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Uganda: denying NGO registration fails democratic principles

The Ugandan Court of Appeal’s decision to deny Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) legal registration fails the democratic principles enshrined in the country’s Constitution and should be reversed. WeRead more are in solidarity with the organisation and join them in calling out this missed opportunity to protect better the rights of some of the most vulnerable populations in Ugandan society. Read less

Geneva/London, 15 March 2024 – The Ugandan Court of Appeal’s decision to deny Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) legal registration fails the democratic principles enshrined in the country’s Constitution and should be reversed, ILGA World and The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) said today.

Despite having worked to protect the human rights of people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions for more than twenty years, Sexual Minorities Uganda has repeatedly been denied legal recognition: first in 2012 and then in 2018, when the High Court upheld the initial decision by the Uganda Registration Services Bureau. Six years later, in March 2024, the Court of Appeal shut down SMUG’s hope to register and be recognised as an independent legal entity under the law.

“For civil society organisations working on sexual, gender and bodily diversity issues, registration allows them to serve more effectively those parts of societies that States fail to protect,” said ILGA World and IPPF. “Without this opportunity, they cannot conduct their activities formally or receive funding for their work. Ultimately, this decision restricts freedom of association and further pushes those who are already targeted by discriminatory laws to the margins of society.”

A decision of opposite direction to the Constitution of Uganda

The Constitution of Uganda,” continue ILGA World and IPPF, “claims that ‘The State shall be based on democratic principles which empower and encourage the active participation of all citizens at all levels in their own governance.’ Ultimately, the extremely disappointing decision to reject SMUG’s registration goes in the entirely opposite direction. We are in solidarity with the organisation and join them in calling out this missed opportunity to protect better the rights of some of the most vulnerable populations in Ugandan society.”

Uganda bans registration for those organisations with goals that allegedly are “in contravention of the laws”. In January 2023, a report by the NGO Bureau detailed how the agency investigated and acted upon several organisations for promoting the rights of LGBTI people. It recommended authorities take stricter measures against NGOs that “promote LGBTQI activities” — including stepping up the criminalisation of activism. A few months later, the Anti-Homosexuality Act was signed into law, further cracking down also on organisations found guilty of “promoting homosexuality”.

A larger crackdown on civil society in Uganda

These actions against LGBTI human rights NGOs are part of a larger crackdown on Ugandan civil society. In November 2019, the Ugandan government shut down more than 12,000 organisations. Such actions have since continued, with as many as 54 organisations suspended in a single day in August 2021.

“Across the world, State and non-state actors are mobilising voter bases by attacking our identities and freedoms. We see the same tactics at play here, too,” ILGA World and IPPF conclude. “At this critical time, politicians need to focus on the things that matter – a stable economy and vibrant communities — rather than attacking those who work to support vulnerable parts of societies. LGBTI people and cisgender heterosexual women and girls are marginalised and excluded by policies, legislation and narratives that strip away reproductive rights and criminalise sexuality and gender. But our communities stand united to defend and secure democratic and economic rights for all.”

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Notes to editors:

ILGA World is a global federation of more than 2,000 organisations from 170 countries and territories. It advocates for the human rights of people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and sex characteristics worldwide. https://ilga.org

The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) is a global healthcare provider and a leading advocate of sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. Led by a courageous and determined group of women, IPPF was founded in 1952. Today, it is a movement of 150 member associations and collaborative partners with a presence in over 146 countries. https://www.ippf.org/

Contacts for media enquiries:

ILGA World: Daniele Paletta, communications manager, [email protected]
IPPF: Alice Ackermann, communications adviser, [email protected]

“Across the world, State and non-state actors are mobilising voter bases by attacking our identities and freedoms: we see the same tactics at play here, too. At this critical time, politicians need to focus on the things that matter – a stable economy and vibrant communities — rather than attacking those who work to support vulnerable parts of societies. LGBTI people and cisgender heterosexual women and girls are marginalised and excluded by policies, legislation and narratives that strip away reproductive rights and criminalise sexuality and gender. But our communities stand united to defend and secure democratic and economic rights for all.”