Civic space in Uganda, like in many other parts of the world, continues to close as governments adopt outright repressive laws and practices and insidious approaches designed to make it difficult for groups to exercise their association freedoms. For example, offices of five organizations were raided and searched by the Uganda police in 2017. Various properties were confiscated and their activities were interrupted. The bank accounts of at least two organizations were frozen, affecting their operations.
There have also been weighty changes in the legal regime governing civil society organizations in the country. Recent laws such as the Non-Governmental Organizations Act 2016, the Anti-Money Laundering Act, and the implementation of the Public Order Management Act continue to be used to unjustifiably limit the right to the freedoms of association, expression, and assembly. These developments have resulted in a number of legal obligations which NGOs, CBOs, and other civil society groups are expected to comply with to avoid running afoul of the law, intentionally or unintentionally.
To increase civil society awareness of the changes in the legal terrain, Ngetha Media Association for Peace has partnered with Chapter Four Uganda to engage and train partner organizations at various levels in the Albertine region of Uganda.
Peter of Chapter Four Uganda Demonstrating to participants the different NGO’s legal documents
Further, a number of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) continue to face risks and threats due to the nature of the work they are engaged in. The patterns of human rights violations include threats arbitrary arrests and detention, torture, cruel and inhuman, or degrading treatment, organizational break-ins among other threats.
These not only make HRD work risky, but they also disrupt the work of HRDs hence affecting their ability to provide much-needed services to the communities. HRDs at individual and organizational levels need to take steps to ensure their own safety and security. Such safety and security need to cover a wide range of areas that form part of the environment that is presented as threats. For example, in recent times compliance or noncompliance to legal issues has tended to be a source of threats mainly fear of closure, arrest, and fines.
To navigate through the different threats and sources, HRDs need to be equipped with all manner of safety systems ranging from legal compliance, personal and organizational policies, and security among others. HRDs have to grasp key safety and security issues and keep adjusting their approaches to overcome the different threats that they face.
To this end, NGETHA Media Association for Peace together with Chapter Four Uganda conducted a capacity building training and follow-ups on legal compliance and organizational safety. Capacity building will involve a 2-day training and follow up on key legal and safety issues for different indigenous organizations in the Albertine region.
The objectives of the engagement were to build the capacity of participants on key legal issues and share information steps that organizations may need to take to ensure legal compliance.
To build capacity and share experiences on physical security at organizational and individual levels with the aim of improving HRD safety and security.
The training was organized specially for the engagement with NGETHA Media Association for Peace partners. The association identified the partners to attend the capacity building activity depending on their needs assessment. Overall, the key target was the heads of institutions and accountants.
The training and follow up were conducted by the staff of Chapter Four Uganda. NGETHA Media Association for Peace as the main convener provided guidance and logistic support during the training. The trainers from Chapter Four Uganda were also available for follow-up by the different participants who requested for further one-on-one support in areas that may need technical support.
Challenges faced by HRDs in executing their work as mentioned by participants during the workshop.
- One participant from Buliisa district said; “The government thinks we are fighting with them and we cannot convene meetings in the communities within the region. Police do not allow us to interact with the project affected persons.
- Participant from Child Empowerment and Development Organisation CEDO in Masindi claimed about child protection challenges in areas where the perpetrators have lead persons at the district level like an incident where a girl’s rights were violated although the perpetrator was well connected. “We can’t work independently, we need coming together to bolster our synergies. We are working in isolation”.
- “In Buliisa, the police want us to ask for permission in order to conduct any kind of meetings due to the public order management act but even if we write to them, they do not respond to us”. Said, one participant.
- The issue of police bond. It is not supposed to be paid for but the police always ask for payments in order to award a bond to someone.
- One participant working from the oil region said; “Oil companies hinder the free flow of information. For instance, when they organize for meetings with local communities, they only select uninformed persons who do not have really important information to attend such meetings”.
- Unpredictable legislation and legal regimes in Uganda. The government only chooses laws that favor them which are unknown to most of the HRDs. The legal regime is so challenging to HRDs in that they need to enroll for courses that can help them better understand and work within such regimes to close the knowledge gap that exists.
- In most cases, key known HRDs in the community is most likely to be denied many opportunities especially professional work and government placements just because of their activism.
The full report can be accessed here
Photos report can be accessed here