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Last updated 20 February 2013
Turkey has a vibrant civil society with civil society organizations (CSOs) working in numerous areas. Since officially becoming an EU candidate country in 2003, Turkey has implemented a series of reforms that promote democratization, including reforms to its basic framework laws affecting civil society. Turkey still operates, however, under the 1982 Constitution, which was written immediately following a military coup; although there are basic guarantees of rights and freedoms, the Constitution is not up to the standards found in developed democracies. The state still has a dominant influence over society.
Up until 2004, when a new Associations Law was enacted in Turkey, the autonomy of the Turkish CSOs was fairly restricted. The new Law was viewed positively by both civil society and the EU. It lifted some of the limitations on civil society. Listed below are some of the key improvements contained in the Law (see TUSEV’s website (www.tusev.org.tr)):
- Associations are no longer required to obtain prior authorization for foreign funding, partnerships or activities.
- Associations are no longer required to inform local government officials of the day/time/location of general assembly meetings and no longer required to invite a government official/commissary to general assembly meetings.
- Audit officials must give 24 hour prior notice and just cause for random audits.
- Associations are permitted to open representative offices in other countries.
- Security forces no longer allowed on the premises of associations without a court order.
- Specific provisions and restrictions for student associations have been entirely removed.
- Children from the age of 15 can form children’s associations.
- Standards relating to internal audits have been improved to ensure accountability of members and management.
- Associations are able to form temporary platforms/initiatives to pursue common objectives.
Subsequently, in 2008, Turkey adopted a Foundations Law, which further improved the legal environment. Today Turkish CSOs are more active than they have ever been before and are more aware of the deficiencies within the law that limit their activities. Future reforms are both necessary and inevitable.
|Registration Body||Ministry of Interior, Department of Associations||The courts, with possible review made by the General Directorate of Foundations|
|Barriers to Entry||At least 7 founders required to establish association.
Executive board of at least 5 people required. Board must have Turkish majority. Foreigners can be members of board provided they reside in Turkey.
|Minimum capital of 50,000 Turkish lira (approx.35, 000 USD) required to establish foudnation.|
|Barriers to Activities||Standard annual reporting forms considered cumbersome and time consuming.
Required to complete standard forms before receiving or using foreign funding or opening new branch offices.
|Standard annual reporting forms considered cumbersome and time consuming.
Required to complete standard forms before receiving or using foreign funding or opening new branch offices.
|Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy||Prohibition against directly engaging in “political” activities.||Prohibition against directly engaging in “political” activities.|
|Barriers to International Contact||Required to notify Government when receiving grant from international organization.||Required to notify Government when receiving grant from international organization.|
|Barriers to Resources||Required to notify Government before using foreign funding.||Required to notify Government within one month of receiving foreign funding.|
|Population||76, 805, 524|
|Type of Government||Republican Parliamentary Democracy|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||Male: 70.12 years
Female: 73.89 years
|Literacy Rate||Male: 95.3%
|Religious Groups||Muslim(mostly Sunni): 99.8%; other(mostly Christians and Jews: 0.2%|
|Ethnic Groups||Turkish: 70-75%; Kurdish: 18%; other minorities: 7-12% (2008 est.)|
|GDP per capita||$12,200 (2009 est.)|
Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2009.
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale
(best – worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||79||1 – 182|
|World Bank Rule of Law Index||55.5||100 – 0|
|World Bank Voice & Accountability Index||41.8||100 – 0|
|Transparency International||61||1 – 180|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Partly Free
Political Rights: 3
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
|Foreign Policy: Failed States Index
Human Rights: 6.0
|177 – 1
International and Regional Human Rights Agreements
|Key International Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Yes||2003|
|Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)||Yes||2006|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)||Yes||2003|
|Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)||No||--|
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)||Yes||2002|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)||Yes||1985|
|Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women||Yes||2002|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||Yes||1995|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)||Yes||2004|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||Yes||2009|
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
The Constitution was adopted in 1982, immediately following a military coup. Although the Constitution is sometimes criticized for its lack of democratic principles, it still guarantees basic rights and freedoms. Relevant articles include:
- Article 22: Everyone has the right to freedom of communication.
- Article 25: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and opinion.
- Article 26: Everyone has the right to express and disseminate his thoughts and opinions by speech, in writing or in pictures or through other media, individually and collectively.
