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Uganda: Parliament Amends Terrorism Law

(June 26, 2015) Uganda’s 386-member unicameral Parliament recently adopted the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill, 2015, aimed at revising parts of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2002. (Halima Abdallah, Uganda MPs Pass Anti-Terror Bill, EAST AFRICAN (June 20, 2015).) The legislation must be signed by the President or be passed again by Parliament with the support of at least two-thirds of all its members before it can become law. (Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995, § 91, State House of Uganda website.)

Expansion of Definition of Terrorist Act

The legislation extends the definition of what amounts to a terrorist act. According to an April 24, 2015, version of the amendment law (the latest version found), it does this in part by expanding the definition of certain already criminalized acts. For instance, under the current law, “direct involvement or complicity in the murder, kidnapping, maiming or attack, whether actual, attempted or threatened, on a person or groups of persons, in public or private institutions” is a terrorism offense. (The Anti-Terrorism Act, 2002, § 7(2)(b) (May 21, 2002), VERTIC.) The new legislation seeks to cast a wider net by making any “indirect” involvement in these acts, a term that it does not define, amount to a commission of the same terrorist offense and subject to the same penalties. (The Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill, 2015 (Apr. 24, 2015), § 2(b). Chapter Four Uganda.)

In addition, the legislation would add to the list of acts that amount to terrorism or related offenses, to include:

  • interference with an electronic system resulting in the disruption of the provision of communication, financial, transport, or other essential or emergency services;
  • any act prejudicial to national security or public safety;
  • commission of an act of terrorism in foreign state; and
  • unlawful possession of materials for promoting terrorism, such as audio or video tapes or written or electronic literature. (Id.)

Freezing of Accounts/Seizure of Funds and Property

One of the most notable provisions of the legislation would give the Inspector General of Police (IGP) broad powers to freeze or seize assets he deems linked to terrorism. It authorizes the IGP to order any financial institution to freeze any account it holds if he “has reason to believe” that the account contains funds “reasonably linked or intended for terrorism activities.” (Id. § 4.) If the funds or property in question are not held in a financial institution, the IGP is authorized to seize them. (Id.)

However, this authority is subject to judicial oversight. Once the IGP issues a directive ordering a financial institution to freeze suspected funds or seizes funds or property, he must refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), who is required to seek court approval of the directive or seizure within 48 hours of issuance of the directive or of the seizure. (Id.) On the application of the DPP, the court may, if satisfied that the funds or property do not have ties to terrorist activities, revoke the IGP directive or the seizure of funds or property at any time. (Id.)

Terrorism Financing

In its introductory section, the legislation states that one of its provisions aims to “create the offence of terrorist financing.” (Id., Memorandum.) A provision in the legislation provides for the crime of terrorism financing, stating:

… A person who willingly collects or provides funds, directly or indirectly, by any means, with the intention that such funds will be used, or in the knowledge that such funds are to be used, in full or in part, by a person or a terrorist organization, to carry out a terrorist act, commits an offence. (Id. § 3.)

For this offense, it is immaterial whether the funds were actually used to commit a terrorist act or were linked to a specific terrorist act. A person convicted under this provision is punishable with a sentence of 20 years in prison and/or a fine. (Id.)

However, it appears that this offense already exists under the current Anti-Terrorism Act, which makes terrorism financing, and doing so “knowing or having reason to believe that the support will be applied or used for or in connection with the preparation or commission or instigation of acts of terrorism,” a capital offense. (The Anti-Terrorism Act, 2002, § 8.) Another provision, which is under Part V, “Financial Assistance for Terrorism,” of the Act, criminalizes terrorism financing, including giving, lending, or making “available to any other person, whether for consideration or not, any money or other property.” (Id. § 12.) A conviction for this offense is punishable by a maximum of ten years in prison and/or a fine. (Id. § 16.) The proposed legislation does not appear to repeal these provisions.

Other New Penalties

The legislation would reduce penalties for certain terrorism offenses. The current law makes engaging in or carrying out any act of terrorism a capital offense. (Id. § 7.) Under the proposed legislation, while the same offense would, on conviction, be punishable by death if it results in the death of any person, in all other instances the applicable penalty would be life in prison. (The Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill, § 2.)

In addition, the legislation would introduce an additional form of penalty to all terrorism-related offenses, by authorizing courts to order forfeiture of property or funds used in the commission of a terrorism-related offense whenever they convict a person for the offense. (Id. § 4.) Under the current law, this form of penalty is applicable only to certain offenses, in particular certain acts related to the financing of terrorism. (Anti-Terrorism Act, 2002, § 16.)

Reactions

The legislation drew heavy opposition in Parliament, on grounds both of substance and procedure. The most controversial part of the legislation was the provision according the IGP authority to freeze funds held in financial institutions or seize other funds or property with alleged ties to terrorist activities. (Ismail Musa Ladu, House Passes Anti-Terror Law amid Opposition Protests, DAILY MONITOR (June 20, 2015).) Opposition Members maintained that this authority is excessive and could potentially be used to stifle political opponents. (Id.) Also controversial is the provision defining terrorism, especially the use of broad, unclear language that opposition Members argued needs to be clarified. (Id.)

In addition, Members of the opposition put forth a procedural challenge, arguing that Parliament lacked the necessary quorum to proceed on the legislation, and called for the postponement of the session. (Samuel Kayiwa, Uganda Parliament Passes Contentious Anti-Terrorism Bill, AFRIKA REPORTER (last modified June 19, 2015).) When Rebecca Kadaga, the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, refused to heed their request, the opposition Members staged a walkout. (Id.) They are now said to be in the process of challenging the validity of the legislation before the Constitutional Court. (Id.; Abdallah, supra.)