Three independent United Nations experts on Friday called on the Uganda Government to repeal the newly passed Public Order Management Bill saying it places restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
The experts want the government to prepare a new law that complies with the country’s international human rights obligations.
The Public Order Management Bill 2011, which was passed amidst protests on Tuesday, prohibits protests of more than three people without prior police authorization, and gives police powers block such gatherings.
Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, stated that several provisions of the law constitute an undue restriction on the ability for individuals to take part in public assembly.
In a press release, Kiai warns that requiring prior authorization from the police to hold an assembly may result in an effective ban on certain gatherings, which violates Uganda’s international obligations.
Kiai also stressed that the requirement by the new law to list the names of all participants serves only to frighten people from expressing their right to peaceful assembly.
Margaret Sekaggya, the Special Rappoteur on the situation of human rights defenders, noted that police intimidation has no place in a free, open and democratic society and that the use of firearms must be strictly safeguarded.
Sekaggya, the former Chairperson of Uganda Human Rights Commission, further noted that the law fails to limit firearm use, adding that it must ensure they can only be used after exhausting all other possible means, in compliance with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement officials.
Sekaggya also voiced concern that this law is clearly aimed at obstructing the work of human rights defenders and those who legitimately wish to express their concerns with the Government.
Frank La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, warned that the requirement for public statements not to contravene any laws is excessively vague. He warned that this provision may be used as a tool for censoring critical statements, undermining a crucial guarantee for democratic governance.
The experts, who are all appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, drew special attention to the fact that the bill may lead to criminal penalties against organizers of unauthorized assemblies.
They argue that criminalizing public assemblies which are not authorized by the Government, and creating the risk of serious financial liability for their organizers, are unnecessary restrictions on human rights, and are not necessary to ensure public safety.
Unless this law is amended to comply with Uganda’s international legal obligations, the experts say it must be revoked.
Independent experts or special rappoteurs are tasked with examining and reporting back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme.
Uganda is a signatory to several regional and global legal documents on the promotion and protection of civil and political rights.