The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders to the Government of Uganda on 3 October 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. Unfortunately, the Government did not reply to the communication within this period. If a reply is received, it will be posted on the UN communications database.
The following is a shorter version of the original communication.
Topic: the forced closure of human rights organisation Sexual Minorities Uganda.
Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) is a non-governmental organisation established in 2004 which advocates for the promotion and protection of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in Uganda. The organisation supports access to health services of LGBT people and helps members of the LGBT community to live openly with regards to their sexual orientation and gender identity. The organisation has also taken legal action to protect Ugandans from violence and discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
SMUG applied for registration for the first time in 2012. In February 2016, SMUG was notified that the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) rejected the registration of its name on the basis that it was “undesirable and unregistrable” given that it advocates for the rights and wellbeing of LGBT persons, who in Uganda are considered to be “engaged in activities labelled as criminal acts under section 145 of the Penal Code Act.”
After 2016, SMUG reportedly continued its activities providing support to LGBT people in Uganda. On 3 August 2022, the National Bureau for Non‑Governmental Organisations in Uganda ordered SMUG to shut down its operations with immediate effect, given that it was operating without a valid permit. According to the information received, SMUG did not receive any prior warning about the shutdown, though the decision can be appealed.
In the communication we expressed our deep concerns regarding the closure of SMUG, which appears to be in retaliation for its work defending the human rights of LGBT persons in Uganda. We are concerned that the authorities refused to register SMUG on the basis that it works to defend the rights of LGBT persons. Its ultimate closure for non-registration would therefore be based on the denial to recognise SMUG’s legitimate human rights work. We are consequentially concerned for the welfare of all LGBT persons living in Uganda, who already live in a deeply precarious situation due to the criminalisation of homosexuality in the country. The forced closure of SMUG would remove one of the few sources of specialised support available to them. We are deeply concerned for the signal this sends more generally concerning the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders working on sexual orientation and gender identity and any human rights defenders supportive of their work. We are similarly concerned by the impact this decision has on the right to freedom of association