Last week, Uganda’s National Bureau for Non-governmental Organizations banned Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) rights organization, for not having officially registered with it. Before being banned, SMUG had provided education on sexuality and advocated for health services for LGBTQ people since 2004.
Frank Mugisha, SMUG’s director, informed Human Rights Watch that in 2016 the country’s name registration body, the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), had refused to approve SMUG’s name – which is a requirement to register as a nongovernmental organization. URSB said that registering SMUG’s name would be “undesirable and un-registrable” 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 examinations – a form of cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment that can, in some instances, 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 over 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 holding a same-sex wedding. Police subjected 17 of the accused to forced anal examinations.
In August 2021, the National Bureau for 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 respect their right to free association in line with international standards.