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Legal analysis:Uganda Public Order Management Bill

On 6th August 2013, the Ugandan Parliament passed the Public Order Management Bill (the Bill), despite broad criticism by domestic and international civil society organisations. For the Bill to become law, it must receive Assent by President Yoweri Museveni within six weeks.

In this analysis, ARTICLE 19 warns that the Bill will seriously erode the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Uganda if given the Presidential assent.
First and foremost, ARTICLE 19 is concerned that a final version of the Bill as approved by Parliament is still not publicly available. Our comments are based on the last publically available version of the Bill.

According to reports, sections of the Bill that clearly violate international standards on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly remain unchanged. The Bill clearly violates international and African human rights standards on the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly, and is clearly incompatible with the Ugandan Constitution and decisions of the Constitutional Court.

In summary, the most serious flaws in the Bill from a freedom of expression and peaceful assembly perspective  include:

•    There is no overarching obligation on the State to promote and protect the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and no presumption in favour of the exercise of these rights;

•    The definition given to “public meeting” means the authorities must be notified of any gathering of three or more people where any political matters are discussed, making clear the intentions of the Bill to limit the space for dissent;

•    Notification requirements operate effectively as an authorisation regime, with substantial administrative burdens for organisers to meet and a broad discretion for law enforcement authorities to refuse assemblies or subject them to conditions;

•    No provision is made for allowing spontaneous demonstrations, nor simultaneous or counter demonstrations;

•    Assemblies are prohibited between the hours of 6:00pm and 6:00am;

•    There is a blanket ban on the use of any amplified noise equipment at any public meeting;

•    The powers of the police in relation to dispersal are overbroad, not subject to a clear command structure, and the principles of necessity and proportionality are largely ignored;

•    Firearms are authorised in a range of ambiguous defined circumstances where they are clearly not seen as a measure of last resort, where the principles of necessity and proportionality are ignored, and the use of lethal or potentially lethal force would clearly violate the right to life;

•    Organisers may be held liable for assembly participants acting against their own instructions;

•    There are broad powers for the Interior Minister to designate unlimited spaces in Uganda “gazetted areas”, subjected to an additional authorisation regime with even broader grounds for denying an assembly or subjecting it to restrictions;

•    The Bill contains no provisions relating to the access of the media or monitors to assemblies.

ARTICLE 19 calls on President Museveni to refuse to give his Assent to the Bill, and for it to be sent back to Parliament for substantial revision.


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