Ugandan FlagCivic Freedom Monitor: Uganda

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated 20 August 2019


1. On May 30, 2019, in the case of Moses Mwandha vs. Attorney General, the Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional several provisions under the Police Act authorizing police to disperse public assemblies. The Court specifically annulled sections relating to dispersal of unlawful assemblies (Sections 33 and 34), broad restrictions for gazetted areas (Section 35), and the wide discretion to use force by police in dispersing assemblies (Section 36). They were declared inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression and assembly guaranteed under the bill of rights in Uganda’s Constitution and applicable international norms. This decision reaffirmed a previous 2005 ruling of the Constitutional Court in Muwanga Kivumbi vs. Attorney General, Constitutional Petition No. 9, which outlawed Section 32 of the Police Act on grounds that it granted the police power to prohibit public assemblies in contravention of the right to freedom of assembly.

2. On August 7, 2019, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Gen. Odongo Jeje, stated that all NGOs in Uganda must undergo a validation exercise from August 8, 2019 to September 7, 2019. In the exercise, NGOs with valid permits are required to complete a form and deliver it to the NGO Bureau before the close of the deadline. (The form can be obtained on the Ministry of Internal Affairs weblink or at the districts with Chief Administrative Officers (CAOS), District Community Development Officers (DCDOs), and NGO Bureau offices.) NGOs with expired permits that are still operating are required to apply for renewal of their permits between August 8, 2019 and September 7, 2019. Any NGO that fails to apply for renewal by September 7, 2019 will be deregistered and presumed non-operational.

All NGOs with either expired permits or that have never registered with the NGO Bureau in accordance to section 31(1) of the NGO Act, 2016, are not supposed to operate in any part of Uganda. After the expiry of the validation period all relevant organs of Government have been directed to liaise with the NGO Bureau to ensure that unless an NGO has a valid permit or proof of application for renewal of a permit, they do not operate. According to the statement released by Minister Jeje, as of July 31, 2019, the National NGO register indicates there are 14,207 registered NGOs, out of which 3,810 have valid permits and 10,397 have expired permits. The statement noted that upon completion of the validation exercise, a report on the “state of NGOs in Uganda” will be published by October 2019 based on information at the NGO Bureau.


Civil society organizations (CSOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play an active role in Uganda. For example, they spearheaded the reform of electoral laws ahead of the 2016 general elections through a coalition called Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU). Moreover, many NGOs in Uganda are dedicated to the protection of rights rooted in international instruments and the Bill of Rights in Uganda’s Constitution.

Legislation in recent years has unfortunately narrowed the legal space for civil society in Uganda, however. For example, on October 2, 2013, the President assented to the Public Order Management Act, 2013. Section 8 of the Act grants the police powers to prohibit public meetings, while Section 9 grants the police powers to decide suitable venues for holding public meetings. Since the enactment of the Act, there has been a disproportionate targeting of meetings organized by opposition members and/or civil society representatives. 

In addition, the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014, which was nullified in August 2014, would have posed grave threats to NGOs engaging in any advocacy work for LGBT rights. Section 13 of the Anti-Homosexuality Act criminalized any person who "promotes homosexuality,” which could have been interpreted to include NGOs that advocate for gay rights. The Prohibition of Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices Bill, which was introduced in October 2014, is similar to the Anti-Homosexuality Act. 

Moreover, on January 30, 2016, the President assented to the Non-Governmental Organisations Act, 2016 (NGO Act, 2016). This Act poses a threat to the right to freedom of association. Section 44 prohibits NGOs from carrying out activities in any part of the country unless they have approval from the District Non-Governmental Monitoring Committee (DNMC) and the local government and have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to that effect. NGOs may not extend their operations to new areas unless they have received a recommendation from the National Bureau for NGOs through the DNMC of that area.

Furthermore, the Act requires an NGO to have MoUs with all donors, sponsors, affiliates, and foreign partners, and the MOUs must specify the terms and conditions of ownership, employment, resources mobilized for the NGO, and any other relevant matter. In addition, Section 5 establishes a National Bureau for NGOs that is granted broad powers, which under Section 7 includes the power to revoke an NGO’s permit.

NGOs that engage in advocacy and monitoring of government activities have also often been subject to pressure. For example, on July 4, 2018, the Uganda Electoral Commission informed CCEDU that it was suspending its accreditation for its election-related activities and did not grant the group the right to be heard. CCEDU was accused of being partisan and failing to adhere to the Electoral Commission’s legal framework and guidelines. Efforts to seek dialogue with the Electoral Commission did not initially yield any response, although in February 2019 the suspension was finally lifted.

In addition, on July 26, 2018, the Constitutional Court in a 4-1 decision upheld the constitutional amendment removing the presidential age limit, meaning that President Yoweri Museveni can run for a sixth term in 2021. However, all five justices unanimously nullified the extension of the term of parliament, declaring it unconstitutional because MPs did not seek or obtain the people’s consent on the matter.

