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Shrinking Civil Society Space In The Horn Of Africa: Uganda Grapples As New Report Finds NGO Act 2016, In Violation Of International Standards

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By witnessradio.org team

Shortly after the conclusion of the controversial February 18th 2016 elections, president Museveni quietly signed into law the new Non-Governmental Organisations Act, 2016. But the act, has been declared an abuse of the international standards according to a new report by the Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum.

HoACS Forum, is a regional network of civil society organizations working together to monitor and expand civic space in the countries which it operates. This particular study which reviewed the legal frameworks governing CSOs, covered the entire ten countries; Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Somaliland, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.

On concluding its study into the Uganda’s Non-Governmental Organizations Act, 2016, the regulatory framework for CSOs, the forum established that the act was burdensome because it makes it mandatory for any CSO to register with the NGO Board which is under direct control of the government, thus rendering the process semi-standard.

“As elsewhere in the region, registration under the 2016 NGO Act is mandatory, in violation of international standards,” the report said, “Organizations cannot operate in Uganda unless they have been duly registered with the National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organisations and have been issued a valid permit.”

The study also revealed that Ugandan law requires Community-based Organizations (CBOs” to register with the district local government. The NGO Act lists what is to be included in an application for registration of an NGO, but also states that “an application for registration under this section shall be in a form as the Minister may prescribe.”

In so, doing, the report noted that the process may be “used to grant discretionary power to the executive branch in terms of altering or tightening the requirements for registration.”

In an eventuality that one is carrying out activities through unregistered organizations, there are penalties set out in the act in form of both fines and a 3 year imprisonment term.

Secondly, the study found registration procedures under the act pretty “burdensome,” with explicit examples. NGOs must submit a registration application to the NGO Board which, as described by the ICNL, must include: specification of the operations of the organization, area of intended operation, staffing of the organization, geographical area of coverage, location of the organization’s headquarters and date of expiry of the previous permit.

In the case of a foreign organization, a recommendation is required from the diplomatic mission in Uganda of the country from which the organization originates. In addition, any foreign staff recruited to work in Uganda must submit their credentials and a certificate of good conduct to the Ugandan diplomatic in their home country before they assume their respective responsibilities and duties.

So in sum, the study observed that “these restrictions and requirements imposed by the Ugandan government significantly limit the ability of groups to register as NGOs, especially if they are small organizations and lack resources and personnel.”

Additionally, “the NGO Bureau does not have any time limit within which they must review an application, meaning that the process can be delayed indefinitely at its discretion.”

In the Forum’s view, the rigorous procedure “increases the possibility of authorities denying registration based on formalities. For example, there is the possibility that the registration will be revoked or refused on grounds such as being prejudicial to the interests of Uganda.”

In essence, the power to close down organizations will be entirely at the discretion of the NGO Bureau.

The act also includes inter alia the prohibition of any act “which is prejudicial to the security and laws of Uganda,” or which is “which is prejudicial to the interests of Uganda and the dignity of the people of Uganda.

The vague nature of the language above, like that in other laws in the region, could be abused to target NGOs who are critical of the government, according to the report.

In Uganda, an organization’s certificate can be revoked by the Bureau if:

• The organization does not operate in accordance with its constitution;

• The organization contravenes any of the conditions or directions specified in the registration permit

In addition, the regulations provide that an organization may also be dissolved by order of the

High Court if it is:

• defrauding the public;

• threatening national security; or

• Grossly violating the laws of Uganda

Like Uganda, all countries covered by this study, ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

All their national constitutions provide that these protections can be restricted in narrow circumstances, including protecting the freedom of others, public security, public order, public safety, and public health. These provisions at the constitutional level are generally compliant with international standards. It is generally agreed internationally that these restrictions may apply to restricting CSOs from partisan political campaigning, fundraising and support of political parties, and these are in fact prohibited in most national laws in the region.

However, these narrow exceptions can be referred to in inappropriate circumstances. In general terms, national interest and the protection of public values are among the most likely excuses employed by the executive body in order to curtail basic human freedoms.

NGO work

Uganda: Resisting Industrial Oil Palm Plantations

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September 21st is the International Day of Struggle against Monoculture Tree Plantations.

Since this Day was created in 2004, its purpose has been to highlight and support peoples’ struggles to defend territories threatened by the expansion of industrial tree plantations.

Within the framework of this Day, we want to share the new video “Uganda: Resisting Industrial Oil Palm Plantations”, produced by the Informal Alliance against Industrial Oil Palm Plantations in West and Central Africa.

The video highlights the resistance of communities in Buvuma Island in Uganda where the Bidco company (partially owned by the transnational Wilmar company) is trying to expand its oil palm plantations. By making false promises including the use of smallholder schemes , the company wants to expand its control over territories and peoples’ lives.

