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Human Rights Watch wants suspension of NGOs revoked

The Executive Director of the National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organizations, Stephen Okello, on Aug.20 announced the halting of operations of 54 NGOs. File Photo

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Human Rights Watch has condemned the suspension of 54 Non- Governmental Organisations (NGOs).

Last week, the National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organizations – NGO Bureau, suspended the NGOs for operating with expired permits, failing to file annual returns and audited books of accounts and operating without registering with the bureau.

The Executive Director of the NGO Bureau Stephen Okello said that the NGOs have been non-complaint and hence ordered that they halt their operations immediately.

In a statement released on Friday, Human Rights Watch asked authorities in Uganda to revoke the suspension noting that the NGOs were never given prior notification.

“Staff members from some groups told Human Rights Watch that they were notified only hours or even days later. The Ugandan authorities need to reverse the ban” reads the statement in part.

“The measures taken against these organizations demonstrate once again the Uganda government’s disregard for civil society,” said Oryem Nyeko, Africa researcher with Human Rights Watch. “Rather than preventing them from doing their work, the authorities should be seeking ways to quickly resolve any compliance issues they may have and support them in their work.”

Some of the affected NGOs include Chapter Four Uganda, a human rights organization, Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), Femrite Uganda Women Writers’ Association, African Humanitarian Action, Safe Places Uganda Foundation (SPU), Citizens Platform for Democracy and Accountability, Growth Networks Uganda and Pallisa Civil Society Organization Networks, among others.

HRW cites the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies-GLISS whose Executive Director Godber Tumushabe, they say is being persecuted because of his past human rights activism and the nature of his organization’s work.

It also cites previous bans and arrests of human rights activists who run some of the NGOs that have been affected. For instance, they say Nicholas Opiyo, the director of the banned Chapter Four Uganda was charged with money laundering last year.

“Uganda’s constitution guarantees the right to freedom of association, but these latest steps only compound the Uganda government’s already troubling restrictions on civic space,” said Nyeko, “Instead of harassing rights groups, the government should fulfill its obligation not just to respect the activities of civil society but to provide an environment in which it can flourish.”

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