On December 12, 2018, the Electoral Commission launched a roadmap for the 2021 elections, which triggered renewed calls for electoral reforms. In a Supreme Court ruling following a petition arising from electoral disputes in the 2016 elections, the Supreme Court provided a two-year time limit within which reforms must be tabled before parliament to ensure that future elections are free, fair, and inclusive. The Electoral Commission invited all stakeholders, including NGOs, to play a meaningful role in the realization of the roadmap. CCEDU, for instance, wrote an open letter to the President in January 2019 calling for urgent reforms in electoral laws in the run-up to the 2021 elections. The letter highlighted three key challenges that have adversely affected the electoral process in Uganda, including monetization of elections and corruption, integrity of the national voter register, and violence during elections.

In a bid to respond to the growing need for civic education in the run up to the 2021 general elections, the President launched the National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE) on March 12, 2019. NICE is the first structured collaboration between the Government of Uganda, the United Nations, and non-governmental actors to promote efficient and effective delivery of value-based, functional, and inclusive national civic education to a rapidly expanding and predominantly young population in Uganda.

Overall, the legal framework for civil society in Uganda is generally supportive of NGOs but only insofar as an NGO's sphere of activity is politically and socially acceptable to the Government.

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At a Glance

Organizational Forms Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), trusts, and community based organizations (CBOs)
Registration Body NGOs and CBOs: National Bureau for NGOs
Barriers to Entry Registration is mandatory, with penalties for conducting activities through unregistered organizations. NGOs are subject to burdensome registration procedures, including recommendations from governmental representatives. The National Bureau for NGOs has broad powers that include the ability to refuse to register an NGO. Upon registration or incorporation, NGOs are required to apply for a permit with the National Bureau for NGOs, which is issued for up to five years at the discretion of the Bureau. The Bureau has broad powers that include the ability to refuse to register an NGO or issue a permit.
Barriers to Activities NGOs must seek prior approval from the District NGO Monitoring Committee (DNMC) and Local Government of the area of operation and sign a Memorandum of Understanding before carrying out activities in any part of the country. Before extending activities to a new geographical area of the country, NGOs must receive a recommendation from the NGO Bureau through the DNMC of that area. NGOs must cooperate with local councils, DNMCs and Sub-Country NGO Monitoring Committees (SNMCs). NGOs are subject to detailed requirements relating to staffing. Involuntary dissolution is by order of the High Court.
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy While there are no legal barriers per se, NGOs promoting human rights may be subject to governmental intimidation.
Barriers to International Contact

Burdensome requirements on the hiring of non-citizens

Barriers to Resources All foreign funding must be received in the Bank of Uganda (Central bank). In the middle of 2018, it was announced that NGO funds are expected to be channeled in the near future through the national budget according to a policy on development co-operation that was being drafted by the Ministry of Finance. It is also expected that NGOs will have to declare sources of funding to the Financial Intelligence Authority.

NGO to have MoUs with all donors, sponsors, affiliates and foreign partners that specify the terms and conditions of ownership, employment, resources mobilized for the NGO and any other relevant matter.
Barriers to Assembly Police approval required for public gatherings

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Key Indicators

Population 34.6 million (As per the National Population and Housing Census 2014 Report)
Capital Kampala
Type of Government Republic
Life Expectancy at Birth

Male: 62.2 years
Female: 64.2 years (2014)

Literacy Rate

Male: 77.4%
Female: 67.6% (2014)

Religious Groups Roman Catholic: 39.3%; Anglican: 32%; Muslim: 13.7%; Evangelical: 11.1%; other: 3.7%; none: 0.2% (2014 census)
Ethnic Groups Baganda 16.5%; Banyakole 9.6%; Basoga 8.8%; Bakiga 7.1%; Iteso 7.0%; Langi 6.3%; Bagisu 4.9%; Acholi 4.4%; Lugbara 4.4%; other 32.1% (2014 census)
GDP per capita $637 (2014)

Source: National Population and Housing Census 2014, Uganda Bureau of Statistics.

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International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale 
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 162 (2018) 1 – 182
World Bank Rule of Law Index 42 (2018) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 31 (2018) 100 – 0
Transparency International 149 (2018) 1 – 175
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Not Free
Political Rights: 6
Civil Liberties: 4 (2018)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
Rank: 24 (2018)
178 – 1

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Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 1995
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) Yes 1995
Second Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP2) No --
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 1987
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) No --
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1980
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1985
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women No --
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) Yes 1986
Optional Protocol to CAT No --
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1990
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) Yes 1995
International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) No --
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Yes 2008
Regional Treaties    
African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights Yes 1986
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child Yes 1994
Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community Yes 2001
Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa Yes 2010
Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights Yes 2001
African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance No --

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The Constitution of Uganda was promulgated in 1995.  Relevant provisions include the following:

Article 29. Protection of freedom of conscience, expression, movement, religion, assembly and association.
1. Every person shall have the right to—
(d) freedom to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peacefully and unarmed and to petition; and
(e) freedom of association which shall include the freedom to form
and join associations or unions, including trade unions and
political and other civic organisations.

Article 38. Civic rights and activities.
1. In the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed in this Chapter, no person shall prejudice the fundamental or other human rights and freedoms of others or the public interest.
2. Every Ugandan citizen has a right to participate in peaceful activities to influence policies of government through civic organizations.

