Last week, Uganda’s National Bureau of Non-Governmental Organizations banned Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG), a prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gay (LGBTQ) rights organization, for not being officially registered with it. Before the ban, SMUG provided sexuality education and advocated for LGBTQ health services since 2004.
Frank Mugisha, director of SMUG, told Human Rights Watch that in 2016 the country’s name registration authority, the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), refused to approve SMUG’s name, a requirement for registration as an NGO. The URSB said registering the name SMUG would be “undesirable and unregistrable” for a group that advocates for LGBTQ rights and welfare.
This is just the latest example of harassment and restrictions against Ugandan human rights groups, especially those working on LGBTQ rights.
In recent years, police have raided gay-friendly bars and shelters for homeless LGBTQ youth and arrested activists, subjecting them to forced anal examinations, a form of cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment that can amount to torture in some cases.
In March 2020, police and local residents raided the Children of the Sun Foundation, a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth in Wakiso. They beat and arrested 23 people. Twenty residents of the shelter were detained by the police for more than six weeks and had no access to lawyers. In May 2021, police raided a private party at another youth shelter in Wakiso and arrested 44 people, initially accusing them of holding a same-sex wedding. The police subjected 17 defendants to a forced examination of the anus.
In August 2021, the National Bureau of Non-Governmental Organizations suspended 54 civil society groups indefinitely without due process, further limiting the work of human rights groups in the country.
The Ugandan government should allow SMUG to operate. Instead of harassing and intimidating LGBTQ rights organizations, we need to create an environment that supports the important work they do and respect their right to freedom of association in accordance with international standards.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Human Rights Watch (HRW).
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