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The legal framework for civil society, however, in Uganda is supportive only to the extent that the sphere of civil society activity is politically convenient to the Government. Civil society organizational forms include non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs). The primary regulatory instruments are the Non Governmental Organizations (Amendment) Act 2006 and the NGO Registration Regulations, SI 113-1, 1990. Notably, the definition of NGOs under Article 1 of the NGO Act is narrow and limits available activity areas for NGOs. NGOs engaged in advocacy or public policy activities, for example, are therefore vulnerable to governmental supervisory action. Moreover, the operating scope for NGOs remains subject to governmental discretion.
Uganda’s legal system is based on English common law and African customary law. Customary law governs to the extent it does not contradict the statutory laws, although the 1995 Constitution is the supreme law of the land.
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), trusts, and community based organizations (CBOs)
NGOs - NGO Board; CBOs - Local government.
Barriers to Entry
Registration is mandatory, with penalties for conducting activities through unregistered organizations. NGOs are subject to burdensome registration procedures, including recommendations from governmental representatives. NGOs are subject to annual re-registration. Procedural safeguards during registration are lacking.
Barriers to Activities
NGOs must notify the government prior to making direct contact with people in its area of operation. NGOs must cooperate with local councils and relevant district committees. NGOs are subject to detailed requirements relating to staffing. Involuntary dissolution may be based on vague, subjective grounds.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy
While there are no legal barriers per se, CSOs promoting human rights may be subject to governmental intimidation.
Barriers to International Contact
No legal barriers
Barriers to Resources
All foreign funding must be received in the Bank of Uganda (government bank).
Article 38. Civic rights and activities.
Article 43. General limitation on fundamental and other human rights and freedoms.
Article 50. Enforcement of rights and freedoms by courts.
Article 51. Uganda Human Rights Commission.
Ugandan law also contains “directive principles”, which are non-binding provisions relevant to constitutional interpretation:
National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector
Relevant national laws include the following:
Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives
Several legislative initiatives have been introduced in Uganda.
(1) In March 2012, the Government of Uganda drafted a new bill: the Uganda Communications Regulatory Authority Bill, 2012. In seeking to harmonize media-related laws, the new bill would further tighten license procedures for radio and television and prohibit any broadcasting that infringes on the privacy of any individuals or that contains false information. The bill envisions a new regulatory body under the supervision of the Minister for Information and Communications Technology. If enacted in its current form, the bill could undermine the work of human rights CSOs, particularly those engaged in advocacy of civil and political rights. Read more in the Monitor Newspaper.
(2) On February 7, 2012, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (2009) was reintroduced to the Parliament of Uganda. Human rights groups claim that if enacted, the legislation would violate the human rights of all Ugandans. The Bill has been referred to the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee for scrutiny. It is understood that the Bill was re-tabled in its original form but that amendments recommended by the Committee last year will be incorporated. The Bill contains harsh provisions which would seriously restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and would threaten the ability of some human rights organizations to continue operating. As evidence of this point, on February 14, the Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, Hon. Rev. Fr. Lokodo Simon ordered the shutdown of a capacity-building workshop organized by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) human rights defenders in Entebbe. At the same time, however, the Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity stated on February 8, that the Bill "does not enjoy the support of the Prime Minister or the Cabinet."
(3) The Government of Uganda tabled the Public Order Management Bill, 2011 in Parliament in October 2011, amidst criticism from rights defenders. The implications of the bill were considered in detail by the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) in 2010 in a newspaper article that can be accessed here. On December 7, 2011, FHRI made submissions before the Committee on Parliamentary and Legal Affairs on the Bill. The Inter-Religious Council also appeared before the Committee and called for the withdrawal of the Bill in its entirety, arguing that the existing law is sufficient to address public order. The Uganda Law Society (ULS) expressed concern that the Bill places too “much emphasis on the prevention of public meetings by limiting constitutionally mandated freedoms critical for a democratic society,” and recommended that the Bill should be aligned with international standards. The donor community and foreign missions in Uganda wrote an open letter to the government warning that some parts of the Bill do not comply with international norms. The head of the UN office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Uganda warned against the enactment of the Bill in its current form. The second reading of the Bill before Parliament is pending.
(4) In addition, the proposed Press and Journalist (Amendment) Bill, 2010 remains pending. The Press Bill contains proposed amendments to the Press and Journalist Act 2001, which is the law that governs media practice. The proposed Bill has been criticized as being overly punitive in nature. For example, the Bill reportedly contains wide-ranging and ill-defined powers enabling the authorities to revoke the license of a media organization if it publishes material deemed to be "prejudicial to national security, stability and unity," or which is "injurious to Ugandan relations with new neighbors or friendly countries;" causes "economic sabotage" or breaches any of the conditions imposed by the license."
(5) The Institution of Traditional or Cultural Leaders Bill, 2010, which was tabled in Parliament early in 2011, reportedly threatens the inherent rights to speech, association, movement and right to participate in the governance of cultural or traditional leaders. The Bill has raised criticism among civil society, religious leaders and traditional institutions.
