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Last updated 05 April 2013
Update: The third independent public association was registered in Turkmenistan in October 2012. In addition, another organization has been receiving some positive support from local government officials in the Ministry of Nature Protection. From 2008 to 2012, there were only two known CSO registrations in the country, thus this level of activity is an indication of a long-awaited positive trend.
Although nearly 20 years have passed since Turkmenistan became independent of the U.S.S.R., civil society in Turkmenistan remains highly fragile and underdeveloped. Informal (unregistered) groups are forbidden by law from conducting activities. At the same time, registration is difficult for organizations seeking legal entity status. Indeed, only 99 public associations are currently registered and operating in Turkmenistan, a country of nearly 5 million people. Many committed Turkmen citizens are therefore trying to solve social problems at the local level without forming a civil society organization.
The 2008 Constitution recognizes the right of citizens to association and the supremacy of international law, but governing legislation and implementation practice do not support this Constitutional standard. The Turkmen Civil Code envisions two legal organizational forms of non-entrepreneurial legal entities: public organizations and foundations. The primary governing law is the Law on Public Associations, adopted in 2003, which lays the basis for the formation and activity of public associations (PAs) as legal entities. As detailed below, the law contains obstacles to the establishment, operations and funding of organizations. Moreover, implementation is problematic. Restrictions on foreign funding, combined with a poor environment for domestic fundraising, have left most PAs struggling for survival.
Since the death of President Niyazov in December 2006, Turkmenistan, now under the leadership of new President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, is more open to dialogue and has expressed interest in reforming its laws governing civil society. Implementation practice, however, has not improved and barriers to both registration and foreign funding remain in place. Tellingly, many of the registered PAs are, in fact, GONGOs – that is, organizations established as traditional communist-era groups, including the Women’s Union, the Youth Union, and the Center of Trade Unions.
|Organizational Forms||Public Association|
|Registration Body||Ministry of Adalat (Justice)|
|Barriers to Entry||Activities by unregistered groups are prohibited.
Founders of associations must be citizens of Turkmenistan.
Associations operating nationally must have at least 500 members in order to be registered as a legal entity.
The registration fees for associations may be prohibitive.
In practice, few organizations have been registered due in part to the lack of political will to implement the law effectively.
|Barriers to Activities||The Ministry can send its representatives to attend association events and meetings.
Associations must notify the Government of its upcoming planned activities.
Vague grounds for dissolution invite the exercise of excessive governmental discretion.
|Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy||None|
|Barriers to International Contact||Associations may engage in international cooperation and communication, with the involvement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The meaning is uncertain, but this has hindered some associations in the exercise of these activities.|
|Barriers to Resources||Programs supported by foreign funding must be registered with the Ministry of Justice.|
|Population||4,884,887 (July 2009 est.)|
|Type of Government||Republic; authoritarian presidential rule, with little power outside the executive branch|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||67.87 years|
|Religious Groups||Muslim 89%, Eastern Orthodox 9%, unknown 2%|
|Ethnic Groups||Turkmen 85%, Uzbek 5%, Russian 4%, other 6% (2003)|
|GDP per capita||$6,100 (2008 est.)|
Source: The World Factbook 2009. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2009.
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale
(best – worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||109||1 – 182|
|World Bank Rule of Law Index||7.1 (2007)||100 – 0|
|World Bank Voice & Accountability Index||1.4 (2007)||100 – 0|
|Transparency International||166||1 – 180|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Not free
Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 7
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
|Foreign Policy: Failed States Index
||59||177 – 1|
International and Regional Human Rights Agreements
|Key International Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Yes||1997|
|Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)||Yes||1997|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)||Yes||1997|
|Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention||Yes||1997|
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)||Yes||1994|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)||Yes||1997|
|Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women||No||--|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||Yes||1993|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)||No||--|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||Yes||2008|
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
The Constitution of Turkmenistan was adopted on 18 May 1992 as the supreme law of Turkmenistan (Article 5). The 1992 constitution was amended on 26 September 2008, abolishing the 2,500-member People’s Council (Halk Maslahaty) and expanding the elected Assembly (Mejlis) from 65 to 125 members, among other amendments.
Relevant constitutional provisions include:
Article 28. Citizens of Turkmenistan shall have the right to freedom of conviction and the free expression of those convictions. They also shall have the right to receive information unless such information is a governmental or any other secret protected by law.
Article 29. The freedom of assembly, meetings and demonstrations in a lawful manner shall be guaranteed in Turkmenistan.
