(New York) - The Ugandan Parliament should reject a proposed law threatening the legitimate activities of civil society, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper released today.

The Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) Amendment Bill makes registration for NGOs harder and allows suspending NGOs that do not conform to any “government policy or plan.” It gives the government wide-ranging powers to interfere with NGO work and suspend associations. NGO leaders can be imprisoned for up to one year if they breach the proposed law.

Normal political party activity is illegal in Uganda, and opposition supporters have been harassed and arrested in recent months.

“Given how constrained political life is in Uganda, it is all the more important that civil society be able to act freely,” said Alison Des Forges, Senior Advisor at the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch. “This is a bad law, and we hope parliament rejects it.”

The bill will be one of the first challenges faced by the new parliament, which was elected in June this year.

“The proposed law potentially criminalizes civil society organizations instead of recognizing their enormous contribution to the social, political and economic life in Uganda,” said Des Forges. “The parliament should draft a new NGO law instead, that aims at building a constructive relationship between the state and civil society.”

The NGO bill would replace an already restrictive NGO law. In a briefing entitled “Freedom of Association At Risk” released today, Human Rights Watch analyzes the current law as well as the new bill. “Both the current law and the proposed bill violate the right to freedom of association guaranteed under international law. As party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Uganda is bound to those standards,” added Des Forges.

Human Rights Watch calls upon the Ugandan parliament to reject the proposed bill and review the current law, with a view to limit powers by the state to interfere with legitimate NGO activity and to ensure that administrative procedures are not abused.