- Article 33: Everyone has the right to form associations, or become a member of an association, or withdraw from membership without prior permission.
No one shall be compelled to become or remain a member of an association.
Freedom of association may only be restricted by law on the grounds of protecting national security and public order, or prevention of crime, or protecting public morals, public health.
The formalities, conditions, and procedures governing the exercise of freedom of association shall be prescribed by law.
Associations may be dissolved or suspended from activity by the decision of a judge in cases prescribed by law. In cases where delay endangers national security or public order and in cases where it is necessary to prevent the perpetration or the continuation of a crime or to effect apprehension, an authority designated by law may be vested with power to suspend the association from activity. The decision of this authority shall be submitted for the approval of the judge in charge within twenty-four hours. Unless the judge declares a decision within forty-eight hours, this administrative decision shall be annulled automatically.
Provisions of the first paragraph shall not prevent imposition of restrictions on the rights of armed forces and security forces officials and civil servants to the extent that the duties of civil servants so require.
The provisions of this article are also applicable to foundations.
- Article 34: Everyone has the right to hold unarmed and peaceful meetings and demonstration marches without prior permission.
- Article 35: Everyone has the right to property and inheritance.
National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector
Relevant national laws include the following:
- Law 5253: Associations Law
- Law 5737: Foundations Law
- Law 4721: Civil Code
- Associations: Articles 56-100
- Foundations: Article 101-117
- Law 2860: Law on Collection of Donations
- Law 2911: Law on Demonstrations
- Law 4962: Tax Exemption for Foundations
- Income Tax Law
- Corporate Tax Law
- Property Tax law
- VAT Law
Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives
The Department of Associations is reportedly working to prepare (1) amendments to the Law on Associations; (2) a new law on the establishment of a Civil Society General Directorate (which would combine the Department of Associations and the Department of Foundations into one regulatory body); and (3) a new law on Fundraising (Collection of Aid). No details on the content of these initiatives are yet available.
There are two legal forms of CSOs in Turkey: associations and foundations. Article 33 of the Constitution grants the right to form these entities. These organizations must be not-for-profit establishments. Article 56 of the Civil Code states: “An association is defined as a society formed by unity of at least seven real persons or legal entities for realization of a common object other than sharing of profit by collecting information and performing studies for such purpose.” Article 101 of the Civil Code defines foundations as “charity groups in the status of a legal entity formed by real persons or legal entities dedicating their private property and rights for public use.”
Associations are registered with the Department of Associations under the Ministry of Interior. Although many associations believe that the registration process is being handled according to the law, they still claim that the process is slow and cumbersome at times. All associations have to form a general assembly, an executive board consisting of five individuals, and an auditing committee of three persons.
Foundations are established and registered through a court decree. The court may ask the General Directorate of Foundations to review each application. Foundations only need form an administrative body. Additionally, foundations must have a minimum capital of 50.000 Turkish Liras (app. 35.000 USD).
Public Benefit Status
The law in Turkey provides for public benefit status for CSOs, but only a very limited number of organizations have been granted public benefit status. To illustrate: Out of more than 84,000 registered associations, only about 420 are recognized as public benefit organizations.
Article 27 of the Associations Law grants authority to the Council of Ministers to determine which CSOs can be granted this status. Article 20 of Law 4962 provides the legal basis for tax exemptions of those foundations that are granted public benefit status.
Associations and foundations seeking public benefit status must secure the approval of the Council of Ministers. Upon receiving an application for public benefit status, the Council of Ministers must determine whether or not the activities of the CSO actually benefit the general public and are not intended to serve any one particular group. Since the law does not provide a clear definition of what activities constitute “public benefit”, the decision-making process is subject to discretion of the Council. Unsurprisingly, decisions are sometimes perceived as being highly political. However, there are specific minimum requirements in the law which CSOs must meet; for instance, foundations must spend more than two-thirds and associations more than half of their revenue toward their mission.
Barriers to Entry
All Turkish citizens can establish or be a member of associations. Some restrictions are applicable, however, to military and security personnel, judges and attorneys working under the Ministry of Justice and some other government officials working within designated ministries. In addition, only foreigners with a residence permit are permitted to found or join an association in Turkey.
