The Ugandan authorities must promptly address serious and ongoing violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief in the country arising from the State’s failure to respect and ensure the right to freedom of religion or belief of individuals, particularly those practising “traditional” indigenous religions or beliefs, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said in a briefing paper released today.
The ICJ’s briefing paper analyzes and makes recommendations about violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief in Uganda in the following contexts:
- the criminalization of “blasphemy”: Uganda’s Penal Code Act effectively criminalizes “blasphemy”. Such criminal proscription is a breach of Uganda’s international legal obligations to guarantee the right of everyone to freedom of expression, since it may be used, to prevent or punish criticism of religious leaders;
- the exercise of the right of peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of association with others and the right to manifest one’s religion through registration of faith-based organizations and churches: many churches and faith-based organizations are reportedly being shut down by the authorities purportedly for failing to comply with the government’s registration requirements for faith-based organizations. However, Uganda currently does not have a clear system outlining the process of registration for faith-based organizations, including for those carrying out “spiritual activities” like churches. This lack of clarity about the law pertaining to the registration of churches and other faith-based organizations leaves them vulnerable to closure by government, which prevents those who attend such organizations from exercising their right to freedom of association and their right to manifest their religion; and
- discrimination against persons based on their real or imputed religion or belief: the Witchcraft Act of Uganda features several problematic provisions, and it fails to directly define what witchcraft is. As a result, many people who practise “traditional” religions are left vulnerable to discrimination and criminal sactions. Furthermore, an increase in attacks against “traditional” believers accused of witchcraft by persons belonging to other religions has been reported.
In light of international human rights law and standards on freedom of religion or belief, the ICJ’s briefing paper provides a series of recommendations to the Ugandan authorities focusing on, among other things, the need to repeal the country’s “blasphemy” laws and bringing Uganda’s laws and policy in line with its international legal obligations by ensuring that registration procedures for faith-based organizations be clear and not complicated for ordinary church leaders to follow.
The ICJ also called on the Ugandan authorities to repeal or amend the Witchcraft Act, including by providing clear and precise definitions of the conduct proscribed and sanctioned by law; and to refrain from implementing policies that unjustifiably discriminate against persons practising “traditional religions or beliefs”.
Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, Director, ICJ’s Africa Regional Office, firstname.lastname@example.org