• ‘It is for civil society to step in and fill the void on human rights and good governance issues’

    Ahead of the publication of the 2018 State of Civil Society Report on the theme of ‘reimagining democracy’, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic governance, and the challenges they encounter in doing so. CIVICUS speaks to Dr Fred Sekindi, Director of Research, Advocacy and Lobbying at the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) based in Kampala, Uganda. Established in 1991, FHRI isan independent, non-governmental, non-partisan and not-for-profit human rights organisation seeking to remove impediments to democratic development and the meaningful enjoyment of fundamental freedoms through research, monitoring, legislative advocacy, strategic partnerships and the dissemination of information and best practices through training and education.

    1. How would you describe the state of democracy in Uganda? Has the practice of democracy in the country changed over the past couple of years?

    In the past few years, the incumbent government has demonstrated its resolve to hold on to power at all cost. In this quest to hold to power, ideals of democracy have increasingly been under threat. President Yoweri Museveni has been in power for over 30 years and has been declared triumphant in the six presidential elections that have been conducted since the 1995 Constitution was promulgated, amidst widespread discontent with electoral laws. Elections by themselves are not a symbol of democracy, particularly if electoral laws are not able to translate the will of the people into true democratic choice. A recently introduced and very unpopular proposal to amend the 1995 Constitution to remove age restrictions on the presidency, and the brutal force employed by state security forces against dissenters, also illustrate the state of democratic decay of Uganda. Civil society organisations (CSOs) that have criticised the proposal to amend the Constitution have had their accounts frozen and some have been threatened with closure. The government has resorted to draconian laws such as the 2013 Public Management Order Act, which prohibits public gatherings without the approval of the Inspector General of Police, to prevent public gatherings and demonstrations against the proposed constitutional amendments. Over the past few years, Uganda has also witnessed an escalation in the harassment and unlawful detention of political opponents of the government and political and human rights activists.

    1. In this context, is civil society able to contribute to democratic governance in Uganda?

    CSOs working in the area of service delivery continue to operate without any notable hindrances from the government, while those working on land rights, democracy, governance, anti-corruption and transparency continue to face an uphill task.

    The controversial Non-Government Organisations Act, enacted in 2016, has increased government supervision and control over CSOs. The Act creates an obligation for CSOs not to engage in any act that is prejudicial to the security and laws of Uganda and that is not in the interest of Ugandans. It further establishes an NGO Bureau with powers to revoke the licences of offending CSOs. Any CSO that engages in such loosely defined acts is liable to deregistration. Augmented by the Public Order Management Act, the Non-Government Organisation Act further restricts civic space - the space for civil society - for CSOs working in the areas of democracy, good governance, anti-corruption and transparency. This has come during a period of increasing impunity of state officials and when the government has embarked on unpopular constitutional amendments.

    CSOs, especially those engaged in the fields of democracy and governance, are perceived by the government as political and partisan, and as agents of western governments, since their roles include monitoring government policies and actions and holding government officials accountable to the public.

    In October 2017, the police raided a number of CSO offices and seized their computers and documents. The central bank froze these CSOs’ bank accounts, as well as the personal accounts of their directors. These raids were soon followed by orders from the NGO Bureau for CSOs to submit their bank account statements for the past 10 years. The police claimed that they were investigating allegations of money laundering.

    Thus CSOs in Uganda continue to struggle to contribute to democratic governance in a very hostile environment shaped by a draconian regulatory framework and systematic practices of intimidation and self-censorship.

    As a result of the government’s failure to ensure the fundamental rights of the people, CSOs have stepped in to fill this gap. The increasing popularity of CSOs among the populace, more so in a time of political upheaval when Ugandans need a sense of direction and strong leadership, lays a fertile ground for antagonism between the government on one hand, and CSOs and the citizenry on the other.

    1. What impact are the restrictions imposed on the exercise of fundamental freedoms having on civil society activities?

    A Private Members’ Bill introduced by a ruling party parliamentarian to remove age restrictions on the presidency was tabled in Parliament in September 2017. This bill seeks to allow the incumbent President Museveni to run for additional terms in office.

    Coincidentally, the police raided the offices of ActionAid and the Great Lakes Initiative for Strategic Studies in Kampala, and Solidarity Uganda in the Northern city of Lira, on 21 September 2017, as part of its campaign to clamp down on CSOs that, in their opinion, are working against the removal of the age limit.

    As a result of the recent wave of government intimidations and restrictive legal framework, CSOs are operating in a very uncertain environment. To continue working in this hostile environment, some CSOs have resorted to self-censorship, in order to avoid deregistration. This, however, poses the risk of these CSOs becoming irrelevant, as they are not engaging with the issues that concern the citizenry the most. The other challenge is that, in an environment in which the observance of fundamental freedoms is increasingly neglected by the government, restrictions imposed on the exercise of fundamental rights are likely to carry on unabated.

    The police raids have also had another two-pronged effect on CSOs: on one hand, the police seeks to deter the organisations from carrying out any activities that could prevent the incumbent president from achieving his ambition of a life presidency, by portraying them as working against the ‘public interest’ or the ‘security of the state’; on the other, it aims at tarnishing CSOs’ reputation and dissuading their donors from continuing to financially support their work.

    The police has continued to use the Police Act and the Public Order Management Order Act to stifle the freedoms of peaceful assembly, expression and association, and to arrest and detain persons unlawfully. The Police Act authorises the use of ‘preventive detention’ for the protection of the detainee and to starve off the spread of communicable disease. This power has been misused to arrest human rights activists and political opponents arbitrarily and to prevent political activities and demonstrations from taking place. In turn, the Public Order Management Act requires the organiser of a public procession to submit a ‘notice of intention to carry out a public meeting’ to the police. Spontaneous meetings are exempted from the notice. However, the police has repeatedly dispersed spontaneous meetings, prevented meetings arranged by opposition parties, CSOs and political activists, and arrested demonstrators.

    In sum, the government continues to employ bully tactics to harass dissenters. CSOs, opposition political activists and journalists are the main victims of these attacks.

    1. What support or solidarity can international civil society offer to you in these times?

    Uganda is at a crossroads. The quest by the incumbent to hold on to power poses a risk to the relative peace the country has witnessed over the past 30 years and renders the country vulnerable to a return to the old unviable struggles for political power. The determination to hold on to power at all costs has coincided with an increase in state abuses of fundamental rights. It is within this environment that CSOs in Uganda operate. To fill the void in the promotion and protection of human rights, and to provide a sense of direction and leadership to the populace, CSOs must situate their work within the current political and human rights context.

    Thus, technical and financial support from international civil society to CSOs in Uganda will be crucial in steering Uganda towards democratic governance. International partners may also lobby the Ugandan government on issues of good governance and human rights as another method of exerting influence. International CSOs could also create a fund for protecting and evacuating human rights defenders in emergency cases.

    Most importantly, international CSOs have a role in supporting local CSOs in their work to build civic competences among the citizenry as well as to safeguard fundamental rights.  In times when the government’s priority is the incumbent’s survival in power, issues of good governance and observance of fundamental rights have been neglected. It is for CSOs to step in and fill this void. This task would be impossible to achieve without the support of international partners.

    • Civic space in Uganda is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    • Get in touch with the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative through theirwebsite, or follow@FHRI2 on Twitter.
  • Addressing Civic Space Restrictions in Uganda: What Role for the UPR?