In general, if the regulations are satisfied, NGOs will not be refused registration. Article 56 states that “No association may be formed for an object contrary to the laws and ethics.” Article 101 of the Civil Code states that “Formation of a foundation contrary to the characteristics of the Republic defined by the Constitution, Constitutional rules, laws, ethics, national integrity and national interest, or with the aim of supporting a distinctive race or community, is restricted.” Moreover, the required content of the association by-laws is overly detailed.
The Foundations Law sets a minimum capital requirement of 50.000 Turkish Liras (app. 35.000 USD) in order to establish a foundation. Although there is no minimum requirement for founders or members for foundations, at least seven founders are required to form an association. Additionally, associations are required to form an executive board made up of at least five people, while foundations are only “encouraged” to do so. Foreigners can be members of boards as long as they reside in Turkey. However, the executive board must still have a Turkish majority.
According to implementing regulations for the Associations Law, associations seeking office space within residential buildings must secure the permission of all residents living in the building – a requirement that is burdensome at best, and in some cases practically impossible. The failure to secure office space may prove a barrier to the process of registration for associations.
In order to form a federation or a confederation, the Associations Law requires a minimum of 5 and 3 organizations, respectively, to come together. Problematically, however, the law requires that member organizations must have the “same purpose”, which is unnecessarily limiting.
Barriers to Operational Activity
In general, Turkish CSOs are free to operate and are free from government harassment such as frequent inspections, requests for documentation, etc. Government officials are prohibited from attending meetings and CSOs can hold internal meetings free from external pressure. CSOs are not required to inform the government about their programs and projects.
There are, however, some standard forms that CSOs must complete each year which can be cumbersome and time consuming for some organizations. Specifically, associations and foundations must complete annual statements which are submitted either to the Interior Ministry, Department of Associations or to the General Directorate of Foundations. Additionally, CSOs must complete standard forms before receiving and/or utilizing foreign funding and opening new branches or offices.
In addition, CSOs frequently are fined for “improper” record keeping. More disturbingly, Article 33 of the Associations Law holds the chair of the executive board of the association responsible – i.e., personally liable – for any sanctions and/or fines assessed against the association.
Foreign organizations are subjected to serious bureaucratic rules when opening a branch office in Turkey.
If a CSO becomes involved in an illegal activity, the organization can be terminated by a court order. Organizations that violate the law can be terminated only with a court order.
Barriers to Speech / Advocacy
CSOs are prohibited from directly engaging in political activities, although the term “political” is nowhere defined in the law. However, many CSOs work to influence public policy in their related field, and are therefore involved in public policy debate. Nonetheless, the government-CSO relationship is weak. CSOs struggle to have substantial influence in the formation of public policy. The most recent EU Progress Report on Turkey highlights the reluctance of the Government to work with CSOs on the reform agenda. It is difficult for NGOs to gain access to parliamentary committees. Additionally, the Department of Associations and the General Directorate of Foundations, the two government organs in charge of relations with CSOs, do not have strong ties with the sector and there are no rules setting the standard for such relationships.
Furthermore, some human rights organizations complain about the law-suits brought against them, which they interpret as harassment. A survey under the Civil Society Index Project (CSI) revealed that 63% of respondents (stakeholders within civil society) perceived that the state exerts some limitations on the advocacy activities of CSOs. Although Turkey has taken serious steps toward creating a more enabling environment for CSOs, there remains a culture of state control and domination over civil society.
Barriers to International Contact
There are no restrictions for Turkish CSOs to operate in other countries. But when receiving a grant from an international organization, CSOs must notify the appropriate government office. International CSOs operating in Turkey must receive permission from the Government prior to starting their activity.
Barriers to Resources
There are no limitations on foreign funding, but there is a notification requirement relating to foreign funding. Foundations must notify public authorities within one month after receiving the funding, while associations must notify the Government before using the funding.
There are no special government programs providing funding for CSOs. Local authorities and municipalities provide more funding then the central government. There are no clear laws or regulations governing public funding for CSOs.
Both associations and foundations can engage directly in economic activities, establish and/or become partners in economic enterprises or companies. Although CSO income is not generally subject to corporate tax, the income from economic activities is taxable.
Donors to public benefit organizations can claim a tax deduction of up to 5% of their taxable income.
|UN Universal Periodic Review Reports||Not available|
|Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs||Turkey|
|USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes||Not available|
|U.S. State Department||2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Turkey
Advancing Freedom and Democracy Reports, 2009: Turkey
|Failed States Index Reports||Foreign Policy: Failed States Index 2012|
|IMF Country Reports||Turkey and the IMF|
|International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library||Turkey|
While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change. If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at email@example.com.