However, communities are determined to resist and raise awareness by exposing the deceiving practices of the company so that other communities in Uganda and elsewhere do not fall into the same traps

Watch the video here: Resisting Industrial Oil Palm Plantations

Source: World Rainforest Movement

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THE NEW EU DIRECTIVE ON DUE DILIGENCE – A RELEVANT STEP TOWARDS ENDING CORPORATE IMPUNITY?

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This is a critical time at the European Union (EU) when it comes to human suffering and climate impacts caused by transnational corporations, with particular emphasis on fossil fuel corporations, who continue to take deliberate actions to burn the planet. An important new law has been put forward, called the EU Due Diligence Act, which is still being discussed.

However, this law leaves much to be desired, and in its current form, can provide companies, investor states and financial institutions with an easy tick-box exercise, and loopholes, that will enable them to continue creating devastation of the earth, climate and peoples with impunity. The case of the gas industry in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique, is a concrete example of how this can happen and is already happening.

Many organisations in Europe including Friends of the Earth Europe have been fighting the passing of this law in its current form and partnered with JA!’s activists at the EU Commission in Brussels in May, to speak to Ministers in the European Parliament (MEP).

To see the full report by Friends of the Earth Europe, ‘‘INSIDE JOB: How business lobbyists used the Commission’s scrutiny procedures to weaken human rights and environmental legislation’’, click here: https://friendsoftheearth.eu/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/INSIDE-JOB_-How-business-lobbyists-used-the-Commissions-scrutiny-procedures.pdf

The majority of players in the Cabo Delgado gas industry are international, and many are from countries within the EU, such as Total from France, Eni from Italy, Galp from Portugal and French, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish and Danish banks, to name a few.

Many of these oil, coal and gas companies register subsidiaries in the country where they operate, such as Mozambique, and because the current draft EU law says that only ‘big’ companies can be held accountable, this will enable these subsidiaries to get away with their abuses and violations at a domestic level, especially in countries with weakened systems of justice.

Another major issue is that the topic of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) needs to be clear and strong. For one, it is only mentioned in an annex, and uses the term ‘consultation’ rather than consent, meaning that communities will only have to be informed of the project. It fails to ensure a clear right to say ‘no’, when local communities do not accept a specific project in their territories for fearing its foreseeable impacts. Secondly, it does not take into account the difficulties that come with actually obtaining this consent, the fact that even consent can be bought, coerced or threatened into. This related to what is meant by ‘a legitimate consultation’. For example, in Cabo Delgado, Total’s consultation process with affected communities has been a sham. When Total representatives visited and visit communities for these consultation meetings, they are accompanied by a military entourage. This, along with the presence of leaders who have a beneficial relationship with the company, means that community members are too afraid to speak out and dissent, even if they disagree, and ultimately many signed compensation agreements in public and in a language they did not understand. Yet Total was able to tick the boxes required for a legitimate process.

In general, there is not enough emphasis on preventing harm, and far more on remedy. It does not deal with what should be the foundation of the discussion, which is that there should be no harm or violations committed in the first place, and that appropriate punitive and coercive sanctions must be put in place when they are committed.

Burden of proof is too high.

In many laws, including in this draft EU law, the burden is on the claimant to prove the crime, which in this case means that corporations are innocent until proven guilty, and the assumption is that communities are not telling the truth. Communities are expected to show that their human rights were violated, amongst all difficulties linked to the asymmetry of power and complicity with national governments, while companies will only need to show that they followed the required processes needed for a project to be developed in that area. In order for community complaints to be considered ‘credible’, they are expected to provide information that is not easy for them to come by, such as written documentation and emails, video and photographic evidence, and named testimonies and witnesses, to show that the companies did not act in compliance with the law and international norms and standards. Amidst global overlapping crisis strongly linked to the power and impunity of these transnational corporations, the burden of proof should be on the companies to prove they are not responsible for the harm, or that they cannot control companies in their global value chains.

The legislation does not recognise that people cannot provide this information – they often do not have access to technology, knowledge of the language used, information in writing and in many cases their lives would be at risk for speaking out.

In the case of Cabo Delgado many mainstream media articles coming out toe the government line and there have been instances where journalists who tell the truth have been arrested and tortured, or even disappeared. Media, civil society and government officials who enter the gas area are accompanied by a military and government entourage, which makes it unlikely that communities will talk about their experiences honestly. These obstacles are not taken into account.

And on climate change

The draft EU law is not clear about companies’ compliance with the Paris Agreement and keeping below the 1.5 oC degree emissions target. Instead, it speaks of ‘compatibility’ which leaves much room for industry to claim that the agreement is ‘open to interpretation’ as they have done before several times.

As long as essential issues in the draft EU law are not addressed, including binding law on compliance with climate agreements, the reversal of the burden of proof and the establishment of clear provisions to deal with neocolonial power dynamics and systemically exploitative nature of big transnational companies , it will be yet another stamp with which the industry will show off its deceiving processes to ‘meet requirements’.