    This policy action brief, prepared by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), examines a range of restrictions on civil society’s fundamental rights recently experienced in Uganda. In particular, these have included a series of break-ins on the premises of civil society organisations (CSOs), in which CSO information has been stolen; attacks on the media, which have included physical attacks on journalists and the closure of private radio stations; the introduction of restrictive legislation, including on CSO operations, the media and the freedom of assembly; and increased restriction of peaceful assemblies, including through the use of excessive force to break up protests.

  • Alert: Is the Ugandan administration "doing an Ethiopia"? CIVICUS concerned as Uganda replicates Ethiopia's authoritarian approach in the run up to the elections

    Johannesburg. 12 May 2010. In the run up to the 2011 general elections, the legal and political environment for civil society in Uganda is rapidly deteriorating, and beginning to follow the trajectory of Ethiopia facing elections later this month.

    As the 23 May elections in Ethiopia near, the administration has virtually left no stone unturned to silence the local media and civil society groups. To curtail the ability of civil society to effectively monitor the present elections, the Ethiopian authorities have over the past two years introduced a raft of restrictive measures, many of which are being replicated by the Ugandan authorities.

  • Another puzzling break-in prompts Uganda CSO to move operations to police station

    CIVICUS speaks to Human Rights Awareness and Protection Forum (HRAPF) executive directorAdrian Jjuuko (pictured) after their offices were broken into recently. He also speaks on the situation of human rights defenders and civil society in general in Uganda.

  • As NGOs speak out, expect clampdowns to grow

    By David Kode

    Across the globe, from East Africa to eastern Europe, there is a trend of increasing attacks on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that support reforms governments are opposed to.

    Read on: Open Global Rights


  • As the climate crisis intensifies, so does the crackdown on environmental activism, finds new report

    New research brief from the CIVICUS Monitor examines the crackdown of environmental activism and profiles important victories civil society has scored in the fight for climate justice.

    • Environmental protests are being criminalised and met with repression on all continents
    • State authorities and private companies are common perpetrators of violations to civic freedoms
    • Despite the risks and restrictions, activist groups continue to score important victories to advance climate justice.

    As world leaders meet in Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Negotiations (COP26), peaceful environmental activists are being threatened, silenced and criminalised around the world. The host of this year's meeting is one of many countries where activists are regularly facing rights violations.

    New research from the CIVICUS Monitor looks at the common tactics and restrictions being used by governments and private companies to suppress environmental movements. The research brief “Defenders of our planet: Resilience in the face of restrictions” focuses on three worrying trends: Bans and restrictions on protests; Judicial harassment and legal persecution; and the use of violence, including targeted killings.

    As the climate crisis intensifies, activists and civil society groups continue to mobilise to hold policymakers and corporate leaders to account. From Brazil to South Africa, activists are putting their lives on the line to protect lands and to halt the activities of high-polluting industries. The most severe rights abuses are often experienced by civil society groups that are standing up to the logging, mining and energy giants who are exploiting natural resources and fueling global warming.

    As people take to the streets, governments have been instituting bans that criminalise environmental protests. Recently governments have used COVID-19 as a pretext to disrupt and break up demonstrations. Data from the CIVICUS Monitor indicates that the detention of protesters and the use of excessive force by authorities are becoming more prevalent.

    In Cambodia in May 2021, three environmental defenders were sentenced to 18 to 20 months in prison for planning a protest  against the filling of a lake in the capital. While in Finland this past June, over 100 activists were arrested for participating in a protest calling for the government to take urgent action on climate change. From authoritarian countries to  mature democracies, the research also profiles those who have been put behind bars for peacefully protesting.

    “Silencing activists and denying them of their fundamental civic rights is another tactic being used by leaders to evade and delay action on climate change” said Marianna Belalba Barreto, Research Lead for the CIVICUS Monitor. “Criminalising nonviolent protests has become a troubling indicator that governments are not committed to saving the planet .”

    The report shows that many of the measures being deployed by governments to restrict rights are not compatible with international law. Examples of courts and legislative bodies reversing attempts to criminalise nonviolent climate protests are few and far between.

    Despite the increased risks and restrictions facing environmental campaigners, the report also shows that a wide range of campaigns have scored important victories, including the closure of mines and numerous hazardous construction projects. Equally significant has been the rise of climate litigation by activist groups. Ironically, as authorities take activists to court for exercising their fundamental right to protest, activist groups have successfully filed lawsuits against governments and companies in over 25 countries for failing to act on climate change.


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  • CIVICUS concerned as Uganda replicates Ethiopia's authoritarian approach in the run up to the elections
    Johannesburg. 12 May 2010. In the run up to the 2011 general elections, the legal and political environment for civil society in Uganda is rapidly deteriorating, and beginning to follow the trajectory of Ethiopia facing elections later this month.



    As the 23 May elections in Ethiopia near, the administration has virtually left no stone unturned to silence the local media and civil society groups. To curtail the ability of civil society to effectively monitor the present elections, the Ethiopian authorities have over the past two years introduced a raft of restrictive measures, many of which are being replicated by the Ugandan authorities.

  • CIVICUS condemns the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill

    17 November 2009. Johannesburg, South Africa. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation condemns the introduction of the Anti Homosexuality Bill 2009 in the Uganda Parliament on 14 October 2009. The Bill contains derogatory references to members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) community as well as sexual rights activists -- whom it accuses of “seeking to impose their values of sexual promiscuity on the people of Uganda.”

    “The Bill flagrantly violates personal freedom and the guarantee of non-discrimination enshrined under international human rights law,” said Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS. “It is deeply disturbing that such a Bill that seeks to breach the country’s existing human rights commitments has been introduced in the Ugandan Parliament.”

  • CIVICUS stands with indigenous peoples and calls for a new social contract

    Global civil society society alliance, CIVICUS, stands in solidarity with  indigenous peoples in celebrating the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples on 9 August, which this year is calling for a new social contract that puts the voices, needs and concerns of indigenous peoples at the forefront. 

    Since 1994, the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples marks an opportunity to celebrate Indigenous Peoples, and provide an opportunity to raise awareness on critical issues relevant to indigenous peoples.

    Across the world, indigenous peoples marginalised and excluded by governments from participating in public affairs. They routinely face evictions from their lands without compensation, and are currently impacted by the harshest consequences of climate change. Moreover, human rights defenders seeking to protect and promote the human rights of indigenous peoples continue to be killed, intimidated, and harassed for defending their indigenous land and natural resources, and for advocating for the rights of indigenous communities.  

    On 20 April 2021, Liliana Pena Chocue was killed by unidentified individuals in Colombia. In February 2021, two other indigenous rights defenders. Yenes Ríos Bonsano and Herasmo García Grau were killed in Peru. All three were members of Indigenous patrol and forest control groups.

    Across the world, indigenous peoples communities have had their lands appropriated for development projects without their consent. These include the Himba community in Namibia, Biafra Indigenous People of Nigeria, Basarwa in Botswana, Benet and Batwa in Uganda, Ogiek and Endorois in Kenya, to name just a few. 

    The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples gives indigenous peoples the right “to maintain, protect and have access to their ancestral lands, religious and cultural sites. 

    CIVICUS stands in solidarity with indigenous communities across the world that continue to experience human rights violations from state and non-state actors. In this regard CIVICUS supports the demands of Sengwer indigenous people of Kenya to regain their ancestral lands at Embobut. CIVICUS stands with Batwa indigenous peoples in the Great Lakes region, the Baka and Bagyelis in Cameroon who remain vulnerable, marginalised, and landless with no compensation following the eviction from their ancestral lands by their governments.