Article 30. Citizens shall have the right to form political parties and other public associations which operate within the framework of the Constitution and laws.
Forbidden shall be the formation and activity of political parties and other public associations, having as their goal violent change in the constitutional order, allowing violence in their activities, acting against constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens, advocating war, racial, national, social, or religious animosity and social inequality, encroaching on the health or morality of the people, or forming militaristic associations or political parties based on national or religious traits.
National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector
Relevant national-level laws and regulations affecting civil society include:
- The Constitution of Turkmenistan of September 26, 2008;
- The Civil Code of Turkmenistan (July 17, 1998, effectuated from March 1, 1999, with the amendments and additions of October 21, 2003, March 30, 2007);
- The Tax Code of Turkmenistan (with the amendments and additions of December 27, 2005, August 17, 2006, February 23, 2007, March 17, 2007, June 12, 2007, October 1, 2007, January 27, 2008, March 17, 2008, September 11, 2008, April 27, 2009, July 2, 2009);
- The Administrative Code of Turkmenistan (adopted in 1984 with the additions of October 21, 2003);
- The Law of Turkmenistan “On Public Associations” (October 21, 2003)
- The Resolution of the President of Turkmenistan 6547 “On Registrtaion of Public Associations” of January 14, 2004;
- The Resolution of the President of Turkmenistan 7197 “On the Establishment of the Commission for Registration of Religious Organizations and Public Associations under the Ministry of Adalat of Turkmenistan” of April 22, 2005;
- The Resolution of the President of Turkmenistan 6446 “On the State Registration of the Projects and Programmes of Technical, Financial and Humanitarian Assistance and Grants” of November 14, 2003;
- The Law of Turkmenistan 28-II “On Enterprises” of June 15, 2000.
- The Law of Turkmenistan "On Political Parties" of January 13, 2012
- The Law of Turkmenistan #283-IV “About National Security Authorities of Turkmenistan” of March 31, 2012 (the Law “About National Security Authorities of Turkmenistan” of April 12, 1993 was repealed).
Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives
In January 2012, the President of Turkmenistan addressed a message to Mejlis deputies: "It is necessary to make changes and additions to the legislation that regulates public organization activities, alongside with the development of legislation that ensures the electoral rights of citizens and based on current political realities."
According to Article 51 of the Civil Code, there are two primary legal forms available for non-entrepreneurial legal entities: public organizations and foundations.
- A public organization is established where several individuals pursue a common aim. At least five (5) members are required to form a public organization operating locally, fifty (50) for organization operating internationally, and 500 for those operating nationally.
- Article 51 of the Civil Code states that “a legal entity shall be the foundation when to achieve a common socially useful purpose one or more founders transfer special property in ownership to an independent entity, which has no members.” [The Civil Code specifically addresses foundations in Articles 71-74. The Law on PAs also includes “the public foundation” as one of the available legal forms of public associations.] No public foundation exists in Turkmenistan.
According to the Law on Public Associations, public associations operating at the local (municipal) level must have at least five (5) members. Public associations operating internationally must have at least 50 members. And public associations operating nationally must have at least 500 members. [Currently in Turkmenistan, there are no organizations registered as an international public association.]
The Law on Public Associations (PA) establishes four (4) categories of public association:
(1) A public organization is a membership-based public association that is created on the basis of joint activities for the protection of common interests and achievement of the constitutive goals of the members. (Article 7)
(2) A public movement is a mass non-membership public association that pursues social, political and other socially useful goals, and which consists of participants supporting those goals. (Article 8) The Law neither defines nor distinguishes between “members” and “participants”. Article 5 of the Law on PAs states that only those organizations whose charters do not provide for membership may have participants. Articles 8, 9, and 10 of the Law define non-membership organizations to include the “public movement”, the “public foundation” and “a body of social initiative”. No public movement is currently registered in Turkmenistan.
(3) A public foundation is a non-commercial, non-membership public association that seeks to generate income through voluntary contributions and other donations not prohibited by law, and to use this property for socially useful goals. (Article 9) No public foundation is currently registered in Turkmenistan.
(4) A body of social initiative is a non-membership public association that aims to address, on a participatory basis, various social problems arising at the home or workplace of citizens. (Article 10) This legal form may be likened to a community-based organization. No organizations are currently registered as a body of social initiative in Turkmenistan.
In practice, therefore, only one type of public association exists in Turkmenistan – the public organization based on membership. All 99 public associations are registered as public organizations. The Ministry of Adalat (Justice) of Turkmenistan is responsible for the registration of all types of public associations.