(6) Following the adoption of the National NGO Policy in October 2010, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, through the national NGO Board, is reviewing the NGO Act. To that end, the NGO Board called for proposals relating to amendments to the NGO Act from NGO stakeholders and the general public. The amendments are intended to align the Act and Policy. Initial reform proposals were due on July 15, 2011. Among the proposals submitted by NGOs were the following:
(7) In addition, there are unconfirmed reports that the government is drafting new laws that mandate Members of Parliament (MPs) belonging to the ruling party (National Resistance Movement) to support party official positions in Parliament. The measure comes after several party members challenged the government’s policies in recent debates.
Ugandan law makes provision for the establishment of a variety of civil society organizations. The CSOs that can be formed include:
Nongovernmental Organisations (NGOs)
NGOs are governed by the NGO Registration Act of 1989 which was amended by the NGO Registration Amendment Act 2006. The NGO Registration Act 1989 defines an “organization” as “a nongovernmental organization established to provide voluntary services, including religious, education, literary, scientific, social or charitable services, to the community or any part of it.” (NGO Registration Act, section 1(d)). Examples of NGOs include umbrella NGOs, intermediary organizations, specialist organizations, and local, national and international NGOs.
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. CBOs are registered through notification to area Local Councils (LC 1 and LC 3) for official recognition or with the District administration (section 7 (e) (2) of the NGO Registration Amendment Act).
Public Benefit Status
The NGO Registration Act defines as covered “organizations” those providing “…charitable services to the community or any part of it” (NGO Registration Act, section 1(d)). The Act, however, does not define the term “charitable services.” Nor does the Trustees Incorporation Act define “charitable purpose” as the term is used in the section on establishing a trust.
Notably, however, 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
Ugandan law does not permit individuals to act collectively through unregistered groups or organizations (Section 2 (1) of the NGO Registration Act 1989, Section 4 of the NGO Registration Amendment Act 2006, Regulation 3 of the NGO Registration Regulations 2009). Regulation 18 of the NGO Registration Regulations 2009 requires CBOs to register with the district local government. Upon registration, the district local government shall issue a certificate of registration specifying the area of operation of the organization and the activities the organization is authorized to operate (Regulation 18 (3) of the NGO Registration Regulations 2009). There are penalties for carrying out activities through unregistered organizations (section 4 of the NGO Registration Act 1989, Section 4 (b) of the NGO Registration Amendment Act 2006, Regulation 8 (3) of the NGO Registration Regulations 2009).
Burdensome registration procedures
NGOs must submit a registration application to the NGO Board. Applications must be accompanied by specification of the area of intended operation, organizational chart, two copies of the organization’s constitution, valid reservation of its name by the Registrar of Companies, a work plan and budget for one year, recommendations by two sureties and the Chairperson of the Local Government Executive committee of the sub-county council and the Resident District Commissioner.
In the case of a foreign organization, a recommendation is required from the diplomatic mission in Uganda of the country from which the organization originates.
The NGO Board shall issue a permit to the organization at the time of registration; the permit shall be issued in the 1st instance for a period of 12 months. NGOs must seek re-registration on an annual basis. NGOs are also required to pay the registration fee upon application for a renewal of a permit.
Lack of Procedural Safeguards
Barriers to Operational Activity
Restrictions on purposes and activities
Ugandan law sets restrictions on the purposes and activities of CSOs. Regulation 13 of NGO Registration Regulation, 2009 provides that an organization must, in carrying out its operations, comply with the following:
Regulation 14 of the NGO Registration Regulations 2009 provides that an organization shall comply with certain staffing regulations. Thus it is a requirement for every organization to submit to the NGO Board a chart showing its structure and staffing, particularly specifying: foreign workforce requirements; requirements of the Ugandan counterparts of foreign employees; planned period to replace foreign employees with qualified Ugandans and must comply with the labor laws of Uganda.
Termination and dissolution
Involuntary dissolution may result by order of the NGO Board in a variety of circumstances, including where, “in the opinion of the Board it is in public interest to do so” or “for any other reason the Board considers necessary in the public interest.” Such vague and overbroad grounds invite government overreaching. Recently, NGOs working in Northern Uganda were ordered to account for donor funds or risk being de-registered for failure to do so. They were given two months to report.
Barriers to Speech / Advocacy
CSOs in Uganda are not prohibited from criticizing the government and advocating for human rights and democracy. Article 29 of the Constitution guarantees every person the right to freedom of speech and expression; CSOs wishing to speak out and engage in advocacy rely on this constitutional protection. Even though there are no express legal restrictions on CSO engagement in advocacy activities, the Government often intimidates CSOs that seek to promote human rights and democracy.
CSOs in Uganda are allowed to participate in peaceful activities to influence the policies of government (Article 38 (2) of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda). And although there are no set rules governing the engagement of CSOs in legislative making, CSOs in practice do engage in legislative activities. For instance, once a bill is tabled in Parliament, various stakeholders, including CSOs, are invited to share their views through consultative meetings, workshops and other means.
However, CSOs under the law are not allowed to engage in political activities or belong to any political group. As such they cannot directly or indirectly support a political candidate for elected office. But 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.
Most recently, the Ugandan Parliament enacted the Regulation of Interception of Communication Bill. The new law will allow the Government to intercept any postal, telephone, email and text message communications. However, that interception is only possible with the consent of a Judge of the High Court and not the Minister in Charge of Security as Government had earlier proposed. It is unclear at this time how the new law will impact on civil society.