    “In this period of the United Nations 2030 Agenda, focusing on Sustainable Development, and specifically, its pledge of “leave no one behind”, every stakeholder must ensure that indigenous peoples are not left behind in every process of development, including promoting and protecting their rights, if SDGs are to be effectively achieved,” said Paul Mulindwa CIVICUS’ Advocacy and Campaign’s Lead for Africa.

    As we celebrate the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, CIVICUS calls on state and non-state actors to 

    1. Carry out independent investigations into the killings of all indigenous rights activists this year and hold the culprits to account. 
    2. Ensure that the rights and identities of indigenous peoples are recognised and respected at all times 
    3. Ensure that the benefits from commercial or development projects done in their ancestral lands are shared with affected communities 
    4. Empower indigenous peoples and their future generations to break the social, legal, political, and economic barriers that have kept their communities from the benefits of development and transformation taking place in Africa
    5. Guarantee effective consultations with Indigenous Peoples to obtain their free, prior and informed consent for decisions that affect them.
    6. Ensure effective participation and inclusion of indigenous peoples in public spheres.
    7. Promote and protect the land rights of indigenous peoples by ensuring clear land tenure systems that promotes communal ownership.
  • Civil Society “Contested and Under Pressure”, says new report

    Read this press release in Arabic, French, Portuguese and Spanish

    Civil society around the globe is “contested and under pressure” according to a 22-country research findings report released by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL). The report, Contested and Under Pressure: A Snapshot of the Enabling Environment of Civil Society in 22 Countries, brings together insights from Enabling Environment National Assessments (EENA) conducted around the world between 2013 and 2016.

  • COP26: ‘A key priority is to address vulnerability at the community level’

    Mubiru HuzaifahIn the run-up to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), which will take place in Glasgow, UK between 31 October and 12 November 2021, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the environmental challenges they face in their contexts, the actions they are undertaking to tackle them and their expectations for the upcoming summit.

    CIVICUS speaks with Mubiru Huzaifah of Uganda’s Ecological Christian Organisation (ECO), a civil society organisation working for sustainable livelihoods for marginalised, under-served and vulnerable groups in Uganda. ECO’s current initiatives focus on natural resource governance, climate change resilience and adaptation, and ecosystems management and restoration.


    What's the key climate issue in your country that you're working on?

    The issue that most worries us is the high vulnerability levels that climate change is causing in human systems. The long-term change of climatic elements from previously accepted means is causing environmental and human systems to change. According to state of environment reports issued by the Ugandan National Environmental Management Authority, the main issues related to the changing climate include industrial pollution, widespread bush burning, the inefficient use of fuel and poorly planned transport networks, all of which result in high emission levels.

    Are there any government initiatives on climate change mitigation?

    There is a mitigation project being implemented under the Ministry of Water and Environment – Farm Income Enhancement and Forest Conservation – which gives out free seedlings to be planted to enhance the absorption capacity of the soil. There is the Sawlog Production Grant Scheme, aimed at increasing the incomes of rural people through commercial tree planting by local communities as well as medium and large-scale businesses, which at the same time helps to mitigate climate change effects through intensive reforestation. There are also several solar projects in the Mayuge, Soroti and Tororo districts, which have increased the country’s solar production, and a wetland project – supported by the Green Climate Fund – supporting wetlands conservation and addressing wetland degradation.

    Other relevant interventions include the implementation of gravity water flow schemes to enable water supply without use of energy sources; the development of highways with water drainage channels and solar lights and congestion-free road networks that will enable the smooth flow of traffic and cut down on emissions from automobiles; and the adoption of electric or emissions-free motorcycles to further reduce emissions from fossil energy sources, which the Ministry of Energy is working on alongside the private sector.

    What kind of work does ECO do on these issues?

    ECO’s work is aimed at enhancing the resilience of communities to the impacts of climate change, strengthening disaster risk reduction, enhancing good governance and management of natural resources, especially in the extractives sector, and promoting ecosystems management and restoration.

    For instance, as part of a project aimed at promoting and supporting community-conserved areas in the Lake Victoria Basin, we have provided support for legal fishing practices, promoted and provided training on sustainable farming promotion and supported good local resource governance practices. Another project is aimed at increasing transparency, social inclusion, accountability and responsiveness among those responsible for mining in the Karamoja region.

    In these and in many other projects we are working on, we always seek drive to change by putting people at risk at the centre and building on local and traditional resources and knowledge. We try to link the humanitarian and development domains by focusing on livelihoods. We work to ensure adaptive planning, trying to link local realities with global processes and integrate disciplines and approaches to encompass different risks. We partner with communities, civil society organisations, government agencies, universities and research institutes, the private sector and the media.

    How do you connect with the broader international climate movement?

    We connect with the global climate movement through the Climate Action Network-Uganda, which encompasses over 200 national CSOs. We currently chair this. This allows us to participate in COP meetings as observers.

    We also participate in the pre-COP consultative meetings organised by the Ugandan government in preparation for international climate change negotiations. In these meetings, we help assess progress in dealing with climate change and complying with our nationally determined contributions.

    We turn our lessons learned into advocacy actions that can be adapted for international climate change forums. Some local problems can feed into the national agenda, be turned into policy actions and go on to influence international policy actions.

    What hopes, if any, do you have for COP26 to make progress on climate change mitigation efforts?

    We hope that COP26 will come up with a new marketing platform for emission trading to replace the Clean Development Mechanism, which allowed countries with an emission-reduction or emission-limitation commitment under the Kyoto Protocol to implement emission-reduction projects in developing countries. We also hope it will result in the commitment of more funds to accelerate the scaling up of renewable energies.

    These international processes are relevant as long as they contribute towards the financing of climate mitigation efforts and produce novel funding strategies, such as the Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Fund, and its pilot programme to foster innovation in adaptation practices in vulnerable countries. Coming from a developing country, I believe that it is critical to increase adaptation funding immediately, since the disruptive impacts of climate change on human systems are already apparent.

    What one change would you like to see – in the world or in your community – to help address the climate crisis?

    A key priority is to address vulnerability at the community level. Our vision is that of a community with enhanced adaptive capacity to address climate change impacts and its subsequent effects. This can be done by increasing access to working technologies and providing mitigation and adaptation funding through community structures.

    Civic space inUgandais rated as ‘repressedby theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Ecological Christian Organisation through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@EcoChristianOrg on Twitter.

  • COP26: ‘In response to pressure from below, COP26 should develop interventions for just climate action’

    In the run-up to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), which will take place in Glasgow, UK between 31 October and 12 November 2021, CIVICUS is interviewing civil society activists, leaders and experts about the environmental challenges they face in their contexts, the actions they are undertaking to tackle them and their expectations for the upcoming summit.

    CIVICUS speaks with Caroline Owashaba, team leader at Action for Youth Development Uganda and volunteer coordinator of the Girls Not Brides Uganda Alliance.

    Caroline Owashaba

    What is the key environmental issue in your country that you are working on?

    A key issue in Uganda is the use of large quantities of single-use plastic bags, which have extreme environmental effects. Plastic bags take many years to decompose; they release toxic substances into the soil and, if burned, into the air; they block drains and may cause flooding; and they kill animals that eat them confusing them for food or that get entangled in them.

    A measure to ban the manufacture, sale and use of plastic bags was passed back in 2018, but manufacturers lobbied hard to get more time before the ban went into effect, and as a result its enforcement has been slow and largely ineffective. So earlier in 2021, the government decided to enforce new measures to that effect, alongside a bigger package of environmental measures. 

