Kampala has declined to renew its ‘host country agreement’ with the international watchdog, prompting its departure.
The United Nations Human Rights Office will officially withdraw from Uganda on Saturday, ending nearly two decades of operations in the country with the closure of its only remaining office in Kampala, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk announced on Friday.
“I regret that our office in Uganda had to close after 18 years, during which we were able to work closely with civil society, people from various walks of life in Uganda, as well as engage with State institutions for the promotion and protection of the human rights of all Ugandans,” the commissioner said, insisting his office had been left with no choice but to pull out after Kampala declined to renew its “host country agreement” with the UN.
Lamenting what he called the “increasingly hostile environment in which human-rights defenders, civil-society actors and journalists are operating” in the run-up to Uganda’s 2026 elections, Turk noted that while “much progress has been made in the country over the years … serious human-rights challenges remain in the path to full enjoyment of human rights for all.”
Turk praised his office for making Uganda the second country in Africa to adopt a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, and for integrating the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals into its national planning, but lamented the government’s hostility toward LGBTQ rights, as well as its refusal to reconsider the suspension of 54 NGOs shut down in 2021 for violations like operating without a license or for using expired permits.
The Human Rights Office has previously condemned Uganda for its Anti-Homosexuality Act, legislation passed in May that imposed harsh penalties–up to and including capital punishment– for promoting or engaging in homosexuality. The watchdog demanded “urgent” judicial review of the “draconian and discriminatory” measures, denouncing them as “a recipe for systematic violations of the rights of” LGBTQ Ugandans.
Several foreign governments, led by Washington, have threatened retaliation over the law, including sanctions. The US had already cut off aid to Uganda in 2014 over previous legislation criminalizing certain homosexual acts, and Washington in March called a meeting of the UN Security Council in an effort to shoehorn LGBTQ rights into the body’s work. President Yoweri Museveni has hit back at Washington for trying to impose its own beliefs on Uganda and the rest of the world.
In 2021, Museveni suspended all activities of the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), Uganda’s largest source of foreign-donor funding for NGOs, for financing “activities and organizations designed to subvert government under the guise of improving governance,” only to lift the suspension last year. The DGF had itself cut off funding to several major NGOs in 2019, citing endemic corruption.