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Uganda Police worked with SMUG despite it not being legal. Photo supplied
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Bucking the trend: Uganda bans work by LGBT group

The Ugandan government has banned the activities of a local non-governmental organization that campaigns for the rights of sexual minorities. According to a senior official, the organization worked illegally in the African country.

Published: August 9, 2022, 1:50 pm

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    The Ugandan authorities have temporarily banned a prominent LGBT non-governmental organization from continuing to operate in the country because it does not have a license from the National Office for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO Office).

    The NGO Office, which reports to the Ugandan Ministry of the Interior and is responsible for overseeing, registering and regulating all NGO activities in Uganda, justified its decision by arguing that the aptly named Sexual Minorities Uganda operated illegally, since they were not registered with the NGO Office, it was still registered with the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), in violation of the NGOs Act 2016.

    “The NGO Office, in exercise of its mandate, on August 3, 2022, prohibited the activities of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) for not complying with Articles 29(1), 31(1) and 32(2) of the NGO Law 2016 NGO Office,” NGO Office Executive Director Stephen Okello said in a statement on Friday.

    Okello noted that the decision to ban the organization from its activities came after talks between the NGO office and SMUG on July 2 and 27, 2022, aimed at clarifying the legal status of the organization. It turned out that SMUG is neither a company nor a non-governmental organization.

    Ten years ago, SMUG (founded in 2004) tried to have the organization officially registered as a non-governmental organization with the Uganda Registration Service Bureau. However, it failed because the name was considered undesirable by the Ugandan authorities at the time. Nevertheless, the organization continued to work unhindered, Okello explained.

    He also pointed out that SMUG could not provide the NGO office with any authentic record of a physical location of the NGO and the organization’s members were reluctant to reveal the name of the location. In addition, despite not being registered, SMUG has entered into partnerships with some government institutions such as the Ministry of Health, the Ugandan Human Rights Commission and the Ugandan Police.

    “The NGO office also interviewed a number of actors with whom SMUG worked and found that the partners were unaware that SMUG was operating illegally,” Okello said. Against this background, the NGO office asked SMUG to stop its activities for the time being.

    SMUG responded to the ban by claiming that the order was nothing more than a “witch hunt”. “This is a clear witch hunt, rooted in systemic homophobia and fueled by anti-gay and anti-gender movements,” said SMUG Director Frank Mugisha.

    He accused the authorities of treating members of the Ugandan LGBT minority as second-class citizens and trying to wipe out their very existence. “At the moment our activities are suspended, we cannot protect or support vulnerable LGBT people,” Mugisha said.

    According to Civil Rights Defenders, a human rights organization based in Stockholm, Sexual Minorities Uganda works to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

    Strict anti-gay laws apply in Uganda. In recent years, however, the country has increasingly refrained from criminal prosecution in this context. In 2014, a Ugandan court even overturned a law signed by President Yoweri Museveni that provided for life imprisonment for homosexual relationships.

    Laws prohibiting same-sex sexual acts, first put in place under British colonial rule in the 19th century, were enshrined in the Penal Code Act 1950. The climate in Uganda remains hostile to homosexuals; many political leaders use anti-gay rhetoric, and have stated that homosexuality is “akin to bestiality”, was “brought to Uganda by white people” and is “un-African”.

    A 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project poll found that 96 percent of Ugandan residents were against homosexuality – a way of life that society should not accept, which was the fifth-highest rate of non-acceptance in the 45 countries surveyed. Acceptance of gays has since only marginally increased despite a concerted propaganda effort.

    A poll conducted in 2010, revealed that among other members of the East African Community, 1 percent in Tanzania, 4 percent in Rwanda, and 1 percent in Kenya had a positive view of homosexuals.

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