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Uganda: Draft Law on Public Gatherings Criticized

(Oct. 4, 2010) Uganda's proposed law, the Public Order Management Bill, has been criticized by a number of legislators and by civil society organizations as limiting civil liberties, as well as being counter to a recent Constitutional Court ruling. Sheila Muwanga of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative stated she felt it was “suspicious that such a Bill is coming prior to elections in February 2011,” and further criticized the bill for attempting to reenact articles of a previous law that were struck down by the Constitutional Court in 2008. In that case, Muwanga Kivumbi v. The Attorney General of Uganda, the Court determined that section 32 of the Police Act placed undue limits on the constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedoms of assembly and association. That section had given the Inspector General of Police (IGP) the authority to prohibit any assembly or procession when there was a likely breach of the peace. (Sheila Naturinda, Uproar over New Law on Public Gatherings, THE DAILY MONITOR (Sept. 22, 2010), World News Connection online subscription database, NewsEdge Doc. No.201009221477.1_b0f600be48a2b225; Police Act, Cap. 303, 12 THE LAWS OF UGANDA 6431, 6450 (2000).)

On September 20, 2010, Metropolitan Police Chief Andrew Sorowen banned gatherings of more than five people unless they have been approved by the IGP. Sorowen attributed the need for the limits to the threat of terrorism in the country. Given the 2008 decision, Sorowen's actions and the draft Public Order Management Bill have been attacked as contrary to article 92 of the Constitution, which states that no law may be adopted that alters “the decision or judgment of any court … .” (THE DAILY MONITOR, supra; Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995, Ugandan embassy in the U.S. website, (last visited Oct. 4, 2010).)

The day after Sorowen made his announcement, Wandera Ogalo, a Member of the East African Legislative Assembly, described the move as attempting to enact the same restriction the Court had already struck down, adding that “[i]t will face the same fate before the same court. … These are symptoms of a failed force that doesn't respect the Constitution … Should we seek permission from the IGP to die?” (Id.) The Assembly is an organ of the East African Community (EAC), which is a regional intergovernmental body headquartered in Arusha, Tanzania. EAC members are Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. (East African Community Portal, visited Oct. 1, 2010).)

Erias Lukwago, a member of the Ugandan Parliament from the Kampala Central district, criticized the draft law, referring to its supporters' “long time desire to make Uganda a police state by allocating [the IGP] powers over weddings and funerals.” (THE DAILY MONITOR, supra.)