HRW Joins Battle Between Government, NGOs


there geneva; font-size: small;”>This could be the epitome of a bitter fight between government and the nongovernmental organizations which are accused of publishing false reports that damage the country’s reputation, ambulance promoting homosexuality and funding plans to oust Museveni.

site geneva;”>In the 12-page report, HRW alleges that civil activists are witch hunted simply because they criticize government.

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“If your research raises a flag about people in power in this country, and how they are getting money out of this country, you are at serious risk. If you preach human rights, you are anti-development, an economic saboteur. You are not going to talk about land, oil, and good governance. This is just the beginning, but the tensions have been accumulating,” the report reads in part.

Government publicist Mary Karooro Okurut was not readily available for comment.

According to HRW, in the last two years government officials at both the national and local levels have deployed an array of tactics to intimidate and obstruct the work of NGOs in certain sectors.

The group adds that the methods used range from closing meetings, reprimanding NGOs for their work, and demanding retractions or apologies, as well as occasional resort to threats, harassment, physical violence and heavy-handed bureaucratic interference to impede the registration and operations of NGOs.

“Of recent, the increasing use of these tactics is obstructing the work and impact of NGOs and, more broadly, obstructs Ugandans’ rights to free expression, association, and assembly,” HRW notes.

The human rights group says in the wake of the 2011 elections that returned President

Yoweri Kaguta Museveni to office, the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) is already looking ahead to elections in 2016.

“In office since 1986, President Museveni is widely believed to be gearing up for yet another term. Political tensions are running high and public criticism of government has escalated since the elections,” reads part of the report.

“To better control this environment the ruling party’s high ranking government officials are increasingly scrutinizing nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the impact they have on public perceptions of governance and state management of public funds.”

The group maintains civil society actors working on governance, human rights, land, oil, and other sensitive issues are the main targets of these attacks, apparently because they are viewed as threatening to undermine the regime’s political and financial interests.

“At the same time the government’s hostility to, and harassment of, Uganda’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and its leadership continues unabated. Government officials demonizing homosexuality are targeting a vulnerable community and deliberately misinforming the public, stirring hatred and diverting foreign donor attention from deeply-rooted governance problems and growing domestic frustration with President Museveni and his party’s patronage politics.”

Drawing on in-depth interviews with 41 NGO actors, says HRW, government officials, and donors in Kampala, Uganda, this report documents a range of government threats and attacks on NGO meetings, research, and advocacy, and illustrates the ways in which those actions inhibit NGO operating space and lead to self-censorship among civil society members.

Uganda’s constitution contains strong provisions on freedom of expression and association, and further guarantees the right to engage in peaceful activities to influence government policies through civic organizations.

“Despite such provisions, and international and regional treaties to which Uganda is party, the regulatory framework for the non-profit sector, which is overseen by the government’s NGO Board, fails to create an enabling environment for all NGOs to work,” HRW notes.

According to HRW, in the current structure NGO regulation, under the auspices of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, is treated as a possible national security threat, with officials from the intelligence community legally mandated to monitor NGO work.

“Current regulations applicable to NGOs are incompatible with constitutional and international protections of fundamental rights, and include provisions that both obstruct and confuse NGOs seeking to be in compliance with the law and leave them no opportunity to appeal unlawful or arbitrary decisions via the courts,” reads the HRW report.

OVERTHROWING GOVERNMENT investigations indicate that government has of late been uncomfortable with NGOs for facilitating programmes aimed at overthrowing President Museveni.

At a recent national security meeting at the police headquarters in Kampala, top government officials discussed intelligence reports that linked top NGOs to insurrection activities especially the recent violent walk to work demonstrations and the 2009 Buganda riots that rocked the nation.

Internal Affairs Minister recently said threatened to deregister non-governmental organisations involved in what he called “negative political activism” and undermining the government.

“This is a critical moment and NGOs that are portraying us as those dictatorial regimes of Amin are going to be weeded out,” said Onek.

“They want to destabilize the country because that is what they are paid to do. Those that are engaged in activities for which they were not registered are in trouble. They are busy stabbing the government in its back yet they are supposed to do humanitarian work,” Onek was quoted by the Uganda media as saying.


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