CSOs To Petition Court Over Public Order Law

3851 Views Kampala, Uganda

In short
Over 700 civil society organisations are preparing to petition the Constitutional Court challenging the Public Order Management Act 2013.

Over 700 civil society organisations are preparing to petition the Constitutional Court challenging the Public Order Management Act 2013.
 
The CSOs under their umbrella organization Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations (DENIVA), at their annual general meeting today reflected on the law and its effect on their activities.
 
Speaking at the meeting, Uganda Law Society secretary general Nicholas Opiyo pointed out four contentious issues including the fact that the Public Order Management Act makes organisers of demonstrations criminally liable for actions of third parties.
 
He argued that this offends the principle of individual criminal liability since organisers may not have control over all parties involved.
 
Section 6 of the Act also requires that anybody who is aggrieved by a decision of a police officer to stop a demonstration must run to court. Opiyo, who is drafting the constitutional court petition on behalf of DENIVA, argues that the police cannot constitute themselves into a jury and judge of their own case.
 
Ordinarily the police should go to court and seek a court order to stop a demonstration. However, now organisers of demonstrations are being asked by law to go to court to justify their own demonstration which, according to Opiyo, is a reversal in the principle for presumption of innocence and fair hearing.
 
The Act also provides for a presumption against demonstrations as opposed to being In favour of demonstrations, which the lawyer says is wrong. He explains that the state must be able to allow everybody to exercise their freedom simultaneously but peacefully instead of allowing one group a right over others.
 
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 The CSOs also want to challenge the procedural irregularities in Parliament in the process of passing the law. This involves the fact that there was no quorum and that Parliament erred and breached the constitution in passing the law.
 
Justus Rugambwa, the DENIVA Executive Director, noted that they were not sure if their meeting of 771 CSOs today was legal considering they did not write to the police and wait for the recommended 48 hours as required under the new law before holding their meeting.
 
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In 2008, Butambala MP Muwanga Kivumbi petitioned the constitutional court against section 32 of the Police Act which gave powers to the Inspector General of Police to prohibit a public meeting if he/she thought it was necessary for public safety. In its ruling the Court then stated that this was a limitation on the rights to freedoms of assembly and association.
 
Today Kivumbi said the new law will not only be limiting the rights against the constitution but will be undermining Article 92 which prohibits parliament from enacting laws to overturn the ruling of courts.
 
The Public Order Management Act was passed by parliament on August 5th 2013 before President Yoweri Museveni assented to it on October 10.
 
The law is aimed at regulating the conduct of public assemblies and empowers the police to allow or disallow any gathering of more than three people meeting to discuss political issues. Government says the law is meant to curb lawlessness and encourage discipline among political leaders who use public assemblies to incite violence. 
 
The Act provides for the regulation of public meetings, specifies the duties and responsibilities of the police, organizers and participants of such gatherings. It also prescribes measures for safeguarding public order without compromising the principles of democracy, freedom of association and freedom of speech.

The act was initially challenged by the civil society and the opposition Members of Parliament who heckled it on the day of its passing and went ahead to stage a boycott of three parliamentary sittings after it was passed. A group of United Nations experts also called for the amendment of the bill to remove contentious clauses which they termed as restrictive to the freedoms of association. However, all this was not adhered to as the law was passed by NRM legislators who form the overwhelming majority in Parliament.