September 1, 2015 at 9:19 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Ugandan lawmakers debate bill to regulate non-governmental groups

Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Ugandan lawmakers on Sept. 1, 2015, debated a bill that seeks to regulate non-governmental organizations that operate in the country. (Image public domain)

Ugandan lawmakers on Tuesday debated a bill that LGBT rights activists contend would further hinder their advocacy efforts in the country.

The Non-Governmental Organizations Bill of 2015 that Parliamentarian Aronda Nyakairima introduced earlier this year would establish what it describes as “an administrative and regulatory framework within which organizations can conduct their affairs.”

The measure seeks to create a board through which organizations would have to register.

A copy of the bill that the Washington Blade obtained indicates this body would also have the authority to “summon and discipline organizations” and take actions against them that includes the suspension of their permits to operate in the country and “black listing.”

The bill would also prevent an organization from carrying “out activities in any part of the country,” unless it has received approval from local authorities. The measure would also ban groups from engaging “in any act which is prejudicial to the security and laws of Uganda” and “to the interests of Uganda and the dignity of the people of Uganda.”

Consensual same-sex sexual activity remains criminalized in Uganda.

Clare Byarugaba of Chapter Four Uganda, a Ugandan advocacy group, noted to the Blade on Tuesday in an email that it is “already impossible” for LGBT groups to register with the government. She further pointed out those organizations that “openly support the rights of LGBT people always face problems” when they try to re-register with the authorities.

“I am worried that the NGO bill shall further limit our freedom of association and expression,” Byarugaba told the Blade in an email. “This law, if passed, will ultimately mean institutionalization of discrimination towards LGBT organizing in Uganda.”

Jeffrey Smith of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights told the Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview from D.C. that he feels the measure is “another way to reintroduce means with which to stop the activities of LGBT groups in the country, given the fact the previous efforts have failed.”

President Yoweri Museveni in February 2014 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act under which those convicted of repeated same-sex sexual acts faced life in prison. The Constitutional Court of Uganda last summer struck down the statute on a technicality, but not before the U.S. cut aid to the country and imposed a travel ban against Ugandan officials responsible for anti-LGBT and other human rights abuses.

“Certainly we’d be concerned about any proposed legislation that would further limit gay rights in Uganda or put LGBT populations under any duress,” State Department spokesperson Mark Toner told the Blade on Tuesday during his daily press briefing.

Parliamentarians are expected to once again debate the measure on Thursday.

Smith told the Blade there was “pretty fierce disagreement” among the lawmakers over the board that would oversee non-governmental organizations.

“It was good to see some opposition to that,” he said. “It’s not getting rammed down their throats.”

Tuesday’s debate took place less than two months after Randy Berry, the special U.S. envoy to promote global LGBT rights, visited Uganda.

Museveni has begun to formally seek his party’s nomination to run for a fourth term in next year’s presidential election. The Ugandan president, who has been in office since 1986, is facing mounting opposition to his rule from within the country.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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