    While the government works to enforce the ban on single-use plastic bags, we are working on an initiative to produce alternative, eco-friendly and biodegradable materials. This is quite urgent, because right now, if the ban on plastic bags was actually enforced, the supply of biodegradable packaging options would by no means be enough.

    Action for Youth Development Uganda (ACOYDE) is implementing a project named CHACHA (Children for Alternative Change), which uses banana fibre to produce a variety of useful items, such as door and table mats, pillows, interior decorative items and, of course, bags. The waste generated from the banana fibre extraction and the manufacture of these items is recycled to produce high-quality charcoal briquettes that are used as a heat source by young people and women involved in the project in both their homes and workplaces, reducing consumption of fuel while increasing their household income. 

    The whole community takes part in the production process, because they are the major suppliers of banana stems. And the project enables young people, and especially young women, to earn a living for their families. There are possibilities for its expansion, as the emergence of eco-hotels has created an increased demand for eco-friendly products 

    How do you engage with the broader international climate movement?

    We have engaged with the international movement through regional climate change exchanges such as Africa Climate Change Week and as part of the Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network. We also follow the discussions of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group on adaptation, mitigation and financing.

    It has also worked the other way around: ACOYDE has supported efforts to domesticate the international climate framework and fed into the National Climate Change Bill, which was passed in April 2021. The new bill gave the force of law to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement, to which Uganda is a signatory. We then worked to localise the bill. It is key for it to be effectively implemented at a local level because it will help us overcome the climate change injustices in our communities.

    We also connect with the broader climate movement from a gender perspective. I am personally interested in the intersections between gender and climate change. In previous COPs, I was able to contribute to the Gender Action Plan (GAP) that has guided and influenced issues of women and youth in UNFCCC negotiation processes. I participated in GAP progress discussions on gender balance, coherence, gender-responsive implementation, monitoring, and reporting. I have also been active in the Uganda National Gender Working Group and other national climate change processes to ensure the domestication of global standards of gender and financing consistent with the Paris Agreement, including by reporting on the implementation of the GAP provisions in Uganda.

    What hopes, if any, do you have for COP26?

    COP26 should offer spaces to take gender issues to the global level and provide further opportunities for discussion. It should increase women’s participation, undertake gender mainstreaming and ensure GAPs are implemented. It should help amplify the voices of women in climate change negotiations. Women are doing much of the heavy lifting at the grassroots level, but they get too little in return, not just because too little goes to their pockets but also because they continue to be underrepresented and therefore their voices go unheard.

    International forums such as COP26 should provide spaces for grassroots participation and, in response to those pressures from below, COP26 should develop strong interventions for just climate action that are respectful of human rights, including Indigenous people’s rights and the promotion of gender equality. 

    Civic space inUgandais rated as ‘repressedby theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Action for Youth Development Uganda through itswebsite andFacebook page.

  • COP26: “En respuesta a la presión desde abajo, deben responder con acciones justas por el clima”

    En vísperas de la 26ª Conferencia de las Partes de las Naciones Unidas sobre el Cambio Climático (COP26), que tendrá lugar en Glasgow, Reino Unido, entre el 31 de octubre y el 12 de noviembre de 2021, CIVICUS está entrevistando a activistas, líderes y personas expertas de la sociedad civil acerca de los desafíos medioambientales que enfrentan en sus contextos, las acciones que están llevando a cabo para abordarlos y sus expectativas para la próxima cumbre.

    CIVICUS conversa con Caroline Owashaba, jefa de equipo de Acción por el Desarrollo Juvenil Uganda (Action for Youth Development Uganda) y coordinadora voluntaria de la Alianza Niñas, no novias (Girls Not Brides) en Uganda.

    Caroline Owashaba

    ¿Cuál es el problema medioambiental de su país en el que está trabajando?

    Un problema clave en Uganda es el uso de grandes cantidades de bolsas de plástico de un solo uso, que tienen efectos medioambientales extremos. Las bolsas de plástico tardan muchos años en descomponerse; liberan sustancias tóxicas en el suelo y, cuando son quemadas, en el aire; obstruyen los desagües y pueden provocar inundaciones; y matan a los animales que las comen confundiéndolas con alimento o que se enredan en ellas.

    En 2018 se aprobó una medida para prohibir la fabricación, la venta y el uso de bolsas de plástico, pero los fabricantes presionaron mucho para que les dieran más tiempo hasta la entrada en vigor de la prohibición, y en consecuencia su implementación ha sido lenta y en gran medida ineficaz. Así que, a principios de 2021, el gobierno decidió aplicar nuevas medidas en el mismo sentido, junto con un paquete más amplio de medidas medioambientales.

    Mientras el gobierno trabaja para hacer cumplir la prohibición de las bolsas de plástico de un solo uso, nosotros estamos trabajando en una iniciativa para producir materiales alternativos, ecológicos y biodegradables. Esto es bastante urgente, porque ahora mismo, si la prohibición de las bolsas de plástico realmente se implementara, la oferta de opciones de envases biodegradables no sería en absoluto suficiente.

    Acción por el Desarrollo Juvenil Uganda (ACOYDE, por sus siglas en inglés) está desarrollando un proyecto denominado CHACHA (Niños por el Cambio Alternativo), que utiliza la fibra del plátano para fabricar diversos artículos útiles, tales como felpudos e individuales para mesas, almohadas, artículos de decoración interior y, por supuesto, bolsas. Los residuos generados en la extracción de la fibra del plátano y la fabricación de estos artículos se reciclan para producir briquetas de carbón de alta calidad que los jóvenes y las mujeres que participan en el proyecto utilizan como fuente de calor tanto en sus hogares como en sus lugares de trabajo, reduciendo el consumo de combustible y aumentando al mismo tiempo sus ingresos familiares.

    Toda la comunidad participa en el proceso de producción, porque es la que provee los tallos de plátano. Y el proyecto permite a los jóvenes, y especialmente a las mujeres jóvenes, mantener a sus familias. Tenemos posibilidades de expansión, ya que el surgimiento de hoteles ecológicos ha creado una mayor demanda de productos sustentables.

    ¿Cómo se vinculan con el movimiento internacional por el clima?

    Nos hemos vinculado con el movimiento internacional a través de intercambios regionales sobre el cambio climático tales como la Semana Africana del Cambio Climático, y como parte de la Red Juvenil de Agricultura Climáticamente Inteligente. También seguimos los debates del Grupo de Países Menos Adelantados (PMA) sobre adaptación, mitigación y financiamiento.

    También ha funcionado a la inversa: ACOYDE ha apoyado los esfuerzos para domesticar el marco climático internacional y ha impulsado el proyecto de ley nacional sobre cambio climático, que se aprobó en abril de 2021. Esta iniciativa dio fuerza de ley a la Convención Marco de las Naciones Unidas sobre el Cambio Climático (CMNUCC) y al Acuerdo de París, del cual Uganda es signataria. A continuación, trabajamos para bajar la ley al nivel local. Es clave que la legislación se implemente efectivamente a nivel local, porque nos ayudará a superar las injusticias del cambio climático en nuestras comunidades.