Article 43. General limitation on fundamental and other human rights and freedoms.
1. In the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed in this Chapter, no person shall prejudice the fundamental or other human rights and freedoms of others or the public interest.
2. Public interest under this article shall not permit -

  1. political persecution;
  2. detention without trial;
  3. any limitation of the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed by this Chapter beyond what is acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society, or what is provided in the Constitution.

Article 50. Enforcement of rights and freedoms by courts.
1. Any person who claims that a fundamental or other right or freedom guaranteed under this Constitution has been infringed or threatened, is entitled to apply to a competent court for redress which may include compensation.
2. Any person or organisation may bring an action against the violation of another person’s or group’s human rights.
3. Any person aggrieved by any decision of the court may appeal to the appropriate court.
4. Parliament shall make laws for the enforcement of the rights and freedoms under this Chapter.

Article 51. Uganda Human Rights Commission.
1. There shall be a Commission called the Uganda Human Rights Commission.
2. The Commission shall be composed of a Chairperson and not less than three other persons appointed by the President with the approval of Parliament.
3. The Chairperson of the Commission shall be a Judge of the High Court or a person qualified to hold that office.
4. The Chairperson and members of the commission shall be persons of high moral character and proven integrity and shall serve for a period of six years and be eligible for re-appointment.

Ugandan law also contains “directive principles”, which are non-binding provisions relevant to constitutional interpretation:

  • Directive principle II (vi) provides that Civic Organizations shall retain their autonomy in pursuit of their declared objectives.
  • Directive principle V (i) provides that “the state shall guarantee and respect institutions which are charged by the state with responsibility for protecting and promoting human rights by providing them with adequate resources to function effectively.”
  • Directive principle V (ii) states that “The state shall guarantee and respect the independence of nongovernmental organizations which protect and promote human rights.”


On December 20, 2017, parliament passed the Constitutional (Amendment) Act, 2017. The Act lifts the Presidential age limit of 75 years provided under Article 102 (b) of the Constitution, increases the term of Parliament and Local Government Councils from five to seven years; and restores presidential term limits with effect from the expiry of the current parliament. However, despite upholding the lifting of the presidential age limit, the Constitutional Court nullified provisions seeking to extend the term of Parliament and Local Governments to seven years and restored presidential term limits. These two positions have since been upheld by the Supreme Court of Uganda.

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Relevant national laws include the following:

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

1. During the February 18, 2016 general elections, the government shut down social media. After the elections, the government then presented the Uganda Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The Bill seeks to amend section 93(1) of the Uganda Communications Act, 2013 to remove the requirement for parliamentary approval of regulations made by the Minister of Communications. If Parliament approves the Bill, the Minister of Communications will have the power to control communications with wide discretion without approval from Parliament. This will erode the principle of checks and balances that section 93(1) of the Uganda Communications Act, 2013 sought to protect.

2. In February 2014, President Yoweri Museveni assented to the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Under the provision on Promotion of Homosexuality, anyone who "funds or sponsors homosexuality or other related activities" or “who acts as an accomplice or attempts to promote or in any way abets homosexuality and related practices" is subject to criminal sanction. The phrase "other related activities" is left entirely undefined, and interpreted broadly, advocating gay rights could be considered a "related practice" that promotes or abets homosexuality. While in August 2014 the Act was nullified on the technicality of a lack of quorum, on October 29, 2014, Parliament re-introduced a bill, the Prohibition of Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices Bill, which criminalizes engaging in and the promotion of homosexuality. Unlike the previous Anti-Homosexuality Act, this bill criminalizes sex with or between transsexuals and funding or sponsoring anyone who has the intent to promote an "unnatural" sexual practice.  The Bill would pose a threat to persons that "promote” homosexuality, which could be widely interpreted to include both NGOs that advocate for gay rights as well as their donor partners. It has not yet been passed, however.

3. During the consultative process on the NGO Act, 2016, the government decided to separate faith-based organizations from NGOs, and it has now started the process of creating a regulatory framework for faith-based organizations. The Directorate for Ethics and Integrity drafted and circulated a concept note for the development of the National Policy on Faith-Based Organizations in Uganda in April 2016. It does not appear actions has been taken, however.

4. On April 19, 2018, the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) announced that NGOs will be required to declare their sources of funding to the FIA to ensure transparency and avoid money laundering in the sector. Speaking at a Thought Leadership Forum in Kampala, Michael Olupot, the FIA Deputy Executive Director, said that NGOs in Uganda were vulnerable to terrorist financing, and he therefore welcomed measures to supervise their activities and sources of funding.

On May 17, 2018, the State Minister of Finance, David Bahati, while appearing before the parliamentary budget committee, also announced that as of the next financial year all NGO funds will be channeled through the national budget, allegedly to promote transparency and avoid duplication of services. He stated that the Ministry of Finance was in the process of drafting a development co-operation policy for compliance by NGOs and development partners. This development poses a potential threat to NGO independence, priorities, and ability to demand accountability from the state.

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Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

Ugandan law allows for the establishment of a variety of civil society organizations.

Nongovernmental Organisations (NGOs)

NGOs are governed by the NGO Act, 2016, which was gazetted on April 10, 2015. In Section 3, an organization is defined as "a legally constituted non-governmental organization under the Act."