Public Benefit Status
Public organizations – the only active legal form of CSO in Turkmenistan – are permitted to pursue both public benefit and mutual benefit purposes. The law refers to “common aims” or “common interests” that members can pursue collectively.
The current Turkmen legislation does not, however, define a “public benefit” or “charitable” status for CSOs. That said, public organizations that provide assistance to disabled persons and conduct educational activities are exempt from income tax and value added tax.
Barriers to Entry
Turkmen law simultaneously prohibits the activities of unregistered organizations and deters registration as a legal entity.
First, regarding unregistered activity, Article 17 of the Law on Public Associations forbids the activity of unregistered PAs. Restrictions against unregistered associations are also imposed by the Resolution of the President of Turkmenistan 6547 “On Registration of Public Associations” (January 14, 2004); the Resolution of the President of Turkmenistan 7197 (April 22, 2005); and Article 204-1 of the Administrative Code of Turkmenistan.
Second, the registration process is encumbered by a number of restrictions:
- Founders, members and participants of public associations must be adult citizens of Turkmenistan. (Article 5) Foreign citizens and stateless persons may be founders and members only of international public associations. (Article 15)
- The minimum membership requirements depend on the territorial scope of the association’s activity. Local PAs can be established with no fewer than 5 members. International PAs can be established with no fewer than 50 members. [A public association shall be recognized as international if one of its departments – an organization, branch (affiliated organization), or representative office – is formed and conducts activity in foreign states. (Article 13)] For national PAs, the minimum membership requirement is 500.
- Currently, the registration fee charged for local public associations amounts to approximately 105 USD. National public associations must pay a fee of about 175 USD, and international public associations are charged a fee of about $703.
Difficulties in registration are not solely, or perhaps even primarily, a problem of legal barriers as contained in the text of Turkmen law. Indeed, in some respects, the law spells out a registration process that is reasonably clear and enabling, at least on paper. Required application documentation is generally consistent with good regulatory practice; the Ministry of Adalat (Justice) must review and decide upon the application within a one-month period; and in case of denial, the Ministry must provide notification in writing. Instead, the problem lies in implementation and the lack of political will to allow organizations to register. Indeed, only a few organizations have successfully been registered. Following the adoption of the Law on PAs in 2003, some 30 informal groups made attempts to obtain registration in late 2004 and 2005. Some were refused registration multiple times; after 3-5 vain attempts to obtain registration they simply gave up and stopped submitting registration requests. Similarly, foreign non-profit organizations have also been unable to establish branch offices in Turkmenistan.
Barriers to Operational Activity
The Law on Public Associations includes barriers to PAs’ operational activity, in the form of excessive supervisory authority and overbroad governmental discretion.
First, the designated regulatory body – the Ministry of Justice and regional ministerial branches – has the right to send ministry representatives to attend the PA’s internal meetings and events, which contradicts international norms relating to freedom of association and privacy.
Second, PAs are required to inform the relevant government body of upcoming planned activities. (Article 22) As written, the requirement appears to relate to advance notification versus required approval. In practice, however, government bodies, should they have objections, can refuse to grant approval of planned activities.
Third, the Ministry of Adalat (Justice) can terminate a PA where achieving the goals specified in the charter becomes “impossible” (Paragraph 28 of the Implementing Rules for the Law on PAs).
Barriers to Speech / Advocacy
Turkmen law enables PAs to engage in a wide range of activities that can be characterized as political, provided that the activities are specified in the charter or governing statute of the PA. (Article 21) For example, Turkmen PAs are legally permitted to take part in election campaigns (if the charter has provisions for its participation in the elections). Public associations that seek to participate in elections may not receive financial or other material assistance from foreign states, organizations, or citizens to conduct activities related to preparing and holding the elections. (Article 25)
In practice, however, no PA has ever exercised this right. [Indeed, Turkmenistan has only one political party: the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan.] Moreover, PAs do not criticize the Government.
While it is rare for PAs to engage in advocacy activities, a small number of PAs have put forward proposals to the Mejlis (Parliament) relating to amendments to the Constitution and a number of the laws. For example, the PA “Economists’ Union” worked with UNDP to draft the Law “On the State Support of Small and Medium Businesses”. This law was adopted in 2009, although little remained from the draft proposed by the Economists’ Union.