    También nos conectamos con el movimiento por el clima más amplio desde una perspectiva de género. Personalmente me interesan las intersecciones entre el género y el cambio climático. En las COP anteriores pude contribuir al Plan de Acción de Género (PAG), que ha guiado y ejercido influencia en temas de género y juventud en los procesos de negociación de la CMNUCC. Participé en los debates sobre los avances del PAG en relación con el equilibrio de género, la coherencia, la aplicación con perspectiva de género, el seguimiento y la presentación de informes. También he participado activamente en el Grupo de Trabajo Nacional de Género de Uganda y en otros procesos nacionales sobre cambio climático para garantizar la domesticación de las normas globales de género y un financiamiento consistente con el Acuerdo de París, entre otras cosas informando sobre la implementación de las disposiciones del PAG en Uganda.

    ¿Cuáles son sus expectativas para la COP26?

    La COP26 debería ofrecer espacios para llevar las cuestiones de género a nivel global y proporcionar más oportunidades de debate. Debería aumentar la participación de las mujeres, emprender la integración de la perspectiva de género y garantizar la implementación del PAG. Debe contribuir a amplificar las voces de las mujeres en las negociaciones sobre el cambio climático. Las mujeres están haciendo gran parte del trabajo pesado a nivel de base, pero reciben muy poco a cambio, no sólo porque es muy poco lo que llega a sus bolsillos, sino también porque siguen estando subrepresentadas y, por tanto, sus voces no son escuchadas.

    Los foros internacionales como la COP26 deben proporcionar espacios para la participación de las bases y, en respuesta a esas presiones desde abajo, deben desarrollar intervenciones sólidas para una acción climática justa y respetuosa de los derechos humanos, incluidos los derechos de los pueblos indígenas y la promoción de la igualdad de género. 

    Elespacio cívico en Uganda es calificado comorepresivopor elCIVICUS Monitor.
    Póngase en contacto con Acción para el Desarrollo Juvenil Uganda a través de susitio web y de su página deFacebook.

  • COP26: “Una prioridad clave es abordar la vulnerabilidad a nivel comunitario”

    Mubiru HuzaifahEn vísperas de la 26ª Conferencia de las Partes de las Naciones Unidas sobre el Cambio Climático (COP26), que tendrá lugar en Glasgow, Reino Unido, entre el 31 de octubre y el 12 de noviembre de 2021, CIVICUS está entrevistando a activistas, líderes y personas expertas de la sociedad civil acerca de los desafíos medioambientales que enfrentan en sus contextos, las acciones que están llevando a cabo para abordarlos y sus expectativas para la próxima cumbre.

    CIVICUS conversa con Mubiru Huzaifah, de la Organización Cristiana Ecológica (ECO) de Uganda, una organización de la sociedad civil (OSC) que trabaja para asegurar medios de vida sostenibles a los grupos marginados, desatendidos y vulnerables de Uganda. Sus iniciativas en curso se centran en la gobernanza de los recursos naturales, la resiliencia y la adaptación al cambio climático y la gestión y restauración de los ecosistemas.

    ¿Cuál es el problema climático en el cual actualmente se centra su trabajo?

    El tema que más nos preocupa son los altos niveles de vulnerabilidad que el cambio climático está generando en los sistemas humanos. El cambio de largo plazo de los elementos climáticos con respecto a los niveles previamente aceptados está provocando cambios en los sistemas medioambientales y humanos. Según los informes sobre el estado del medio ambiente publicados por la Autoridad Nacional de Gestión Medioambiental de Uganda, los principales problemas relacionados con el cambio climático son la contaminación industrial, la quema indiscriminada de vegetación, el uso ineficaz de los combustibles y la mala planificación de las redes de transporte, todo lo cual genera altos niveles de emisiones.

    ¿Existen iniciativas gubernamentales para mitigar el cambio climático?

    Hay un proyecto de mitigación que está implementando el Ministerio de Agua y Medio Ambiente, denominado Mejoramiento de los Ingresos Agrícolas y Conservación de los Bosques, que reparte gratuitamente plántulas que son plantadas para mejorar la capacidad de absorción del suelo. También está el Plan de Subvenciones a la Producción de Aserrín, cuyo objetivo es aumentar los ingresos de la población rural mediante la plantación de árboles comerciales por parte de las comunidades locales y de medianas y grandes empresas, lo que al mismo tiempo contribuye a mitigar los efectos del cambio climático mediante la reforestación intensiva. También hay varios proyectos de energía solar en los distritos de Mayuge, Soroti y Tororo, que han aumentado la producción de energía solar del país, y un proyecto de humedales apoyado por el Fondo Verde para el Clima, que busca conservar los humedales y detener su degradación.

    Otras intervenciones relevantes son la puesta en marcha de sistemas de flujo de agua por gravedad para facilitar el suministro de agua sin utilizar fuentes de energía; el desarrollo de carreteras con canales de drenaje de agua y luces solares y el desarrollo de redes de carreteras libres de atascos que permitan un tráfico fluido y ayuden a reducir las emisiones de los automóviles; y la adopción de motocicletas eléctricas o libres de emisiones para reducir aún más las emisiones resultantes del uso de combustibles fósiles, tema en que el Ministerio de Energía está trabajando junto con el sector privado.

    ¿Qué tipo de trabajo realiza ECO en estos temas?

    El trabajo de ECO apunta a aumentar la resiliencia de las comunidades frente a los impactos del cambio climático, a reducir los riesgos de desastres, a mejorar la gobernanza y la gestión de los recursos naturales, especialmente en el sector extractivo, y a promover la gestión y restauración de los ecosistemas.

    Por ejemplo, en el marco de un proyecto que busca promover y apoyar a las zonas conservadas por las comunidades en la cuenca del lago Victoria, hemos prestado apoyo a prácticas de pesca legal, desarrollado e impartido formación sobre la promoción de la agricultura sostenible y apoyado buenas prácticas de gobernanza de los recursos locales. Tenemos otro proyecto que busca aumentar la transparencia, la inclusión social, la rendición de cuentas y la capacidad de respuesta de las empresas mineras en la región de Karamoja.

    En estos y en muchos otros proyectos en que trabajamos, siempre buscamos impulsar el cambio poniendo en el centro a las personas en riesgo y aprovechando los recursos y conocimientos locales y tradicionales. Intentamos vincular los ámbitos de la acción humanitaria y la labor de desarrollo centrándonos en los medios de subsistencia. Trabajamos para garantizar una planificación adaptativa, tratando de vincular las realidades locales con los procesos globales e integrar disciplinas y enfoques para abarcar diferentes riesgos. Para ello trabajamos en conjunto con comunidades, OSC, organismos gubernamentales, universidades e institutos de investigación, entidades del sector privado y medios de comunicación.

    ¿Cómo se vinculan con el movimiento internacional por el clima?

    Nos vinculamos con el movimiento climático global a través de la Red de Acción Climática-Uganda, que incluye a más de 200 OSC nacionales. Actualmente nosotros la presidimos. Esto nos permite participar como observadores en las reuniones de la COP.

    También participamos en las reuniones consultivas previas a la COP organizadas por el gobierno ugandés para preparar las negociaciones internacionales sobre el cambio climático. En estas reuniones, ayudamos a evaluar los avances realizados en la lucha contra el cambio climático y en materia de cumplimiento de nuestras contribuciones determinadas a nivel nacional.

    Convertimos nuestras lecciones aprendidas en acciones de incidencia que pueden adaptarse a los foros internacionales sobre el cambio climático. Algunos problemas locales pueden alimentar la agenda nacional, convertirse en acciones de política pública y pasar a influir en las políticas internacionales.

    ¿Qué esperanzas tienen de que la COP26 produzca avances en materia de mitigación del cambio climático?