Trusts and Foundations 

Trusts are governed by the Trustees Act, Cap. 164, 1954; and the Trustees Incorporation Act, Cap. 165, 1939. Foundations can be registered either under the Trustee’s Incorporation Act or as companies limited by guarantee under the Companies Act, Cap. 110, 1961. Trusts and foundations are established to provide grants and in some cases loan financing at a more affordable rate to NGOs, CBOs and private organizations in support of their goals and objectives.

Community Based Organizations (CBOs)

CBOs are predominantly self-help oriented, with the principle aim of improving individual or household welfare, although a few groups play a wider community development role. They are defined by their relatively small size (usually involving 10-20 households) and limited geographic area and are generally formed along communal work lines, e.g., forming groups to work collectively on members’ farms or to support funeral ceremony preparations. CBOs with larger community development roles are supported and sometimes initiated by organizations outside the community.

The NGO Act, 2016 defines a CBO as “an organisation operating at a subcounty level and below whose objectives is to promote and advance the wellbeing of the members of the community” (Section 3). CBOs are registered with the National Bureau for NGOs through the DNMCs and SNMCs (Sections 20, 21 and 29).

Public Benefit Status

Section 4(d) of the NGO Act, 2016 states that one of the "Object[ive]s of the Act" is to "provide the development of strong organizations and to facilitate the formation and effective function of organisations for public benefit purposes."

Notably, the Income Tax Act restricts "exempt organization" status to organizations, institutions or irrevocable trusts that qualify as religious, charitable, or educational institutions of a public character that have been issued a written ruling by the Commissioner currently stating that it is an exempt organization (Income Tax Act, Section 2(bb)).

Charitable organizations established under the Companies Act do not benefit from any tax exemptions.

Barriers to Entry

Mandatory registration

Section 29(1) of the NGO Act, 2016 requires NGOs, including all "private voluntary groupings of individuals" to formally register with the National Bureau of NGOs. Similarly, registration is required of all Community-based organizations (CBOs), defined as organizations operating at the "sub county level and below whose objectives [are] to promote and advance the well-being of its members or community," and all self-regulatory bodies (SRBs). Moreover, Section 35(1) requires all organizations registered at the time the Act takes effect to re-register under the new law within six months.

Sections 20 and 21 establish District NGO Monitoring Committees (DNMCs) and Sub-county NGO Monitoring Committees (SNMCs). One of the functions of the DNMCs is to consider applications for registration by CBOs while SNMCs are mandated to recommend CBOs to the DNMC for registration.

There are penalties for carrying out activities through unregistered organizations in Section 40 of the NGO Act, 2016.

Burdensome registration procedures

NGOs must submit a registration application to the National Bureau for NGOs. Applications must be accompanied by specification of the operations of the organization, area of intended operation, staffing of the organization, geographical area of coverage, location of the organization’s headquarters and date of expiry of the previous permit. 

Section 4 of the NGO Regulations, 2017 imposes burdensome requirements for an NGO seeking to register with the National Bureau of NGOs. These include having a certified copy of a certificate of incorporation, a copy of the organization’s constitution, a chart showing the organization’s governance structure, proof of payment of a prescribed fee, sources of funding, copies of a valid identification document for at least two founder members, the minutes and resolutions of members authorizing the organization to register with the NGO Bureau, a statement of compliance with Section 45 of the NGO Act (staffing requirements), and a recommendation from the responsible Ministry or government department or agency or, in case of a Community-Based Organization, a recommendation of the District Non-Governmental Organizations Monitoring Committee. For foreign organizations, a recommendation is required from the diplomatic mission in Uganda of the organization’s country of origin.

Re-registration requirement

To renew a permit, Section 12 of the NGO Regulations, 2017 prescribes for a range of documents to be furnished to the NGO Bureau, including a copy of audited accounts, a copy of the annual report, minutes of an annual general assembly or the governing body, a work plan and budget or strategic plan, and evidence of payment of prescribed fees.

Marginalized groups

Section 30(1)(a) of NGO Act, 2016 states that an "organisation shall not be registered under this Act, where the objectives of the organisation as specified in its constitution are in contravention of the laws of Uganda." Section 31 would allow the government to deny registration to groups advocating for changes in the law. Similar language has been used to deny registration to groups advocating for LGBT rights because homosexuality is considered illegal in Uganda. However, recent court rulings in Botswana and Kenya have reaffirmed that the freedom of association includes the rights of LGBT people to form organizations.

Barriers to Operational Activity

Staffing requirements

Section 45 of the NGO Act, 2016 provides that an NGO shall comply with certain staffing regulations. An NGO must submit to the National Bureau for NGOs a chart showing its structure and staffing and specifying its foreign work requirements, requirements for Ugandan counterparts of foreign employees, planned period to replace foreign employees with qualified Ugandans, and compliance with the labor laws of Uganda.


Section 31(5)-(6) of the NGO Act, 2016 requires that, in addition to obtaining registration status, an organization also apply for and obtain an operating permit from the National Bureau for NGOs. Under Section 31(6), permits are issued for an unspecified period of time "not exceeding five years" and for an unspecified "prescribed fee" paid annually.

