duo and searched their offices. Some staff of the NGOs were prevented from accessing or leaving the precincts of the NGOs located in Kampala. The act drew a barrage of condemnations from human right activists and both US embassy and EU released statement criticizing government for the act. The Police spokesperson has defended the act saying it was justified to forestall a possible destabilization of peace in the country” according to the NGO Act, 2016
Uganda’s fever spikes over age limit bid (September 2017)
The rising tide of tension in Uganda over presidential eligibility age limits spilled into and shut down the country’s parliament building, as the discourse among ministers inside the chambers became as contentious as the heavily-guarded streets outside in Kampala. Opposition political leaders demanded to know why there was such a heavy security presence, amid allegations that some MPs and other political leaders have been detained in the latest round of incidents curtailing the activities of elected officials, NGOs and activists. They were told by Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda – who had been scheduled to address parliament – that the additional security was necessary because of threats made against the legislature as they were to introduce a bill that would remove the existing age limitation of 75 years for presidential candidates. That move would allow the 73-year-old President Yoweri Museveni to run again in 2021.
Uganda’s Deteriorating Human Rights Record up for Review (November 2016)
On November 3, the United Nations Human Rights Council will scrutinize Uganda’s human rights record – a process known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). During its last review in 2011, Uganda agreed to take on a wide range of recommendations – including ensuring full respect for freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and investigating the excessive use of force and torture by security forces. It also pledged to prosecute and punish perpetrators. In this year’s submission, the government declared it has made “tremendous progress in promoting respect for human rights,” listing its numerous human rights desks, committees, and subcommittees on human rights in different government offices. But those offices have been largely mute on violations of free expression, assembly, and association.
Uganda’s Repressive NGO Act (April 2016)
Nearly two weeks after controversially winning a fifth term, it has emerged that Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has signed a repressive law which restricts the operations of thousands of NGOs working in the country. The veteran leader signed the NGO Act, 2016, which rights groups stress contains “special obligations provisions which are vague and undefined, thus prone to abuse.”
Parliament Passes Controversial NGO Bill (December 2015)
Ugandan lawmakers have passed a bill that would give authorities sweeping powers to regulate civil society, and which rights groups say will “strangle” criticism of the government. “The bill was unanimously passed,” the government chief whip said after lawmakers voted at a late-night sitting. Gay rights groups are particularly worried that if the bill is passed they might be targeted in a country that has previously passed tough anti-homosexuality legislation, which was later overturned on a technicality. Groups working on sensitive issues such as oil, land ownership and corruption also fear it could stifle their efforts. “The bill … is a hindrance to the activities of NGOs, and gives powers to the government-approved NGO board to deny some NGOs registration by hiding behind some clauses which cite public interest,” one activitist said.
Bill Threatens Rights Groups (April 2015)
A proposed bill to regulate non-governmental organisations would severely curb Ugandans’ basic rights. The bill would subject groups to such extensive government control and interference that could negate the very essence of freedom of association and expression. A complete version of the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) Bill was published in the government gazette on April 10, 2015, and is expected to be debated in parliament soon.
Uganda Anti-gay Law Struck Down by Court (August 2014)
In front of an overflowing courtroom in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, a panel of five judges announced that the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which punishes some homosexual behavior with life in prison, was invalid because it had been passed by Parliament without a proper quorum. “We’re very happy,” said Sylvia Tamale, a Ugandan law professor who has supported gay rights despite persistent threats and harassment. “But it’s unfortunate that the court did not deal with the substantive issues that violate our rights.”
Government issues statement on Anti-Homosexuality Act (July 2014)
On July 7,2014, the Government of Uganda issued a statement on the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014. The statement was to the effect that the law has been misinterpreted and that the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014, was enacted with a view to curbing open promotion of homosexuality, especially among children and other vulnerable groups. Despite the aforementioned statement, it remains unclear whether the “offence of homosexuality” as stipulated in the Act is annulled.
Government to Track NGO Cash (May 2014)
New legislation, the Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) Registration (amendment) Bill 2014, has been approved by Cabinet. Through the bill, Cabinet seeks to enhance documentation of funding for NGOs and their source of funds and enhance tracking mechanisms of their activities. Addressing a news conference at the Uganda Media Centre on May 29, Rose Namayanja, the Minister of Information and National Guidance, said government has been exploring ways of shielding Uganda from undocumented inflow and outflow of funds for NGOs. Namayanja said undocumented funds cause difficulties in forecasting exchange rates, money laundering, tax evasion and raise the possibility of such resources being directed towards fanning instability.
Uganda’s LGBTI community needs the UN now more than ever (May 2014)
On 24 February 2014, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda signed the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 into law. The law came into force on 10 March 2014. At the UN level, the Secretary-General condemned the development, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement raising concerns with the law. By contrast, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has remained largely silent. A recent article has called upon the UNHRC to act more decisively to compel the Ugandan government to change its position on this law.
Analysis of ‘Anti-gay Law’ in Uganda (March 2014)
LGBT and other human rights campaigners in Uganda and around the world are deeply concerned that the draconian ‘Anti-gay Law’ creates a sweeping new crime in terms so broad that it could be used to prosecute any actively gay person, as well as being a gift to anyone who wants to make a malicious accusation. In addition it raises the threat of “mob” vigilantism and a massive crackdown on civil society organizations and individual advocates of LGBT rights.
Demystifying the Public Order Management Bill (August 2013)
Uganda Announces Directive for All NGOs to Re-Register (September 2013)
Students Protest the Public Order Management Bill (August 2013)
Public Order Management Bill passed (August 2013)
Uganda charges opposition figure over rallies (July 2013)
Public Order Management Bill amended (May 2013)
Halt Crackdown on Media Houses in Kampala (May 2013)
Civil Society Calls for Tougher Laws On Small Arms Trade (January 2013)
NGOs hit back at Museveni remarks (December 2012)
CSOs fault Museveni on corruption (December 2012)
OPM scandal hurts civil society (November 2012)
Civil society advocacy in Uganda: Lessons learned (November 2012)
Ugandans demand action as donors halt aid over graft (November 2012)
Efforts to expedite the Anti-Homosexuality bill (November 2012)
Government launches NGO policy (October 2012)
Government intimidating civil society, says human rights body (September 2012)
EU urges Uganda not to stifle CSOs (July 2012)
Government launches NGO Policy (July 2012)
Government imposes limits on hiring expatriates (July 2012)
Government assures NGOs on closure threats (July 2012)
Jinja halts NGO registration (April 2012)
Bank of Uganda probes civil society accounts (April 2012)
Government drafts new media bill (March 2012)
UHRC rejects bill against public gatherings (November 2011)
UHRC drafted public order bill, says Government (October 2011)
Govt tables tough public order management Bill(October 2011)
Uganda’s Human Rights record under scrutiny (October 2011)
Do Ugandans have the right to walk?(April 2011)
Journalists attacked during elections in Uganda (February 2011)
Uganda gay rights activist David Kato killed (January 2011)