    Esperamos que de la COP26 surja una nueva plataforma de comercialización para el comercio de emisiones que sustituya al Mecanismo de Desarrollo Limpio, que permitía a los países con un compromiso de reducción o limitación de emisiones en virtud del Protocolo de Kioto poner en marcha proyectos de reducción de emisiones en los países en desarrollo. También esperamos que se comprometan más fondos para acelerar la difusión de energías renovables.

    Estos procesos internacionales son relevantes siempre que contribuyan a la financiación de los esfuerzos de mitigación del cambio climático y produzcan estrategias de financiación novedosas, como el Fondo Verde para el Clima y el Fondo de Adaptación y su programa piloto para fomentar la innovación en las prácticas de adaptación de los países vulnerables. Viniendo de un país en vías de desarrollo, creo que es fundamental aumentar inmediatamente el financiamiento de medidas de adaptación, ya que los impactos perturbadores del cambio climático sobre los sistemas humanos ya son evidentes.

    ¿Qué cambio le gustaría ver -en el mundo o en su comunidad- que ayudaría a resolver la crisis climática?

    Una prioridad clave es abordar la vulnerabilidad a nivel comunitario. Nuestra visión es la de una comunidad con mayor capacidad de adaptación para hacer frente a los impactos del cambio climático y sus efectos ulteriores. Esto puede hacerse aumentando el acceso a tecnologías y proporcionando financiamiento para la mitigación y la adaptación a través de estructuras comunitarias.

    El espacio cívico enUganda es calificado como “represivopor elCIVICUS Monitor.
    Póngase en contacto con la Organización Cristiana Ecológica a través de susitio web o su página deFacebook, y siga a@EcoChristianOrg en Twitter.

  • EAST AFRICA: ‘The pipeline project would open up critical ecosystems to commercial oil exploitation’

    OmarElmawiCIVICUS speaks about the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project and its potential impacts on the climate and on the health and livelihoods of local communities with Omar Elmawi, coordinator of the Stop the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (#StopEACOP).

    #StopEACOP is a global online campaign that seeks to raise awareness of the effects of the project and calls for its cancellation.

    What is EACOP, and what is wrong with it?

    EACOP is a project to extract and transport crude oil from Uganda to Tanzania, led by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and French energy conglomerate TotalEnergies alongside the Uganda National Oil Company and Tanzania Petroleum Development Cooperation.

    If it goes on, EACOP would have disastrous consequences for local communities, for wildlife and for the entire planet. In other words, it will affect humans, nature and climate. It threatens to displace thousands of families and farmers from their land. It poses significant risks to water resources and wetlands in both Uganda and Tanzania – including the Lake Victoria basin, which over 40 million people rely on for drinking water and food production.

    Additionally, EACOP would increase the severity of the global climate emergency by transporting oil that, when burned, will generate over 34 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year. The pipeline would also open up critical ecosystems in the landlocked regions of Central and Eastern Africa to commercial oil exploitation.

    It would also rip through numerous sensitive biodiversity hotspots and risk significantly degrading several nature reserves crucial to the preservation of threatened species, including elephants, lions and chimpanzees.

    How are you mobilising against EACOP?

    Civil society came together under a global campaign that we have called #StopEACOP, aimed at sharing news related to the pipeline project and distributing resources to help people organise and take action against it.

    #StopEACOP is led by an alliance of local groups and communities and African and global civil society organisations (CSOs). Over 260 CSOs have endorsed it and are working towards realising the campaign’s objectives through public mobilisation, legal action, research, shareholder activism and media advocacy.

    Since environmental licences have been awarded for the pipeline and associated oil fields in Kingfisher and Tilenga, several cases have been filed against the EACOP pipeline, including at the East African Court of Justice and in French courts against TotalEnergies, under the duty of vigilance law.

    We hope that our campaign will put enough pressure on the companies and governments involved so that they will put an end to the pipeline project and prioritise the wellbeing of people and the environment.

    How have the governments involved responded to the #StopEACOP campaign?

    The governments of both Tanzania and Uganda are committed to seeing this project through despite the fact that each will receive only 15 per cent of the proceeds from the crude oil going through the pipeline. TotalEnergies and CNOOC hold 70 per cent of the pipeline’s shares, so they will be the ones pocketing 70 per cent of the proceeds from crude oil.

    Additionally, TotalEnergies and CNOOC both get tax benefits, including a waiver on payment of corporate tax for 10 years once the pipeline becomes operational and on the value-added tax on imported products and materials needed for the pipeline. They are required to pay only five per cent in withholding tax instead of the required 15 per cent.

    We haven’t stopped trying to engage the Tanzanian and Ugandan governments, although some of our members, and especially community partners, have been arrested and detained, had their offices raided or been threatened with the deregistration of their organisations. The government has had a part to play in most if not all these challenges, but we have continued to engage and use all legal mechanisms and processes available to make sure our community partners are protected.

    What kind of support do you need from international civil society and the wider international community?

    Allied organisations, activists and regular people are welcome to visit our website and click on our action page, which suggests a variety of actions addressed at the companies involved and governments and their funders and insurers. Please take as many of the actions listed as you can, prioritising those targeting insurance companies and banks. This is key because the EACOP project will need multi-billion-dollar loans to proceed, as well as numerous insurance policies covering every component of the project.

    People can also donate to the cause. All the resources we receive are shared with our community partners and support any security and legal needs that may arise, including legal representation fees.

    You can follow us on our social media pages to get updates on the campaign and subscribe to receive email updates on the progress of the campaign and upcoming actions that you can endorse or take part in.

    Civic space in bothTanzania andUganda is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with #StopEACOP through itswebsite or its Facebook and Instagram pages,and follow @stopEACOP on Twitter. 

  • Gay activist murder part of trend of deteriorating rights: CIVICUS

    Johannesburg. 28 January 2011. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is greatly saddened by the news of the tragic murder of prominent gay rights activist David Kato in Uganda on 26 January 2011. CIVICUS calls upon the government of Uganda to carry out an immediate and independent investigation into the murder and bring the perpetrators to justice.

  • Joint Statement: Grave concern over recent raids on Ugandan civil society groups

    We, the undersigned civil society organisations (CSOs), strongly condemn the Ugandan authorities’ flagrant and repeated attempts to suppress the peaceful and legitimate activities of civil society organisations in Uganda through the recent unwarranted raids on the offices of four independent CSOs. We urge the Government of Uganda to end its campaign to silence independent civil society groups and publicly recognise the indispensable role that civil society plays in promoting and protecting fundamental human rights.

    In the last two weeks, the Ugandan Police and Security Services have raided and searched the offices and documentation of four prominent organisations, including ActionAid Uganda, Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies, Solidarity Uganda and the UHURU Institute.

    Initially on 20 September 2017, nearly two dozen police and state security officials cordoned off and entered the ActionAid Uganda offices in Kansanga, Kampala. Police served a warrant alleging that ActionAid is involved in unnamed illicit activities. Upwards of 25 staff members were held in the office for several hours, while police interrogated staff, searched the premises and confiscated organisational laptops, phones and documents. On the same day, the offices of the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies were raided and police prevented staff from leaving the premises.  On 21 September, the police raided the offices of Solidarity Uganda in Lira and detained a member of staff. 

    Most recently, on 2 October 2017, police raided the offices of the UHURU Institute. During the raid, they cordoned off the premises and confiscated computers and phones belonging to staff of the Institute. 

