Court Orders the Ugandan Government to reconsider its decision
A Ugandan court has ordered the government to rethink its decision to suspend Chapter Four Organization, The country’s most prominent human rights organization, affording the organization new life after its operations were suspended last August.
Following last year’s presidential elections, during which opposition leaders were incarcerated, activists were abducted, and scores of people were slain, 54 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were forced to cease operations. High Court Judge Musa Ssekaana labeled the decision to indefinitely suspend the human rights organization “irregular” in an email to Chapter Four on Monday, May 9th. Ssekaana stated that the National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organizations was in “the wrong” for suspending the organization without giving a timeframe in regards to processes and filings.
“The power to suspend the permit should be checked with a time frame within which it must end to check its potential abuse. The action of the respondent in suspending the applicant’s permit indefinitely as noted earlier was within the powers given although it was irregular since it lacked a specific timeframe and was not rationally justified” said Ssekaana in his ruling.
The judgment does not allow Chapter Four Uganda to begin work immediately, but it does require the NGO Bureau, which is part of the internal affairs ministry, to “approach the decision-making process with an open mind.”
The NGO Bureau, through state attorneys Charity Nabaasa and Moreen Ijang, had requested that the court dismisses the case on the basis that all NGOs are obligated to submit annual reports to the NGO Bureau and the district technical planning committee, detailing the sources of their funding, funds received, and estimates of income and expenditure.
The Executive Director of NGO Bureau Stephen Okello has gone on record saying that Chapter Four, along with the other 53 NGOs that had been closed, were in violation of the NGO Act as well as internal governance documents. He stated that the organizations failed to comply with legislation.
In the email, Judge Ssekaana declared, “I find some merit in this application to the extent that the decision to indefinitely suspend the applicant was irregular because of its indefinite nature.” The court further ordered the NGO Bureau to “hear the applicant within one month.”
The NGO Bureau must have a hearing on the matter within one month, according to the court. After receiving the notification of the ruling, the Bureau noted that Chapter Four had 30 days to demonstrate why its operating permission should not be revoked in accordance with the law.
“Reason and justice and not arbitrariness must inform every exercise of discretion and power,” Ssekaana ordered.
On Tuesday, May 10th, Chapter Four wrote on Twitter, “We welcome the court’s decision and look forward to engaging with the Bureau with a view of resuming our operations as soon as practicable. We reiterate our commitment to being a principled non-partisan defender of fundamental rights and freedoms for all.”
The group was accused of using expired licenses, neglecting to file accounts, and failing to register with the authorities. Nicholas Opiyo, the organization’s executive director, is Uganda’s most renowned human rights activist and has been routinely persecuted by security authorities. Opiyo was imprisoned on suspicions of money laundering just before the January 2021 elections, which saw President Yoweri Museveni re-elected for a sixth straight term, drawing international outrage.
A month after Chapter Four was forced to close, the allegations against Opiyo were withdrawn. Campaigners warned that when Uganda approved legislation governing non-governmental organizations in 2015, it would give the government broad powers to shut down NGOs and imprison their members, a charge the government rejected.