Special Obligations

Section 44 of the NGO Act, 2016 imposes a list of “special obligations” on all registered organizations, which include obligations to “co-operate with the local councils in the area” as well as the relevant monitoring committees; to “not engage in any act which is prejudicial to the security and laws of Uganda” or that is “prejudicial to the interests of Uganda and the dignity of the people of Uganda”; and to “be nonpartisan.”

Inspections and Monitoring

Section 27of the NGO Act, 2016 allows the Auditor General to conduct involuntary inspections and request “any information” that appears “necessary for purposes of giving effect to this Act.” Sections 20 and 21 create two additional layers of governmental oversight at the sub-national level: District Non-Governmental Organisations Monitoring Committees (DNMCs), and Subcounty Non-Governmental Organisations Monitoring Committees (SNMCs). Among other functions, both are authorized to “monitor and provide information to the Board regarding the activities and performance of organizations.”

On February 20, 2019, the Uganda Police issued a circular requiring NGOs to provide information to the police about their operations. The circular informed NGOs, including the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, that the Crime Intelligence Directorate was carrying out security assessments, which involve threats, situational analysis, and developing a database of all NGOs operating in their area of jurisdiction. The Foundation for Human Rights Initiative was singled out to show proof of an NGO that received the circular issued by the Police. In what was described as a matter of national security, information required to be provided by NGOs included the name of the NGO and its location, date of establishment, contact details, names of directors, certificate of incorporation, constitution, certificate of operation, services provided, list of employees, list of projects funded, and monthly/annual returns filed by the NGO.

In addition, on August 8, 2019, the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) in what appears to be a political witch hunt in the run-up to the 2021 elections wrote to several banks requesting for information dating back three years for its purported review of certain transactions involving accounts of thirteen NGOs: Action Aid International Uganda, Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring, Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, National Non-Governmental Organization Forum, Human Rights Network Uganda, National Democratic Institute, Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Democratic Governance Facility, Kick Corruption Out of Uganda, National Association of Professional Environmentalists and Africa Institute for Energy Governance. All of these NGOs are involved in human rights, democracy, and governance work and were critical players in the 2016 general elections.

Criminal Penalties

Section 40 of the NGO Act, 2016 provides imprisonment for anyone who "fails or refuses to produce to the Bureau a certificate, permit, constitution, charter or other relevant document or information relevant for the purposes of this Act."


On July 4, 2018, the Uganda Electoral Commission informed the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy (CCEDU) that it was suspending its accreditation for election-related activities and did not grant the group the right to be heard. CCEDU was accused of being partisan and failing to adhere to the Election Commission’s legal framework and guidelines. Efforts to seek dialogue with the Electoral Commission did not initially yield any response, although in February 2019 the suspension was finally lifted.

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

Article 29 of the Constitution guarantees every person the right to freedom of speech and expression. NGOs wishing to speak out and engage in advocacy rely on this constitutional protection. Even though there are no express legal restrictions on NGO engagement in advocacy activities, the government often intimidates NGOs that seek to promote human rights and democracy.

NGOs in Uganda are allowed to participate in peaceful activities to influence government policies (Article 38 (2) of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda). Although there are no set rules governing NGO engagement in lawmaking, NGOs in practice do engage in legislative activities. For instance, once a bill is tabled in Parliament, various stakeholders, including NGOs, are invited to share their views through consultative meetings, workshops, and other means.

At the same time, however, NGOs are not allowed to engage in political activities or belong to any political group. As a result, they cannot directly or indirectly support a political candidate for elected office. However, since they are regarded as partners with government in promoting good governance and democracy in the country, they can actively participate in the election process through monitoring, observing, and documenting flaws in elections, sensitizing people on the qualities of candidates and urging them to vote wisely, and proposing ways of improving the electoral process.

Potentially restrictive initiatives nevertheless include the following:

1. In 2009, the Ugandan Parliament enacted the Regulation of Interception of Communication Bill. The law allows the Government to intercept any postal, telephone, email, and text message communications with the consent of a judge of the High Court. 

2. On September 8, 2012, the Parliament passed the Communication Regulatory Act, 2012.  The Act empowers the Uganda Communication Authority to create a committee to examine complaints raised by consumers or the government against content providers. Complaints may range from inappropriate programming to national security concerns. Although it was feared that this power, if improperly used, could infringe on the right to privacy and freedom of expression, there is no evidence such a committee has been created by the Uganda Communication Authority to review media content. The Act, moreover, is rarely invoked.

3. Another law that would have had a negative effect on civil society that President Museveni assented to in February 2014 was the Anti-Homosexuality Act. The provision on Promotion of Homosexuality stated that anyone who “funds or sponsors homosexuality or other related activities”—which was not defined— or who “acts as an accomplice or attempts to promote or in any way abets homosexuality and related practices” is subject to criminal sanction.  If interpreted broadly, the law could have considered any NGO advocating for gay rights to be engaging in a “related practice” that promotes or abets homosexuality, thereby subjecting that NGO to criminal punishment.