Turkey spared from FATF Blacklist (February 2013)
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) said that Turkish legislation spared Ankara from its blacklist. Turkey’s national assembly passed a bill on preventing the financing of terrorism, and it was signed into law on Feb. 15. The FATF said the law addressed many of the shortcomings it identified in Ankara’s criminal code for terrorism financing, as well as creating a legal basis for freezing terrorist assets. “The FATF welcomes this significant step made by Turkey, which improves the country’s compliance with the international standards,” the body said in a statement. The new law requires Turkey to freeze assets of suspected terrorists without first getting a court order. Turkish civil society has expressed fears that the new law could be used to clamp down on humanitarian aid programs.
Article on Turkey's Expanding Role in Development Aid (February 2013)
The increase in development aid is a trend in many emerging market countries. How these aid programs are designed, delivered and evaluated is of critical importance to local, domestic and global civil society and philanthropy organizations. In a newly released article, expert Filiz Bikmen focuses on Turkey's expanding role in development aid and the importance of defining a strategic framework to include NGOs and foundations in the design, development and implementation of development aid programs.
Reconsider appointment to key rights body (December 2012)
The judge recently appointed as the chief ombudsman of Turkey’s newly created ombudsman institution has a history of failing to respect human rights standards, and his appointment risks the effectiveness of the new institution.
Police fire tear gas at Republic Day protesters (October 2012)
Police in Turkey have fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse thousands of pro-secular protesters who marched in the capital Ankara to mark Republic Day. The rally organised by dozens of civil society organisations and backed by some opposition parties began outside the first parliament building in the historic Ulus district.
Journalists targeted by smear campaign (September 2012)
Reporters Without Borders is very disturbed by the aggressive smear campaign that the Islamist and nationalist daily Yeni Akit (New Agreement) and its website, Habervaktim.com, have been waging in recent days against four leading journalists - Ali Bayramoglu, Cengiz Candar, Hasan Cemal and Yasemin Congar - because of their views on Turkey's Kurdish issue. Politicians are also being attacked. "By targeting people committed to tolerance and peace, this campaign is trying to block any evolution in Turkish society," Reporters Without Borders said. "Experience has shown the degree to which this kind of prejudiced, xenophobic and paranoid discourse is not just harmful but also dangerous. Words have meaning and the accusations levelled against these journalists expose them to real peril. This virulent hate campaign must stop at once and everything possible must be done to protect its targets."
Government cracks down on trade union activists (July 2012)
Mr. Osman İşçi, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network executive member and the Human Rights Association’s International Relations former expert, was reportedly detained in Ankara on the morning of June 25. It is also reported that there are warrants of arrest for 58 trade unionists. Police teams have been raiding various branches of trade unions of the Koma Ciwaken Kurdistan-Kurdistan Communities League. The KCK is accused of being an umbrella organization that includes the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Confirmed pre-trial detention of defender Osman Isci and 27 trade union members: Joint press release (July 2012)
The undersigned organizations express their deepest concern regarding the decision of the court to place in detention 28 trade union members, including Osman Işçi.
NGO report slams Turkish government (May 2012)
Amnesty International slammed the Turkish government in its annual report on several counts ranging from the Kurdish issue to children’s rights. The report, which was released yesterday, said promises made by the Turkish government were not upheld. The right to freedom of expression was threatened and protesters faced increased police violence, the report said.
Turkish civil society "far behind" Europe and weak in the country's eastern region (March 2012)
A report outlining the current state of Turkish civil society has indicated that it is far behind European average both in terms of numbers and diversity, leaving one of the essential pillars of the democracy weak. For example, the total number of civil society institutions in Turkey is only 153,800. In the United Kingdom, which has fewer people than Turkey, there are 873,000 organizations along with 800,000 in France. In addition, some 75 percent of all civil society institutions in Turkey are situated in the major cities in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.
European Union critical of human rights in Turkey (October 2011)
Activists prosecuted for criticising the judges (February 2011)
EU raises concern about press freedom, politics in Turkey (November 2010)
Turkey Critized for Closing Pro-Kurdish Political Party (December 2009)
NGOs unite to demand say in human rights bill (November 2009)
The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL NGO Law Monitor partner in Turkey, TUSEV.