On December 16, the NGO Co-ordination Board of Kenya gleefully announced that it had invoked powers bestowed to it by the NGO co-ordination Act of 1990 and the NGOs Co-ordination Regulations of 1992 to deregister and freeze accounts of 525 NGOs on allegations of funding terrorism, failure to file audit reports and plethora of other offences created under the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
Even the likes of Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) and Concern Worldwide didn’t survive this raid. They have been put on notice for likely deregistration.
Like here in Uganda, the germane legal framework grants the state ambiguous sweeping powers prone to selective and malicious implementation. This presents far-reaching consequences to the legality of NGOs and general enjoyment of fundamental freedoms.
I abhor terrorism, organised crime, or any other illegal activities but this development clearly presents a much bigger problem than meets the eye.
This is what is coming home if the current proposed amendments live to see the light of day. This is no hyperbole. It is an incontrovertible fact that the footprints are all over the place already. NGOs such as Refugee Law Project, Walter Reed Project and many others which have failed to even secure registration have fallen victims.
The current NGO regulatory legal instruments primarily include the Non-Governmental Organisations (Amendment) Act 2006 and the NGO Registration Regulations.
In a recent wave of repressive laws born by the regime to curtail constitutionally guarded freedoms, we now have the latest entrant in the shape of the ‘Non-Governmental Organisations Registration (Amendment) Bill, 2013’.
The Bill seeks to join the likes of the Public Order Management Act, 2013, the Anti-Money Laundering Act and a string of other related repressive laws and regulations. The proposed amendments negate the letter and spirit of Uganda’s 1995 Constitution and flout major international legal obligations created by domestication of several international human rights instruments namely the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African (Banjul) Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights among others.
Specifically, the amendments threaten the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, and present far reaching consequences on the right to civic participation.
I acknowledge that it is good practice for government to make laws but such should enable a conducive environment for enjoyment of guaranteed rights and freedoms and not constrict the same spaces by granting overly broad powers to NGO boards.
It is concerning to note that the current Bill seeks to grant the NGO Board powers to involuntarily dissolve NGOs on overly broad grounds with no clear appeal process, criminalises acts or omissions of NGO directors and staff yet shields NGO Board of directors and staff from the same, grants the board powers to deny registration or revoke permits without detailing objective ground for the same, grants ambiguous disciplinary powers to the board, constricts on NGO activities and purposes, provides no sufficient representation of NGO fraternity on the board, and creates far-reaching restrictions on operations of NGOs even after registration by proposing the “special obligations of organisations” under clause 14 (11E).
This Bill must be challenged to the level of it’s inconsistency with constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
Mr Masake works at Chapter Four Uganda