ARTICLE 19 condemns the attack on the rights of Uganda’s LGBTQI+ communities following the forced closure of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) on 3 August by order of the National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organisations Bureau (the NGO Bureau). The discriminatory ban on SMUG violates LGBTQI+ communities’ rights to freedom of expression, association and non-discrimination guaranteed by the Ugandan Constitution, as well as international human rights standards.
On 5 August 2022, the NGO Bureau released a statement that alleged that SMUG is not registered with the Bureau as set out by sections 29 (1), 31(1) and 31 (2) of the NGO Act 2016. The Bureau also claimed there was no reliable record of the actual physical location of SMUG and that the representatives of SMUG were allegedly reluctant to disclose this information. SMUG’s Executive Director, Frank Mugisha, condemned the move, describing it as a ‘clear witch-hunt rooted in systematic homophobia that is fuelled by anti-gay and anti-gender movements’.
“The constitution of Uganda commits the government to uphold human rights for all without discrimination, including members of the LGBTI community. The authorities should proactively seek ways to resolve the compliance issues, if any, and focus on fostering an enabling environment for SMUG and all civil society actors,” said Mugambi Kiai, Regional Director for ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.
Freedom of association
This is the latest in a series of crackdowns on freedom of expression in the country. In 2021, the NGO Bureau halted the operation of 54 civil society groups, allegedly due to non compliance with the NGO Act 2016. It claimed that 23 organisations were operating with expired permits, 15 failed to file annual returns and audited books of accounts, while 16 were allegedly operating without registering with the NGO Bureau, a claim that some of the suspended NGOs disputed.
ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa calls on the NGO Bureau to register SMUG in line with the NGO Act 2016. Further, the government of Uganda should end the discriminatory ban on the activities of the LGBTQI+ community and facilitate an enabling environment for all civil society actors. The NGO bureau should ensure that all regulations fully respect the right to freedom of association in line with Uganda’s constitution and its international human rights obligations without discrimination on any basis.
For more information please contact Mugambi Kiai at [email protected], Regional Director for ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.
Uganda is ranked 120 out of 161 countries in the 2022 Global Expression Report – ARTICLE 19’s annual review of the state of freedom of expression and the right to information around the world.