    The explicit reason for the raids has not been disclosed, and we remain deeply concerned that they are part of a wider crackdown to silence a civil society campaign which opposed a parliamentary proposal to remove presidential age limits. The organisations targeted in recent raids supported civil society in expressing concerns over the removal of age limits for the presidency and have called for the constitution to be respected. 

    The authorities’ attempts to suppress the work of Ugandan civil society through harassment and intimidation represent a clear violation of fundamental civic rights and casts severe doubt over the Government’s commitment to supporting civil society. As allies and supporters of Uganda human rights we urge the authorities to immediately end its campaign to persecute CSOs in the country and their staff. 

    • ARTICLE 19 – Eastern Africa
    • Afro Leadership – Cameroon
    • Brainforest Gabon
    • Campaign for Good Governance – Sierra Leone
    • Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, Malawi
    • DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    • Dynamique OSCAF Gabon
    • Frontline Defenders
    • Greenpeace Africa
    • Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)
    • The International Civil Society Centre
    • JOINT - League of NGOs in Mozambique
    • KEPA – Finland
    • Mauritius Council for Social Services
    • Nigerian Network of NGOs
    • Orhionmwon Youth Forum Nigeria
    • Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humain
    • Solidarity Center
    • Zambian Council for Social Development

    David Kode

    Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS,

    Tel: + 27 (0)11 833 5959.


    Grant Clark

    CIVICUS Media Advisor

  • Joint Universal Periodic Review Submissions on Human Rights

    CIVICUS makes joint UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on civil society space in Timor-Leste, Togo, Uganda, and Venezuela

    The United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States once every 4.5 years

    CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on four countries in advance of the 40th UPR session in February 2022. The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations. 

    Timor-Leste - This submission by CIVICUS, The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Judicial System Monitoring Program (JSMP) and Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis (La'o Hamutuk) highlights our concerns around attempts by the government to introduce draft laws related to criminal defamation and the failure to bring the Media Law in line with international law and standards. It also documents reports of restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly and the arbitrary arrests of protesters.

    Togo FR/EN- In its joint submission, CIVICUS, Coalition Togolaise des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (CTDDH) and Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (WAHRDN/ROADDH) highlight civic space violations in Togo since its previous UPR examination, which include the killing of protesters, the arrest and prosecution of HRDs, journalists and pro-democracy activists, the banning of civil society and opposition protests, the suspension of media outlets, regular disruption of access to the internet and social media and the adoption of restrictive legislation.

    Uganda-CIVICUS and the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), Justice Access Point (JAP) and African Institute for Investigative Journalism (AIIJ) highlight the promulgation of restrictive laws that severely constrain the freedom of expression and impede the work of independent media houses. We further examine the harassment, judicial persecution and intimidation of HRDs because of the work they do. We discuss acts of intimidation and attacks on citizens, HRDs, CSOs and journalists in the period leading up to, during and after the presidential and parliamentary elections on 14 January 2021.

    Venezuela SP/EN - CIVICUS, Espacio Público and REDLAD examine Venezuela’s use of legal and extra-legal measures to restrict the exercise of fundamental freedoms which has led to worsening working conditions for civil society. Human rights defenders face judicial persecution, stigmatisation and threats to their lives and integrity. In this joint submission, we assess the systematic repression of the right to peaceful assembly, including through mass arbitrary detention of protesters and excessive use of force.

    Civic space in Timor-Leste is rated as Obstructed and Togo, Uganda and Venezuela are rated Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.

  • LGBTQI+ RIGHTS IN UGANDA: ‘Intolerance is fuelled by anti-rights groups and leaders’

    Following our 2019special report on anti-rights groups and civil society responses, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their experiences of backlash from anti-rights groups and their strategies to strengthen progressive narratives and civil society responses. CIVICUS speaks with Pepe Julian Onziema, Programme Director at Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). Formed in 2004, SMUG is a civil society umbrella organisation focused on advancing LGBTQI+ rights and supporting and protecting LGBTQI+ people in Uganda. SMUG advocates for policy reform and helps to coordinate the efforts of 18 LGBTQI+ organisations in the country. These organisations provide a variety of services to the LGBTQI+ community, including medical attention, counselling, guidance and economic empowerment programmes. SMUG works closely with local, regional and international human rights organisations and activists to end discrimination and ensure equal treatment of and respect for all LGBTQI+ people in Uganda.

    pepe Onziema

    What is the situation of LGBTQI+ rights in Uganda?

    I would say it’s very unpredictable, but also not okay. At some level everything is mixed up; you can’t just look at one thing and say, okay, we are making this progress, because somehow when you make progress you also move backwards on another front. So generally speaking, I would say the situation is confusing and unpredictable. The only aspect in which we have made consistent progress is in the area of HIV/AIDS, working through the Ministry of Health.

    The situation of LGBTQI+ people is difficult, and I wouldn’t be able to say whether it’s because of social attitudes or discriminatory laws. People’s social attitudes towards LGBTQI+ people are affected by the law, but on the other hand the law is what it is because of people’s religious views and the influence of religion over politics. But if I had to say which the biggest problem is, I’d say it’s social attitudes and widespread lack of acceptance. If this changes, I am sure the law would follow.

    In Uganda, LGBTQI+ people experience all kinds of attacks and violence, but this depends much on where you live. In popular areas trans women and gay people, or people thought to be gay, both male and female, are attacked from motorbikes or taxis. In the suburbs and expensive urban areas there is a bit more safety. However, a lot of new apartments have been built and many people are moving in, and then if your neighbour finds out or suspects that you are an LGBTQI+ person, then they can go tell the landlord, who will usually feel the pressure to throw you out without even paying back your rent. Everything is based on suspicion, spying and resentment. There is no need for any evidence of someone being gay, so people panic. There is a lot of gay panic because if anyone just mentions that someone else is LGBTQI+, it is to be expected that action will be taken, including physical violence. They can beat up the accused person or use extortion and blackmail. This is especially common with trans people, who are accused of impersonating someone else, adopting a fake identity.

    We’ve worked a lot to raise awareness, informing people that even under our regressive laws, being gay is actually not a crime. It’s subtle, but the law talks about acts that are not permitted, rather than about identities that are not allowed to exist. There is more awareness of this now, but this awareness has made intolerant people more clever: they know they cannot denounce someone just for being gay, so they go on and invent stories. They tell the police false stories about things that gay people have done, so the police have to come and arrest them.

    Although the law does not ban the existence of gay people, there is certainly no law that protects the rights of gay people. While laws guarantee the right to life, to the freedom of association, and so on, when it comes to LGBTQI+ people those do not fully apply. We don't have access to all those rights as anyone else.

    Are LGBTQI+ civil society organisations allowed to function, or do you face restrictions? How do you manage to get your work done?

    LGBTQI+ organisations are not allowed to register. They are denied formal recognition as civil society organisations (CSOs). That is the case with my organisation, Sexual Minorities Uganda, which was founded in 2004, so it will soon be turning 16 years old, and is still unregistered. Our right to associate is limited in several ways, but we’ve been persistent and consistent in challenging the government. We take advantage of legal loopholes and organise ourselves as a loose group. We have sued the government on the basis that the constitution grants us the right to the freedom of association. We’ve found the court system is not terribly fair, but still, it does not always work against us, and we have won several cases.

    In the past few years, the High Court has issued several progressive rulings, stating that the fundamental rights recognised in the constitution, such as the right to personal liberty, the right not to be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and the right to privacy, apply to all citizens. As a result of a High Court ruling on discrimination, it is now possible for LGBTQI+ people to file cases against employers who have fired or harassed them, or landlords who have evicted them. So we’ve seen some progress within the justice system, and this has given us the courage to continue going to the courts to fight when the government wants to impose further restrictions.

