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Uganda: Non-Governmental Organizations Bill Becomes Law

(Mar. 17, 2016) It was reported on March 9, 2016, that the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, recently signed into law the Non-Governmental Organisations Bill, 2015, repealing and replacing the Non-Governmental Organisations Registration Act of 1989 (as amended in 2006).  (Amy Fallon, Repressive NGO Act, IPS (Mar. 9, 2016).)  It appears that the Non-Governmental Organisations Registration Regulations, 2009, which reportedly introduced more restrictive rules than those provided for in the 1989 Act, will remain in force until the issuance of new regulations.  (Non-Governmental Organisations Act, 2016 (NGOs Act, 2016), § 56, Uganda Legal Information Institute (ULII) website; Adrian Jjuuko, Museveni’s Assent to NGO Act Will Cost Us All, OBSERVER (Feb. 26, 2016).)  A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the 2006 amendment to the 1989 Act and the 2009 Regulations is reportedly pending before the country’s Constitutional Court.  (Jjuuko, supra.)

The recent Act establishes an NGO regulatory body, the National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organisations.  (NGOs Act, 2016, § 5.)  Among other tasks, the functions of the Bureau include establishing and maintaining a register of NGOs and issuing and renewing NGO permits.  (Id. § 6. The Bureau has the power to “blacklist” (a term not defined by the Act), suspend, or revoke the permits of an NGO.  (Id. § 7.)  Although the Bureau is required to “give an organization the opportunity to be heard” before it takes any such action, the Act does not define what that actually entails. (Id.)  However, decisions of the Bureau may be appealed to a body known as the Adjudication Committee and then to the High Court. (Id. § 53.)

The NGOs Act includes some executive rules “not fully anchored” in the provisions of the previous Act.  (Jjuuko, supra.)  A provision on the special obligations of NGOs is illustrative.  The 2009 Regulations include a special obligations provision, which among other things required that NGOs “not engage in any act which is prejudicial to the security of Uganda or any part of it” and  ”not engage in any act, which is prejudicial to the interests of Uganda and the dignity of the people of Uganda.”  (Non-Governmental Organisations Registration Regulations, 2009, No. 19 of 2009 (Mar. 20, 2009), § 13, ULII website.)  The NGOs Act, 2016 provides legislative weight to these requirements by including a provision with the same language.  (NGOs Act, 2016, § 44.)

Under the new NGOs Act, any act deemed prejudicial to Uganda’s security, interest, or the dignity of its people is an offense, which, upon conviction, is punishable by a fine and/or a maximum of three years in prison.  (Id. § 44.)  Neither the new Act nor the previous one defines what would constitute this type of act.  (Fallon, supra.)