Three United Nations independent human rights experts today expressed serious concern at the passing of the Public Order Management Bill in Uganda, which prohibits protests of more than three people without prior police authorization, and authorizes police to use guns when policing public events.
The UN Special Rapporteurs on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, human rights defenders and freedom of expression urge Uganda to repeal the law passed on 6 August to prepare a new version to comply with Uganda’s international human rights obligations.
“Police intimidation has no place in a free, open and democratic society,” stressed the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya. “The use of fire arms must be strictly safeguarded. The Law fails to limit firearm use; it must ensure they can only be used after exhausting all other possible means, in compliance with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Official,” she stressed.
“Several provisions of the law constitute an undue restriction on the ability for individuals to take part in public assembly,” added the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai. “Requiring prior authorization from the authorities to hold an assembly may result in an effective ban on certain gatherings, which violates Uganda’s international obligations,” he added.
Mr. Kiai also stressed that “the requirement to list the names of all participants serves only to frighten people from expressing their right to peaceful assembly.”
“I am concerned that this law is clearly aimed at obstructing the work of human rights defenders and those who legitimately wish to express their concerns with the Government,” added Ms. Sekaggya.
“By excluding assemblies for social, religious, cultural, charitable, educational, commercial or industrial purposes, as well as meetings of any political party from its provisions, it is clear that this law is not intended to protect public safety during public events, but is designed to unduly limit those who wish to publicly defend their human rights,” she said.
The Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, warned that “the requirement for public statements not to contravene any laws is excessively vague. In fact, it may be used as a tool for censoring all sort of critical statements, undermining a crucial guarantee for democratic governance.”
The three human rights experts drew special attention to the fact that the bill may lead to criminal penalties against organisers of unauthorized assemblies, and vague provisions allow members of the public who are harmed by protests to sue organizers. “Criminalizing public assemblies which are not authorized by the government, and creating the risk of serious financial liability for their organizers, are unnecessary restrictions on human rights, and are not necessary to ensure public safety,” they said.
The Special Rapporteurs noted with concern that this latest legislative development is part of an increasingly hostile environment towards civil society and human rights defenders in Uganda.
“Unless this law is amended to comply with Uganda’s international legal obligations, it must be revoked. We are at the full disposal of the Government of Uganda to provide any technical assistance it may require to ensure this law meets international human rights law and standards,” the experts said. “I requested an invitation to conduct an official visit to Uganda and I am looking forward to a positive response to the request,” Mr. Kiai added.