When governments are questioned on their unwillingness to sanction companies and financiers, they often claim that ‘holding dialogue’ with these companies is more effective in the long run. They have said, in several instances, that sanctioning companies should be the last resort, and will lead to them having no input into companies’ actions whatsoever. This system of continued dialogue is clearly not working -companies are continuing to act with impunity – and instead, institutions like the EU need to take ‘take responsibility for the harms of its companies, with great impacts in the global South, and take a step further to actually sanctioning them.

The insufficiency and limitations of a regional legislation

At a broader level, and even though EU corporate regulation laws are undoubtedly needed, this Due Diligence directive will not solve the global problem of corporate impunity. A regional directive – especially one linked with such a weak concept as ‘due diligence’ – must complement the process towards a UN legally binding instrument to regulate transnational companies in international human rights law (the ‘UN binding treaty on TNCs’), ongoing since 2014. Surprisingly enough, the reluctance of the EU and most of its member States to adequately engage in the UN binding treaty negotiations has been reaffirmed session after session and, unsurprisingly, heavily criticized by civil society from across the world.

Without a global level playing field, companies will continue choosing the best places to violate human rights and cause economic, social, environmental and climate impacts. Or choosing the best jurisdiction to register their parent companies. Both the EU and UN laws must include direct legal obligations to companies, affirm the primacy of human rights over trade and investment agreements, and establish judicial enforcement mechanisms. The negotiations of these or any laws aimed at regulating corporate activities should logically be protected from corporate capture and influence. The EU must include several key elements in its new directive in order for it to be meaningful – and this effort must be accompanied by the EU finally taking up its responsibility to start engaging actively and constructively in the negotiations for an ambitious and effective UN binding treaty.

Ending corporate impunity must necessarily mean that we close the legal loopholes and gaps which allow transnational corporations to evade responsibility – at national, regional and international levels.

Source: ja4change.org

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#StopEACOP campaign calls on Standard Bank to come clean about its funding of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline

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The #StopEACOP campaign has noted media reports that PR firm Edelman has ended its relationship with Standard Bank over Edelman’s refusal to provide reputation management services to the bank relating to its funding of TotalEnergies (Total)’s proposed controversial East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).

#StopEACOP commends Edelman for distancing itself from the bank over its role in the project.

Although Standard Bank remains tight-lipped in relation to its funding of EACOP, the media reports regarding Edelman appear to confirm #StopEACOP’s understanding that Standard Bank does intend to finance the pipeline.

The risks of funding EACOP are intensifying. Edelman’s withdrawal illustrates that these include significant reputational risks. #StopEACOP urges all Standard Bank customers, service providers, employees and shareholders to speak up against the project and the bank’s involvement in it.

The risks

The severe environmental, human rights, climate, legal, and commercial risks and impacts of EACOP are summarised in this series of finance risk briefings. Globally, 20 banks (including Total’s seven largest financiers) have made clear they will not finance the project, as have eleven insurers or reinsurers, several development finance institutions and four export credit agencies. Growing opposition to EACOP will continue to intensify the reputational and other severe risks it poses for Total, and the banks, investors and insurers backing the project.

Duncan Meisel, Director, Clean Creatives, says: “Fossil fuel projects like EACOP are a threat to the reputation of any company that promotes or funds them. Edelman’s decision not to work on this project is the right one, because it separates them from the countless local disasters caused by pipeline construction and operation – not to mention the carbon pollution EACOP will produce. During a climate emergency, ending support for life-threatening projects such as EACOP, and the fossil fuel companies behind them, is the cornerstone of responsible business practice.”

Standard Bank evasive

For several years now, Standard Bank has been evasive regarding the status of its financing of the project. Together with Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC) and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), it acts as a financial advisor for the project.

Standard Bank has publicly stated that its participation in EACOP remains subject to the findings of environmental and social due diligence assessments of the project’s compliance with the Equator Principles.  At its 31 May 2022 AGM, the bank’s CEO, Sim Tshabalala, committed to making public the long-awaited Social and Environmental Consultant’s report into the EACOP project, commissioned by Standard Bank and conducted by Golder Associates. The bank has so far failed to meet this commitment and the bank has not responded to recent requests from organisations within the #StopEACOP campaign for an update on the status of this report.

A recent report by the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), Inclusive Development International (IDI) and BankTrack demonstrates that banks supporting EACOP would be in non-compliance with their commitments under the Equator Principles, a risk management framework for financial institutions to identify, assess and manage environmental and social risks.

In other words, irrespective of what the yet-to-be-disclosed environmental and social report states, EACOP has now been shown to violate the Equator Principles. Given the bank’s commitment only to support the project if it complies with these Principles, this finding provides a further compelling reason for Standard Bank to back away from financing EACOP.

It is time for transparency. #StopEACOP calls on Standard Bank to publicly confirm – and explain – its position, and to end the prevarication and evasiveness which has characterised its responses to civil society for a number of years.

Source: justshare.org.za

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