Last week, Uganda’s National Bureau of Non-Governmental Organizations banned Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) rights organization, for failing to register officially. with her. Before being banned, SMUG had been providing sexuality education and advocating for health services for LGBTQ people since 2004.
Frank Mugisha, director of SMUG, told Human Rights Watch that in 2016, the country’s name registration body, Uganda Registry Services Bureau (URSB), refused to approve the name of SMUG – which is a requirement to register as a non-governmental organization. The URSB said registration of the SMUG name would be “undesirable and unregistrable” for a group that advocates for the rights and well-being of LGBTQ people.
This is just the latest example of harassment and restrictions against Ugandan 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 exams – a form of cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment that can , in some cases, constitute torture.
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 police for more than six weeks and were denied access to lawyers. In May 2021, police raided a private celebration at another youth shelter in Wakiso and arrested 44 people, initially accusing them of arranging a same-sex marriage. The police subjected 17 of the defendants to forced anal examinations.
In August 2021, the National Bureau of Non-Governmental Organizations indefinitely suspended 54 civil society groups without due process, further restricting the work of rights groups in the country.
The Ugandan government should allow SMUG to operate. Instead of harassing and intimidating LGBTQ rights organizations, it should create an environment that supports the important work they do and respects their right to free association in accordance with international standards.
(With contributions from APO)