    As well as the lack of legal recognition, we face restrictions in our daily work. For instance, when we hold a workshop or some formal function for the community, we are usually raided by the police. The Minister of Ethics and Integrity has been particularly notorious and shameless in shutting down our meetings. He has gone on radio and other media to say that he would never allow LGBTQI+ organisations. So we try to keep up our work by doing it through collaborations with other CSOs, but there’s only so much we can do, because when they learn that we are working with us then somehow they also become targets by association.

    Who is behind these restrictions? Is discrimination and violence against LGBTQI+ people fuelled by political or religious leaders?

    Absolutely. The intolerance enshrined in the law and expressed in social attitudes is fuelled by anti-rights groups and leaders. This backlash was particularly intense around 2009, when right-wing evangelical groups from the USA came to Uganda and helped our government draft a law, the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, that would have criminalised same-sex relationships and introduced the death penalty for serial offenders, HIV-positive people who engage in sexual activity with people of the same sex, and people who engage in same-sex sexual acts with minors. The law also sought to punish the promotion of LGBTQI+ rights with fines, imprisonment, or both.

    We fought this bill for years. The proponents of the law said that we are after children, that we were recruiting them and needed to be stopped. They wanted to turn people into spies – our own neighbours, our parents, teachers, doctors and priests. Anyone who knew a gay person had to report this fact to the authorities or they would also become a criminal.

    A modified version of the bill was passed in 2013, and it punished ‘aggravated homosexuality’ with life in prison instead of the death penalty. In reaction, the US State Department announced several sanctions against Uganda, and in 2014 the Constitutional Court annulled the law on a technicality. But its effects are still there, in the form of ingrained discrimination against LGBTQI+ people. And the root causes of such laws being proposed in the first place are also still there. It all comes down to the idea of turning people’s religious belief into law.

    So the most homophobic piece of legislation that Uganda has ever seen was actually a foreign import. Do you see an international anti-LGBTQI+ rights coalition at work here?

    Absolutely, and curiously enough – because anti-LGBTQI+ rights groups keep saying things like homosexuality is a foreign custom, and that it runs counter to national culture and morals, while in fact it is homophobia who is most foreign. Homosexuality was accepted and quite common in pre-colonial Ugandan society; we even had a king who was gay. Laws punishing homosexuality were first introduced in colonial times, under British rule, and they stayed in place after we gained independence. Something similar happened with Christianity, which was an import but took deep roots.

    And the churches that were brought from the USA and started proliferating are of the most intolerant kind. You can find these evangelical churches every 500 meters in Uganda, and people preaching all over the place, even outside the churches, on every street corner. The evangelical movement is huge and has spread fast across the country. In most cases, they focus their preaching on sexuality, abortion, how women dress, things like that. They deliberately use their Bible to discriminate against LGBTQI+ people and women.

    Have you seen any change, for better or worse, over the past year?

    It is difficult to tell. For instance, in 2018 we thought we were making a bit of progress, but then we started seeing more murders, at least three or four, so we felt in danger and we panicked because we thought, we’ve made progress in dialogue with governmental officials, we have done training the police, and it really shocked us – the idea that we were trying to educate people, we are trying to have a conversation, and this is the kind of response that we get. This cast doubt on the progress we were making.

    Still, I would say that the fact that we are able to have some form of dialogue with the government is a proof of progress. The fact that when people are arrested we are able to negotiate the release of some is something that we wouldn’t have seen even three or four years ago, so there is some progress.

    How do you account for the differences between Uganda and, say, Botswana, which is currently experiencing significant positive change?

    I think we are not experiencing the same kind of progress because religion is so deeply rooted in Uganda. If you speak to Ugandans, the first thing that they will tell you, even before introducing themselves, is that they are Christians. And our president has been able to turn religion into law. Ugandan politicians have manipulated religion to divert attention from corruption and mismanagement, so they focus on homosexuality instead. This political use of religion, and the fact that religious beliefs have been made into law, that’s what sets us apart from Botswana.

    What are LGBTQI+ organisations in general, and SMUG in particular, doing to change both legislation and public attitudes?

    SMUG focuses on four areas: advocacy for reform, capacity strengthening, research and safety and protection. The four areas are connected: in the area of safety and protection, for example, we take care of victims and survivors of violence, but we also document, collect and analyse data and use it as evidence in our advocacy work. We also make sure that police officers are trained so they know how to treat LGBTQI+ person in case they are arrested, so they change their attitudes and the ways they handle them. We work with magistrates and the judiciary services institute and try to educate them on LGBTQI+ issues, because otherwise when a gay person is arrested, most of the time cases are based on hearsay and they don’t even ask for evidence; they make decisions based on prejudice. We do a lot of campaigning and awareness-raising across Uganda. We have regional focus groups where we train people on how to deal with safety and security.

    We also do international work at the United Nations human rights bodies, in Geneva, as well as at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights as well: we have a document that came out of there, Resolution 275, that we did with activists and organisations from across Africa, which prohibits any country from violent attacks towards LGBTQI+ people. Of course we are trying to get that implemented in our own countries so our human rights bodies can take on that Resolution as guidance on the protection of LGBTQI+ people.

    Is there any evidence that people’s attitudes might be changing?

    We put most of our work on social media, and about 10 years ago, we would find out on Facebook that 98 or and 99 per cent of Ugandans were against homosexuality. Ninety-nine per cent – it’s crazy, because it would mean that even gay people – who are definitely more than one per cent of the population - rejected homosexuality.

    But now we’ve come to the point where both sides appear to be more balanced. We post something on our website or our social media platforms, and find reactions are split approximately in half. So I think there has been a change of attitudes, especially among young people, because there are a lot of young people on social media who really don’t care about this whole debate over sexuality. They are just trying to live their lives.

    To what extent is Ugandan civil society as a whole standing with LGBTQI+ civil society?

    There definitely are divisions within civil society. You have to remember that we all come from the same society and have the same background, which is religious, and we are talking about a society and a religion that consider homosexuality as an abomination. However, there are a few – fewer than 10 – CSOs that stand with us. Most of our allies are organisations working on health, and a couple of them do legal work. They have all come from a long way educating themselves about LGBTQI+ issues, and when they do not know something, they ask.

    You mentioned that anti-right groups have international connections and support. Do LGBTQI+ rights organisations enjoy similar connections? What kind of support would you need from international civil society?

    If you had asked me this question five years ago I would have told you to please give human rights organisations money because we are able to work with them. But now I would respond differently: what we need most urgently is to empower more LGBTQI+ people to occupy positions of influence. We’ve experienced violence and discrimination from within the movement, from our own allies, so we need to start having more honest conversations and better accountability for the work that human rights organisations do on LGBTQI+ issues, and see if they really understand what they are doing. To me, it’s about power coming back to the LGBTQI+ community, and the LGBTQI+ community being able to use those positions of power to speak up and negotiate for our own freedom. So my main advice would be, don’t fund other people to speak for us, because we can speak for ourselves.

    It is important that you consult us. There certainly are organisations that are good to us. So if you want to support us, talk to us and we’ll tell who work we best with us, and use this as guidance rather than deciding according to what works best for you as an international organisation.

    Civic space in Uganda is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with Pepe throughFacebook,LinkedIn orInstagram, contact SMUG through itswebsite andFacebook page, and follow@Opimva and@SMUG2004 on Twitter.

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