Opening Up Uganda’s Civil Society Space at the United Nations Human Rights Council
Together with our colleagues from Uganda, Civicus organized a side event at the United Nations Human Rights Council on October 10, 2011, focusing on Civil Society Space in Uganda. This was held the day before Uganda’s Universal Period Review (UPR) within the Human Rights Council. The Ugandan activists discussed the current challenges facing civil society in their country, and what steps the government needs to take to open up the space for civil society.
While the Ugandan constitution enshrines basic human rights such as the right to assembly and to form associations, the government does often not respect these rights, and many Ugandan laws inhibit civil society organizations from carrying out their missions. Mr. Festus Kahiigwa from the Uganda NGO Forum informed the audience about issues such as difficulties for CSOs to register, the need to ask permission from the government to work in rural areas, and the wide discretionary powers of the government to decide when, where and if demonstrations can take place.
Mr. Mohammed Ndifuna, CEO of the Human Rights Network – Uganda, and Mr. Patrick Tumwine, Advocacy Officer at Hurinet-U, further discussed violations of freedom of expression through a harsh law on the media, government crack downs on social media and the government banning some public demonstrations and the use of excess force at some public events. The speakers also touched on the proposed homosexuality bill, which would lead to even harsher sentences for homosexuality, including the death penalty.
The panelists were asked important questions from the audience on issues such as why the government has recently begun cracking down on civil society, the impact of this on women’s participation civil society, and how to increase the engagement of young people. In terms of the government’s consultations with civil society for the UPR process, the government did reach out to civil society somewhat, but it was not nearly enough and the CSOs were not provided the report until the last minute.