4. In August 2014, the Act was nullified on the technicality of a lack of quorum. However, on October 29, 2014, Parliament re-introduced a bill, The Prohibition of Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices Bill, which criminalized engaging in and promoting homosexuality. Unlike the previous Anti-Homosexuality Act, this bill criminalized sex with or between transsexuals and the funding or sponsoring anyone who had the intent to promote an "unnatural" sexual practice. The bill would pose a threat to persons that "promote” homosexuality, which could be widely interpreted to include both NGOs that advocate for gay rights as well as their donor partners. It has remained pending since February 2015. Nevertheless, even without the passage of this bill, gay rights NGOs have faced restrictions. For instance, the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF), a group that promotes minority rights, suffered its second break-in on February 9, 2018. Overall, 30 NGOs have had their offices broken into since 2012.

5. In March 2014, the Government released a set of stringent regulations that all broadcasting media houses must observe. They must allocate prime time to promote government programs and public relations. Moderators will also be penalized for tolerating provocative and anti-government questions from callers.

6. The 1995 Press and Journalist Act seeks to ensure freedom of the press and provide for the regulation of mass media by establishing a council of journalists in Uganda to regulate conduct, promote good ethical standards and discipline, and arbitrate disputes between the state and the media. Notwithstanding the existence of this Act, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) continues to bypass the council and issue directives to the media industry that are a threat to media freedom. For example, on May 1, 2019, the UCC issued a directive suspending journalists and heads of news at various media houses, including BBS TV, Kingdom TV, NBS TV, Salt TV, NTV, Capital FM, Pearl FM, CBS, Simba FM, Beat FM and Sapientia FM, allegedly for airing news that does not meet the minimum broadcasting standards.

Barriers to International Contact

Under the law NGOs may contact and cooperate with colleagues in civil society, business, and government sectors both within and outside the country (Article 29 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda).

There are no legal provisions requiring advance notice of international cooperation or prohibiting conferences or restricting travel. Article 29(2) of the Constitution guarantees every person the right to free movement in and outside Uganda. However, Section 45 of the NGO Act requires organizations, upon application of a permit, to submit to the Bureau a chart showing its organization structure as stipulated in its constitution, accompanied by a statement specifying its foreign staff requirements where necessary, indicating its requirements of Ugandan counterparts of the foreign employees, and the period for the replacement of its foreign employees with qualified Ugandans. The NGO Act, therefore, does not allow organizations to employ permanent foreign staffing.

As noted above in the Barriers to Operations section, Section 45 of the NGO Act, 2016 imposes a series of unjustifiably burdensome requirements on the hiring of non-citizens that are better left to existing immigration and labor laws, such as the requirement to ensure that all foreign employees present their "certificates, credentials and recommendations of his or her academic and professional qualifications and proven work experience" to the Ugandan diplomatic mission in his or her country of origin prior to entering Uganda.

Barriers to Resources

There are no significant barriers to resources in Uganda.

Barriers to Assembly

The Public Order Management Act came into effect in October 2013 and includes several impediments.

Time, Place and Manner Restrictions. Section 5(2)(c) of the Act restricts the time of public meetings (except town hall meetings) to between 7:00am and 7:00pm. Sections 12 & 13 and Schedule 3 list restricted areas where entry is prohibited, such as the Parliament building, State House and Lodges countrywide, international airports, and courts. State House refers to the official residence(s) of the President of Uganda in Kampala, while State Lodges are scattered throughout the country.

Grounds for Refusal of Permission and Dispersal. Section 6(1) permits the government to refuse permission to hold a proposed public meeting because “notice of another public meeting on the date, at the time and at the venue proposed has already been received by the authorized officer; or the venue is considered unsuitable for purposes of crowd and traffic control or will interfere with other lawful business.” According to section 6(3), where an authorized officer notifies the organizer that it is not possible to hold a proposed meeting on the date or at the venue proposed, the meeting shall not be held on that date or at that venue. Section 7(2) provides for the dispersal of a spontaneous gathering for similar reasons. Section 8 authorizes the responsible officer “to stop or prevent the holding of a public meeting where the public meeting is held contrary to the Act,” and to order the dispersal of a public meeting where “reasonable in the circumstances.”

Requirements on Organizers and Participants. The Act imposes potentially burdensome requirements on the organizers and participants of a public meeting. Section 10 requires organizers to provide sufficient stewards proportionate to the number of participants; ensure that the public meeting is concluded peacefully before 7:00 p.m.; and co-operate and co-ordinate with the police to ensure that all participants are unarmed and peaceful and that peace and order are maintained.  Participants are required to act in a manner that ensures obstruction of traffic, confusion, and disorder are avoided. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in criminal prosecution and liability.

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UN Universal Periodic Review Reports The Outcome Report adopted by the 34th Session of the Human Rights Council on March 16, 2017 is not yet available on the OHCHR page, but can be accessed through the following link.
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs Uganda
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes Uganda
U.S. State Department

2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Uganda

Fragile States Index Reports Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
IMF Country Reports Uganda and the IMF
International Commission of Jurists Not available
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library Uganda

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News and Additional Resources

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at


Human rights defenders attending the sixth Annual Human Rights Defenders Forum convened by the Human Rights Centre-Uganda on March 22, 2019 called upon the Parliament of Uganda to enact a law that protects human rights defenders. They decried the persistent abuse, including torture, harassment, arbitrary arrests and intimidation, that they suffer in the course of their work.