Barriers to International Contact
Public associations may cooperate with international organizations, maintain international contacts and relationships, and conclude the relevant agreements with the involvement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan. (Article 21) As for what kind of ministerial “involvement” is required, the answer is not clear. There are no laws or regulations that purport to define what is specifically required or what procedures apply. In practice, some PAs inform the Ministry of their planned activities with the international organizations. And there have been cases when the Ministry refused permission for these activities. More commonly, however, PAs have no need to inform the Ministry because all the international organizations operating in Turkmenistan are obliged to inform the Ministry of their planned activities.
Barriers to Resources
Public associations must register projects and programs supported by foreign technical and other assistance with the Ministry of Adalat (Justice). The process of obtaining registration with the Ministry is quite difficult. The registration process can be easily protracted and subject to excessive government discretion. Public associations are heavily dependent on international donor support and thus difficulties in having grants registered or in receiving foreign assistance can considerably impair the operation of public associations in Turkmenistan.
According to the Civil Code and other legal acts, public associations may conduct economic activity specified in their governing statutes, provided that the economic activity is specified in the statutes and that the income generated is used to achieve the goals set forth in their statutes. (Article 27) Public associations may also establish enterprises and acquire assets that are intended for carrying out entrepreneurial activity.
Barriers to Assembly
Public gatherings in Turkmenistan are regulated by the “Regulation on Organizing and Holding Assemblies, Meetings, Marches, and Demonstrations” (Bulletin of the Turkmen SSR Supreme Soviet, 1988, No. 21, p. 150) (“Regulation”). A request to hold an assembly must be submitted ten days in advance of the assembly to the local executive authorities (khyakmilik) (Clause 10). The organizer must provide the following: the form of the event (assembly, meeting, march, or demonstration), aim, place, route, approximate number of participants, date, the time of the beginning and end of the event, and the names of the organizers and people responsible for securing order and reimbursing the government if any property is damaged (Clause 7, Clause 21). The khyakimlik shall consider the request and “give written decision to the organizers no later than 5 days before the event scheduled in the request” (Clause 11).The khyakimilik’s decision can be appealed to a higher-level regulatory authority whose decision is final(Clause 15).The khyakimlik can change the place and time and other conditions for holding an assembly when taking into account the necessity to “secure public order, the normal working conditions of enterprises and organizations and the rights and legal interests of citizens” (Clause 13).
The aim of the assembly must not contradict the Constitution or threaten public order and citizens’ safety (Clause 13). Spontaneous assemblies are prohibited and can be stopped by state authorities, but this does not apply to labor collectives and public associations (Clause 19). Under the Law on the Legal Regime Governing Emergencies, state authorities have a right to prohibit strikes, assemblies, meetings, marches and demonstrations in emergency situations.
The Code of Turkmenistan on Administrative Offences provides administrative detention of fifteen days for violating the “established order” or carrying out “unlawful assemblies” and “other mass events in an emergency situation” (Clause 178(2)). Other penalties include a prison term of three to eight years for “participation in mass riots” and a five to fifteen year prison term for organization of “mass riots” (Article 276 of Criminal Code of Turkmenistan).
|UN Universal Periodic Review Reports|
|Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs||Not available|
|USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes||
|U.S. State Department|
|Failed States Index Reports|
|IMF Country Reports||2010 Article IV Consultation with Turkmenistan|
|Asia Pacific Philanthropy Forum Reports||Not available|
|NGO Regulation Network Reports||Not available|
|CIVICUS Civil Society Index (CSI) Country Reports||Not available|
|International Commission of Jurists||Not available|
|Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights Report||Not available|
|International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library||Turkmenistan|
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
US Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Discusses Importance of Turkmen Civil Society (March 2013)
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As the European Union prepares to review its Central Asia strategy, a leading international human rights watchdog has urged Brussels to demand the five republics improve their human rights records or face consequences. In a June 21 statement ahead of an EU meeting on Central Asia policy, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the 27-member organization not to allow geopolitical interests to serve as “an excuse for downplaying the EU’s focus on human rights abuses in the region.” HRW reserved its harshest words for Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which “stand out as particularly closed and repressive, clamping down on independent civil society activism and silencing critics through a combination of threats, harassment, and politically motivated imprisonment.”
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According to a newly released report,” the regime has targeted netizens for harsh crackdowns, ready to do whatever it takes to retain its absolute power, even to the point of viewing people with satellite dishes and mobile phones as potential enemies.” The report adds that “hopes that the country would open up with the coming to power of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in 2007 have come to nothing….” Other “cyber oppressors” include: Burma, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
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The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL NGO Law Monitor partner organization in Turkmenistan.