Uganda’s civil society and opposition groups are scheduled to meet Internal Affairs Minister General Aronda Nyakairima today (Thursday) to complain about a proposed law they say could undermine the nation’s constitution.
“This meeting is to first of all educate this new minister about how bad this bill (Public Order Management Bill 2011) really is,” said Geoffrey Ssebaggala, the national coordinator of Uganda’s Human Rights Network for Journalists, (HRNJ-U).
“We will also target the speaker of parliament because they violated an article in the constitution,” said Ssebaggala. “We will also reach out to the international community by targeting their local offices here to bring this to their attention, so they can inform their countries [so] they can think about what they can do to support Ugandans to be free to exercise their freedom.”
The bill, which President Yoweri Museveni has yet to sign into law, was passed by parliament Tuesday. It demands that organizers of public rallies, gatherings and protests first seek police permission.
Those opposing the bill say it violates the rights of Ugandans to freely associate, a right guaranteed by the constitution. Ssebaggala says they met Wednesday and reached a series of decisions.
“We resolved to go to court and challenge the constitutionality of this bill,” he said. “But at the same time, we also realized that Article 92 of the constitution prohibits parliament to pass any law to alter the decision or judgment of any court.
“This was [the same] bill which was quashed by the constitutional court,” he continued. “It said the police have no powers granting permission to Ugandans who would want to have an assembly to express their grievances.”
“The government of Uganda does not believe in constitutionalism,” Ssebaggala said. “They are only interested in curtailing freedoms …”
Ssebaggala said the groups plan to begin educating the public about a citizen’s rights and freedoms under the constitution as well as the dangers associated with the passage of the Public Order Management Bill.
But supporters of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) defend the bill, saying it will enable the security agencies to prevent violence associated with protests and demonstrations.
Ssebaggala says the groups have called on the international community to pressure Museveni not to sign the bill into law.
“The international community must engage the Uganda government, but we know even when they engage in talks, this government will not listen. The language they will listen to will be cutting aid or threatening to cut aid that might go to the police,” said Ssebaggala.