After nearly two decades of operations in Uganda, the United Nations Human Rights Office will officially withdraw from the country on Saturday. The closure comes as Uganda’s government declined to renew its “host country agreement” with the international watchdog. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk expressed regret over the closure, highlighting the office’s collaboration with civil society organizations and State institutions in Uganda to promote and protect human rights.
Turk emphasized the increasingly hostile environment faced by human rights defenders, civil society actors, and journalists in Uganda, particularly in the lead-up to the country’s 2026 elections. While acknowledging the progress made in Uganda over the years, Turk also noted that significant human rights challenges persist, hindering the full enjoyment of human rights for all Ugandans.
The UN Human Rights Office played a pivotal role in Uganda, contributing to the adoption of a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, making Uganda the second country in Africa to do so. The office also facilitated the integration of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals into Uganda’s national planning. However, Turk expressed concern over the government’s hostility towards LGBTQ rights and its refusal to reconsider the suspension of 54 NGOs in 2021 for violations such as operating without a license or using expired permits.
Uganda has faced international criticism for its Anti-Homosexuality Act, passed in May, which imposed severe penalties, including capital punishment, for promoting or engaging in homosexuality. The UN Human Rights Office condemned the legislation as “draconian and discriminatory” and called for urgent judicial review. The watchdog warned that the act posed a threat to the rights of LGBTQ Ugandans.
The United States and other foreign governments have threatened retaliation over the law, including sanctions. The US had previously suspended aid to Uganda in 2014 due to previous legislation criminalizing certain homosexual acts. In March, the US called for a meeting of the UN Security Council to address LGBTQ rights. In response, President Yoweri Museveni criticized Washington for imposing its beliefs on Uganda and the rest of the world.
Furthermore, Museveni suspended all activities of the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) in 2021, citing funding of activities and organizations aimed at subverting the government under the guise of improving governance. However, the suspension was lifted the following year. The DGF, Uganda’s largest source of foreign-donor funding for NGOs, had previously cut off funding to several major NGOs in 2019 due to concerns of corruption.
As the UN Human Rights Office prepares to leave Uganda, it marks the end of an era in which the organization worked diligently to uphold and promote human rights in the country. The closure serves as a reminder of the ongoing challenges faced by human rights advocates in Uganda and the need for continued international support to protect the rights of all Ugandans.