General News

Government probes 13 NGOs over money laundering (August 2019)
The Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) has asked Equity Bank for account details of 13 non-governmental organisations (NGO) to establish their source of funding. In an August 8, 2019 letter, FIA directs Equity bank to "search your databases and avail us account opening documents, bank statements for the last three years and any other information available to you linked to each of the above-listed entities for further review."

Voter education is crucial as 2021 elections approach (March 2019)
Article 1 of the Constitution vests all power in the people of Uganda, who are required to exercise their sovereignty in accordance with the law. In order to do this, the people must be informed. Voter education and publicity create awareness and knowledge among voters.

Government Moves To De-Register 7,000 Dormant NGOs (September 2018)
The government will soon deregister over 7,000 non-active non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in a bid to stream the sector. Mr Owor Osinde, the Commissioner for Community Development in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, said thatwhereas the country has about 13,400 registered NGOs, only 6,000 are operational.

Popular Ugandan opposition MP Bobi Wine charged with treason (August 2018)
Robert Kyagulanyi, a musician-turned-MP whose arrest prompted protests in Uganda, has been charged with treason. The indictment at a civilian court on Thursday came shortly after military prosecutors dropped weapons possession charges against Kyagulanyi, who is better known by his stage name, Bobi Wine. There were scenes of celebration as the court dropped the weapons charges, and supporters were seen hugging the pop star. But he was rearrested moments later.

NGOs told to declare sources of funding (April 2018)
Non-governmental organisation (NGOs) have been challenged to be transparent by declaring their sources of funding. Speaking at a Thought Leadership Forum organised by Standard Chartered Bank in Kampala , Mr Micheal Olupot, the deputy executive director of Financial Intelligence Authority, told more than 200 development partners and NGOs that whereas NGOs in Uganda are not vulnerable to money laundering, they are vulnerable to terrorism funding, something that needs to be guarded against.

Police explain NGOs offices raid (September 2017)
Gulu, Lira, Bushenyi and Makerere University were rocked by protests, sparked by fears that a controversial bill that proposes the lifting of age limit was going to be tabled in Parliament. In a statement, police said Action Aid Uganda and Great Lakes Institute of Strategic Studies (GLISS) possibly received funding from foreign elements to facilitate the protests. "…Police, both in plain clothes and uniforms, stormed the premises of the duo and searched their offices. Some staff of the NGOs were prevented from accessing or leaving the precincts of the NGOs located in Kampala. The act drew a barrage of condemnations from human right activists and both US embassy and EU released statement criticizing government for the act. The Police spokesperson has defended the act saying it was justified to forestall a possible destabilization of peace in the country" according to the NGO Act, 2016

Uganda's fever spikes over age limit bid (September 2017)
The rising tide of tension in Uganda over presidential eligibility age limits spilled into and shut down the country's parliament building, as the discourse among ministers inside the chambers became as contentious as the heavily-guarded streets outside in Kampala. Opposition political leaders demanded to know why there was such a heavy security presence, amid allegations that some MPs and other political leaders have been detained in the latest round of incidents curtailing the activities of elected officials, NGOs and activists. They were told by Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda – who had been scheduled to address parliament – that the additional security was necessary because of threats made against the legislature as they were to introduce a bill that would remove the existing age limitation of 75 years for presidential candidates. That move would allow the 73-year-old President Yoweri Museveni to run again in 2021.

Uganda’s Deteriorating Human Rights Record up for Review (November 2016)
On November 3, the United Nations Human Rights Council will scrutinize Uganda's human rights record – a process known as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). During its last review in 2011, Uganda agreed to take on a wide range of recommendations – including ensuring full respect for freedom of association and peaceful assembly, and investigating the excessive use of force and torture by security forces. It also pledged to prosecute and punish perpetrators. In this year's submission, the government declared it has made "tremendous progress in promoting respect for human rights," listing its numerous human rights desks, committees, and subcommittees on human rights in different government offices. But those offices have been largely mute on violations of free expression, assembly, and association.

Uganda's Repressive NGO Act (April 2016)
Nearly two weeks after controversially winning a fifth term, it has emerged that Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has signed a repressive law which restricts the operations of thousands of NGOs working in the country. The veteran leader signed the NGO Act, 2016, which rights groups stress contains "special obligations provisions which are vague and undefined, thus prone to abuse."

Parliament Passes Controversial NGO Bill (December 2015)
Ugandan lawmakers have passed a bill that would give authorities sweeping powers to regulate civil society, and which rights groups say will "strangle" criticism of the government. "The bill was unanimously passed," the government chief whip said after lawmakers voted at a late-night sitting. Gay rights groups are particularly worried that if the bill is passed they might be targeted in a country that has previously passed tough anti-homosexuality legislation, which was later overturned on a technicality. Groups working on sensitive issues such as oil, land ownership and corruption also fear it could stifle their efforts. "The bill ... is a hindrance to the activities of NGOs, and gives powers to the government-approved NGO board to deny some NGOs registration by hiding behind some clauses which cite public interest," one activitist said.

Bill Threatens Rights Groups (April 2015)
A proposed bill to regulate non-governmental organisations would severely curb Ugandans' basic rights. The bill would subject groups to such extensive government control and interference that could negate the very essence of freedom of association and expression. A complete version of the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) Bill was published in the government gazette on April 10, 2015, and is expected to be debated in parliament soon.

Uganda Anti-gay Law Struck Down by Court (August 2014)
In front of an overflowing courtroom in Uganda's capital, Kampala, a panel of five judges announced that the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which punishes some homosexual behavior with life in prison, was invalid because it had been passed by Parliament without a proper quorum. "We're very happy," said Sylvia Tamale, a Ugandan law professor who has supported gay rights despite persistent threats and harassment. "But it's unfortunate that the court did not deal with the substantive issues that violate our rights."

Government issues statement on Anti-Homosexuality Act (July 2014)
On July 7,2014, the Government of Uganda issued a statement on the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014. The statement was to the effect that the law has been misinterpreted and that the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014, was enacted with a view to curbing open promotion of homosexuality, especially among children and other vulnerable groups. Despite the aforementioned statement, it remains unclear whether the "offence of homosexuality" as stipulated in the Act is annulled.

Government to Track NGO Cash
(May 2014)
New legislation, the Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) Registration (amendment) Bill 2014, has been approved by Cabinet. Through the bill, Cabinet seeks to enhance documentation of funding for NGOs and their source of funds and enhance tracking mechanisms of their activities. Addressing a news conference at the Uganda Media Centre on May 29, Rose Namayanja, the Minister of Information and National Guidance, said government has been exploring ways of shielding Uganda from undocumented inflow and outflow of funds for NGOs. Namayanja said undocumented funds cause difficulties in forecasting exchange rates, money laundering, tax evasion and raise the possibility of such resources being directed towards fanning instability.

Uganda's LGBTI community needs the UN now more than ever
(May 2014)
On 24 February 2014, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda signed the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 into law. The law came into force on 10 March 2014. At the UN level, the Secretary-General condemned the development, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement raising concerns with the law. By contrast, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has remained largely silent. A recent article has called upon the UNHRC to act more decisively to compel the Ugandan government to change its position on this law.

Analysis of 'Anti-gay Law' in Uganda (March 2014)
LGBT and other human rights campaigners in Uganda and around the world are deeply concerned that the draconian 'Anti-gay Law' creates a sweeping new crime in terms so broad that it could be used to prosecute any actively gay person, as well as being a gift to anyone who wants to make a malicious accusation. In addition it raises the threat of “mob” vigilantism and a massive crackdown on civil society organizations and individual advocates of LGBT rights.

Archived News

Demystifying the Public Order Management Bill (August 2013)

Uganda Announces Directive for All NGOs to Re-Register (September 2013)

Students Protest the Public Order Management Bill (August 2013)

Public Order Management Bill passed (August 2013)

Uganda charges opposition figure over rallies (July 2013)

Public Order Management Bill amended (May 2013)

Halt Crackdown on Media Houses in Kampala (May 2013)

Civil Society Calls for Tougher Laws On Small Arms Trade (January 2013)

NGOs hit back at Museveni remarks (December 2012)

CSOs fault Museveni on corruption (December 2012)

OPM scandal hurts civil society (November 2012)

Civil society advocacy in Uganda: Lessons learned (November 2012)

Ugandans demand action as donors halt aid over graft (November 2012)

Efforts to expedite the Anti-Homosexuality bill (November 2012)

On 50th anniversary of independence, civil society under pressure (November 2012)

Government launches NGO policy (October 2012)

Government intimidating civil society, says human rights body (September 2012)

Curtailing criticism: Intimidation and obstruction of civil society in Uganda (August 2012)

Government harms and criminalizes the legal activities of a Women's Human Rights NGO (July 2012)

EU urges Uganda not to stifle CSOs (July 2012)

Government launches NGO Policy (July 2012)

Government imposes limits on hiring expatriates (July 2012)

NGOs tell government: You can ban us, but not the issues (July 2012)

Government assures NGOs on closure threats (July 2012)

Space for civil society shrinking in Uganda say national and global CSOs (June 2012)

Jinja halts NGO registration (April 2012)

Bank of Uganda probes civil society accounts (April 2012)

Unresolved concerns on freedoms of assembly, association and expression (March 2012)

Government drafts new media bill (March 2012)

"Illegal" LGBT rights workshop raided by Minister of Ethics and Integrity (February 2012)

UHRC rejects bill against public gatherings (November 2011)

UHRC drafted public order bill, says Government (October 2011)

Government-backed harassment and repression of critics increasing (October 2011) 

Govt tables tough public order management Bill (October 2011)

Uganda's Human Rights record under scrutiny (October 2011) 

Media and civil society organisations under threat - report (June 2011) 

Discussion held about changes in legislative framework (May 2011) 

Government wants public order bill passed (May 2011)

Museveni's swearing in amid crackdown on the opposition and human rights violations (May 2011)

Ugandan NGOs decry government’s violent response to protests (April 2011) 

Do Ugandans have the right to walk? (April 2011) 

Journalists attacked during elections in Uganda (February 2011) 

Uganda gay rights activist David Kato killed (January 2011)

Secretary of State remarks on murder of Ugandan LGBT activist David Kato (January 2011)

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The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL NGO Law Monitor partner in Uganda, Livingstone Sewanyana and Josephine Ndagire, of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI).