Last updated: 17 June 2024


On May 29, 2024, the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People Party (TPP), which together hold a slim majority in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, passed a series of controversial amendments to the Law Governing the Legislative Yuan’s Power and the Criminal Code. The amendments, which triggered several large protests culminating in around 70,000 demonstrators gathering near the Legislative Yuan on May 28, are also opposed by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has challenged the constitutionality of the amendments. Perhaps the most controversial amendment allows the majority party to form investigative committees to compel representatives from government, military, business, and civil society to give public testimony or hand over documents and data to those committees. The DPP has also complained that it was not sufficiently consulted during the drafting process of the amendments.

In a petition calling for lawmakers to abandon the legislation and resume proper parliamentary process and debate, a number of Taiwan CSOs criticized the amendments as overreach by the legislative majority:

Such sweeping powers pose unconscionable risks for those handling sensitive information, civil society groups working with vulnerable communities, including those facing persecution from China such as Tibetans or the Hong Kong diaspora, and journalists needing to protect their sources.

The proposed laws could also be used to target staff working in government missions and representative offices, international NGO branches, and overseas media bureaus.

On June 11, the Executive Yuan, which is controlled by the DPP, resorted to a seldom-used veto mechanism to request that the Legislative Yuan reconsider the amendments. The Executive Yuan noted that the legislative deliberation had “failed to conform to democratic principles” enshrined in the Constitution. Lawmakers have 15 days from June 11 to vote on whether to uphold the amendments and they need only a simple majority to do so.


The political environment has played an important role in shaping the development of civil society in Taiwan. Taiwan was ruled by Japan from 1895 to 1945, and by the Kuomingtang (KMT) party, which lost the civil war to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1949 and fled to Taiwan, where it set up the Republic of China (ROC). Like the CCP, the KMT was a highly centralized Leninist party, which admitted no political competitors. From 1949 to 1987, the KMT ruled Taiwan, imposing martial law and strict controls on civil society, denying citizens the right to form independent associations or political parties.

During this period, the KMT formed many of its own party and government-led civic organizations and foundations. The earliest independent CSOs were international ones, such as the Red Cross, World Vision, Christian Children’s Fund, Rotary Club, and Lion’s Club, which came into Taiwan in the 1960s and 1970s. These international civil society organizations (CSOs) provided a foundation for the wave of civil society organizing that began in the late 1980s and 1990s as Taiwan began to democratize. A watershed event in the democratization process was the election of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate, Chen Shui-bian, as president in 2000. In 2016, the DPP again made history when it captured the majority in the Legislative Yuan and its candidate, Tsai Ing-wen, was elected president.

During the democratization period, Taiwanese CSOs and social movements working on environmental, religious, labor, women, indigenous, migrant, consumer, humanitarian relief, and other issues emerged to challenge and resist authoritarianism. They called for an independent public sphere and the formation of new political and social values. In 2014, the Sunflower Movement galvanized students and civic groups against a trade pact being negotiated between China and the KMT-led government in Taiwan. This gave new impetus to civil society, including the formation of a new political party, the New Power Party, which advocated for stronger civil and political liberties and Taiwanese independence.

Internationally, Taiwan’s newly independent civil society began to collaborate with international CSOs on humanitarian assistance and international development in a number of countries around the world. However, Taiwan’s unique international position as a territory not recognized by the United Nations and a large majority of the world’s states has made it difficult for Taiwan’s CSOs to work with the international community. This situation has intensified since the DPP came to power in 2016. Angered by the DPP’s pro-independence position, the People’s Republic of China (PROC) has waged an increasingly assertive diplomatic, political and military campaign to further isolate Taiwan. This campaign, however, has had the opposite effect of encouraging more international CSOs to come to Taiwan in recent years and use the island as a base for their regional work.

Taiwan ranks high on many international indicators of democracy and human rights. For example, in 2019, it became the first Asian country to recognize same-sex marriages, and in 2020, it set up a National Human Rights Commission. Taiwan received the highest ranking in the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)’s Democracy Index among Asian countries and is rated by Freedom House as “free” with a score of 94 out of 100.

There are, however, still outstanding issues that have not been addressed, such as the rights of migrant laborers and the lack of a refugee or asylum law. More importantly for this Note, Taiwan lags behind other countries in the East Asia region as its laws governing freedom of association and cross-border philanthropy remain quite restrictive and at odds with its reputation as an open, democratic society. As one example, Give2Asia’s ranking of Asia-Pacific countries in terms of their readiness for cross-border giving places Taiwan in the bottom tier grouped with Malaysia, Indonesia and India, while China and Singapore occupy the middle tier and Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan the top tier.

Taiwan follows a civil law tradition. In 1992, the Taiwan government revised the repressive laws governing CSOs from the martial law period and promulgated a new Civil Association Act that created three legal categories of associations: occupational associations, such as unions and trade associations; social associations; and political parties. As Taiwan democratized, this Act came to be viewed as overly constraining and efforts were carried out to revise the legal framework in the mid-2010s with only modest results. A separate Religious Associations Act was drafted in 2015, and separate Acts were drafted in 2017 for two of the three types of Civil Associations: political parties and social associations. The Political Parties Act was passed in 2017, but no progress was made on the Religious and Social Associations Acts. In 2018, a Foundation Act was promulgated to create another category of public benefit organization alongside social associations.

This Civic Freedom Monitor (CFM) country note was made possible through the research conducted by Dr. Shawn Shieh, Director, Social Innovations Advisory (Taipei and New York), Co-founder, Freshwater Institute (Taipei), and Contributor, Rights CoLab (New York). Dr. Shieh may be reached via e-mail at: sshieh@siadvisory.org or shawn@freshwater.tw.
Organizational Forms
Civil Associations (occupational, social, and political)
Registration Body
Regulated by the Ministry of Interior under the Civil Associations Act. Regulated by the Ministry of Interior under the 2018 Foundations Act.
Approximate Number
127 political associations (including political parties); 11,324 occupational associations; and 61,863 social associations, including 21,974 national associations and 39,889 local associations. Number uncertain.
Barriers to Entry
There is no law prohibiting the formation and operation of “unregistered” groups, but  registration of social associations requires at least 30 founders and 12 board members restricted to Taiwan residents. No significant restrictions. There are no restrictions on who can serve as a founder of a foundation and no required minimum number of founders.
Barriers to Operations/Activities
No significant restrictions, with the exception of promoting communism or “fake news.” No significant restrictions, with the exception of promoting communism or “fake news.”
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy
No significant restrictions, with the exception of promoting communism or “fake news.” No significant restrictions, with the exception of promoting communism or “fake news.”
Barriers to International Contact
International cooperation can sometimes be challenging given that Taiwan does not have a seat at the UN and is not recognized as a country by many countries. There are also restrictions on cooperating with Chinese and Hong Kong CSOs. International cooperation can sometimes be challenging given that Taiwan does not have a seat at the UN and is not recognized as a country by many countries. There are also restrictions on cooperating with Chinese and Hong Kong CSOs.
Barriers to Resources
None. None.
Barriers to Assembly
Protesters required to secure advance permission from the police; police may restrict protests near government buildings; and overly broad and vague language can be used to restrict assemblies. Protesters required to secure advance permission from the police; police may restrict protests near government buildings; and overly broad and vague language can be used to restrict assemblies.
23,580,712 (2022 est.)
Type of Government
Semi-presidential republic
Life Expectancy at Birth
Total population: 81.16 years; Male: 78.17 years; Female: 84.34 years (2022 est.)
Literacy Rate
Total population: 98.5% male; 99.7% female; 97.3% (2014)
Religious Groups
Buddhist 35.3%, Taoist 33.2%, Christian 3.9%, folk religion (includes Confucian) approximately 10%, none or unspecified 18.2% (2005 est.)
Ethnic Groups
Han Chinese (including Holo, who compose approximately 70% of Taiwan’s population, Hakka, and other groups originating in mainland China) more than 95%, indigenous Malayo-Polynesian peoples 2.3%
GDP per capita
$33,140 (2022)

Source: CIA World Factbook

Ranking Body
Ranking Scale
(best – worst)
UN Human Development Index
N/A (The Republic of China Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics estimates that Taiwan’s ranking would have been #19 in 2021 if Taiwan was included in the UN Human Development Index rankings). 1 – 182
Civicus: People Power
Open (2022) closed, repressed, obstructed, narrowed, or open
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
N/A 179 – 1
Transparency International
28 (2023) 1 – 180
Freedom House: Freedom in the World
Status: Free
Political Rights: 38
Civil Liberties: 56 (2024)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Economist Intelligence Unit: Democracy Index
10 (2022) 1 – 167

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
Yes 1967 (and again in 2009) [1]
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)
Yes 1967
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
Yes 2009
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)
Yes 1970
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
Yes 2007
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
Yes 1989
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
Yes 2006
Regional Treaties

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

[1] As a UN member, Taiwan ratified the ICCPR and ICERD in 1967, but subsequently its UN seat was given to China in 1971 before the ratification process could be completed. After this, Taiwan has ratified several other UN conventions, including the CRC and CRPD, but the implementation process differs from that of other states that are UN members.

Constitutional Framework

Constitution of the Republic of China

The Constitution of the Republic of China (ROC) was ratified by the Kuomingtang (KMT) Party at the Constituent National Assembly on December 25, 1946 in Nanjing, China and adopted on December 25, 1947. It was intended for the entire territory of the ROC, which included what is now China. However, it was never effectively implemented due to the outbreak of civil war between the KMT and the Chinese Communist forces and the ratification of the Temporary Provisions Against the Communist Rebellion by the National Assembly on May 10, 1948.

Following the ROC government’s retreat to Taiwan on December 7, 1949, the Temporary Provisions along with martial law essentially made the ROC a one-party authoritarian state, despite the Constitution calling for the ROC to be a democratic republic. As Taiwan gradually democratized in the 1980s, martial law was lifted in 1987 and the Temporary Provisions were repealed in 1991. Additional articles of the Constitution were passed to reflect the ROC’s actual jurisdiction and to change the structure of government to a semi-presidential system with a unicameral parliament.

Efforts by the main opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), to create a new Taiwanese Constitution in the 1990s and 2000s failed. Instead the KMT and DDP agreed to amend the ROC Constitution in 2005 rather than create a new one.

Key constitutional provisions include the following:

Article 7: All citizens of the Republic of China, irrespective of sex, religion, race, class, or party affiliation, shall be equal before the law.

Article 8: Personal freedom shall be guaranteed to the people. Except in case of flagrante delicto as provided by law, no person shall be arrested or detained otherwise than by a judicial or a police organ in accordance with the procedure prescribed by law. No person shall be tried or punished otherwise than by a law court in accordance with the procedure prescribed by law. Any arrest, detention, trial, or punishment which is not in accordance with the procedure prescribed by law may be resisted.

When a person is arrested or detained on suspicion of having committed a crime, the organ making the arrest or detention shall in writing inform the said person, and his designated relative or friend, of the grounds for his arrest or detention, and shall, within 24 hours, turn him over to a competent court for trial. The said person, or any other person, may petition the competent court that a writ be served within 24 hours on the organ making the arrest for the surrender of the said person for trial.

The court shall not reject the petition mentioned in the preceding paragraph, nor shall it order the organ concerned to make an investigation and report first. The organ concerned shall not refuse to execute, or delay in executing, the writ of the court for the surrender of the said person for trial.

When a person is unlawfully arrested or detained by any organ, he or any other person may petition the court for an investigation. The court shall not reject such a petition, and shall, within 24 hours, investigate the action of the organ concerned and deal with the matter in accordance with law.

Article 9: Except those in active military service, no person shall be subject to trial by a military tribunal.

Article 10: The people shall have freedom of residence and of change of residence.

Article 11: The people shall have freedom of speech, teaching, writing and publication.

Article 12: The people shall have freedom of privacy of correspondence.

Article 13: The people shall have freedom of religious belief.

Article 14: The people shall have freedom of assembly and association.

Article 15: The right of existence, the right of work, and the right of property shall be guaranteed to the people.

Article 16: The people shall have the right of presenting petitions, lodging complaints, or instituting legal proceedings.

Article 17: The people shall have the right of election, recall, initiative and referendum.

Article 23: All the freedoms and rights enumerated in the preceding Articles shall not be restricted by law except by such as may be necessary to prevent infringement upon the freedoms of other persons, to avert an imminent crisis, to maintain social order or to advance public welfare.

Article 153: The State, in order to improve the livelihood of laborers and farmers and to improve their productive skill, shall enact laws and carry out policies for their protection. Women and children engaged in labor shall, according to their age and physical condition, be accorded special protection.

Article 154: Capital and labor shall, in accordance with the principle of harmony and cooperation, promote productive enterprises. Conciliation and arbitration of disputes between capital and labor shall be prescribed by law.

Article 156: The State, in order to consolidate the foundation of national existence and development, shall protect motherhood and carry out the policy of promoting the welfare of women and children.

Relevant national laws and regulations affecting civil society include the following:

Assembly and Parade Act (January 20, 1988, amended Jan 27, 2021)

Charity Donations Destined For Social Welfare Funds Implementation Regulations (May 17, 2006, amended Jan 15, 2020)

Civil Associations Act (July 27, 1992, amended Jan 27, 2021)

Foundations Act (August 1, 2018)

Implementation Regulations for Supervising Civil Organizations at All Levels (December 19, 1981, amended Jan 22, 2015)

Regulations on Encouragement of Volunteer Service in Interior Operations (June 21, 2001, amended December 18, 2012)

Regulations on Management of the Staff in Social Associations (June 30, 1989, amended Aug 11, 2021)

Regulations on the Licensing and Filing of Social Organizations (February 1, 1989, amended May 22, 2020)

Social Order Maintenance Act (June 29, 1991, amended May 26, 2021)

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

1. Since 2015, a draft law for Religious Associations has been under review but has not yet passed. (see Religious Associations Law (draft, Chinese only))

2. In 2017, there was an initiative to revise the Civil Associations Act. The revision of the Civil Associations Act would have been the most significant legislative change in Taiwan’s recent history. The Civil Associations Act was regarded as overly simplistic and restrictive because it regulated three very different types of associations under one law: political associations (e.g. political parties), occupational associations (e.g., trade unions), and social associations. The revision sought to draft a separate bill for social associations and political parties, but only the Political Parties Act was promulgated in 2017. The Social Associations bill proposed by the Ministry of Interior in 2017 made it to the second reading, as did a similar Social Associations bill (院總第1434號、政府提案第15998號) proposed separately by the Legislative Yuan in 2020 (院總第1434號 _委員提案第24651號), indicating support within the ruling and opposition parties for the bills, but not enough for the laws to pass (ACFA 2023: 31).

3. In 2021, an amendment of the Foundations Act was drafted, but, like the earlier Social Associations Act, it is still pending (see Foundations Act (draft, Chinese only); Social Associations Act (draft, Chinese only).

We are unaware of other pending legislative/regulatory initiatives affecting CSOs at this time. Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of other pending legal or regulatory initiatives, write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

Organizational Forms

There are two main types of CSOs in Taiwan.

1) The civil association is regulated under the Civil Associations Act by the Ministry of Interior. The Act differentiates between three different kinds of associations:

a) occupational association, which refers to “an association organized by the institutions and associations in the same trade or the job-holders of the same occupation with a view to associate the relationship between colleagues, enhance common benefits, and promote social economic construction.”

b) social association, which refers to “an association composed of individuals and (or) associations for the purpose of promoting culture, academic research, medicine, health, religion, charity, sports, fellowship, social service, or other public welfare.” It can conduct events, solicit donations, recruit volunteers, receive revenue, and fundraise. The definition of social association is interpreted broadly so as to embrace a broad range of permissible purposes, including human rights, democracy and governance, and environmental issues.

c) political association, which refers to “an association organized by the citizens of the Republic of China with a view to help form political volition and to promote political participation for the citizens based on common ideas of democratic politics.”

2) The foundation is regulated under the 2018 Foundations Act. The Act defines a foundation as “a private legal person that is dedicated to public-benefit purpose with property endowed by endowers, approved by the competent authority and registered with the court.”

The Act distinguishes between a “government-endowed foundation” and a “public-endowed foundation”.  A government-endowed foundation is one “established after August 15, 1945, with endowment property from the property left by the Japanese government or people and taken over by the Republic of China (“R.O.C.”) government.”  All other foundations are regarded as public-endowed foundations.

Among public-endowed foundations, there are local and national foundations. Local foundations may only operate in a single city or county, whereas national foundations may operate nationally.

Unlike civil associations, the matter of the government authority that registers foundations is complex, and depends on the prospective foundation’s operational objectives. Each government agency has its own regulations and requirements with respect to the establishment and operation of Taiwan foundations. One common requirement is that prospective foundations must acquire a certain minimum amount of endowment funding. The minimum amount of endowment funding varies depending on the particular government agency to which the application to establish the foundation is made. Such minimum endowment funding amounts vary from a few million New Taiwan dollars to NT$50 million (approximately US$100,000 to US$1.7 million).

3) In addition to civil associations and foundations, the Ministry of Interior has also issued instructions for foreign CSOs to set up representative offices in Taiwan. These instructions were first issued in 1987 and then amended on December 31, 2020. (For more on representative offices, see Barriers to Entry below.)

In 2021, data from the Ministry of Interior indicate that there were:

  • 127 political associations (including political parties);
  • 11,324 occupational associations; and
  • 61,863 social associations, including 21,974 national associations and 39,889 local associations.

The number of registered foundations is uncertain, possibly because they are regulated by different agencies depending on the sector in which they work.

The number of religious organizations, which are regulated under the Foundation Act, is also unclear.

As of 2021, according to data from the Ministry of Interior, the number of religious organizations was 15,183 of which 12,281 were temples and 2,902 were churches. Religious organizations are in principle regulated under the Foundation Act, but it is unclear how many are registered. According to Professor Ming Ho-sho, only a very small number of temples are officially registered.

Public Benefit Status

There are no specific laws or regulations that confer a special “charitable” or “public benefit” status for CSOs. However the Foundation Act defines foundations as having a public benefit purpose (Article 2), and the Civil Association Act defines social associations as providing a “public welfare” purpose. (Article 39)

Tax laws in Taiwan do provide incentives to encourage individuals and companies to make charitable donations. The Income Tax Act of 2015 establishes that individual taxpayers can claim a tax deduction of up to 20 percent of gross consolidated income for donations to educational, cultural, public welfare or charitable organizations or associations, while companies can only claim a maximum deduction of 10 percent of their income for charitable donations. (Income Tax Act, Article 36)

The Income Tax Act (Article 4) establishes a required tax exemption for the income of education, cultural, public welfare and charitable organizations or institutions. Certain restrictions apply; for example, the income shall not be distributed to any individual or executive official, and operating expenditures should be used only to pursue the purposes of the organization. The organization shall not carry out any unrelated business. Income generated by selling products and services are not tax-exempt. The income shall be deposited in banks, or as bonds, stocks, and others forms and systems permitted by the regulating authority. The organization shall not have any abnormal financial or operating relationship with founders or board members and should provide financial revenues and expenditures for examination.

Some CSOs that do not generate any operating revenue are also eligible for income tax exemption, such as religious groups which are registered as temples, religious social groups, or religious financial groups.

Barriers to Entry

There is no law prohibiting the formation and operation of “unregistered” groups, but neither does the Civil Association Act explicitly recognize the ability of unregistered groups to form and operate. In addition, the Law and relevant implementing regulations pose onerous and discriminatory procedural burdens on groups wanting to register and operate a social association.

Social Associations

To set up an association, the founders must submit an application form, a draft of the association’s constitution, and a list of the initiators to the regulatory authority to apply for approval. There is no minimum endowment or amount of assets required for social associations.

The Civil Association Act requires no less than thirty (30) initiators who are over twenty (20) years old and of legal capacity. These initiators can be Taiwan nationals or foreign nationals with alien residence cards. Any adult can be a founder or initiator of a social association, provided that they are not serving a jail sentence or security punishment, currently going through bankruptcy proceedings, or placed in a custodianship. (Article 8) These requirements have been criticized by civil society groups and experts as discriminating against youth under 20, people with disabilities who may be under the care of a custodian, and non-resident foreigners. [1]

Social associations can be registered at the local or national level. For local associations, initiators must have household or work addresses in the city or county in which the association is to be established. For national associations, the initiators must have household or work addresses in at least seven different cities or counties in Taiwan.

A civil association must be located where the regulatory authority is located. However, with the approval of the regulatory authority, it may be located in another place, and branches may be established. (Article 6)

After the application for establishing an association is approved, an Establishment Meeting bringing together all initiators eligible to be members of the association shall be held to elect a board of nine directors and three supervisors and discuss the association’s workplan and budget. (Article 9) Within 30 days after the Establishment Conference is held, the association will hold its first board meeting to elect a board chairperson and submit the articles of association, a list of members and board members, curriculum vitae of the elected board members, workplan and budget to the regulatory authority (Ministry of Interior) for approval and accreditation, and the regulatory authority shall grant an accreditation certificate. After being approved and registered by the regulatory authority, a civil association may register itself as a legal person at the governing local court and shall submit a photocopy of the registration certificate to the regulatory authority for reference within thirty (30) days after the registration is finished. There is no fee for registration at the Ministry of Interior but there is a NT$1000 fee (about U.S $30) to register as a legal person at the local court.

[1] Asia Citizen Future Association (ACFA). 2023. “Exploring Taiwan’s Role Amid the Crisis of Closing Space in Southeast Asia. Asia Citizen Future Association (ACFA),” Taipei, Taiwan, https://www.acfa.tw/publish/; Shieh, Shawn. 2023. “Taiwan’s Laws Regulating Civil Society: A Comparative and International Argument for Reform,” 8 December, Taipei: Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zmKEIpJlbsr5y5rp7DOflYu2V_eeW97I/view?usp=drive_link


Unlike social associations, there are no restrictions on who can serve as a founder of a foundation and no required minimum number of founders/initiators. Prospective foundations, however, must have a minimum amount of endowment funding. The minimum amount of endowment funding varies depending on the government agency to which the application to establish the foundation is made. The minimum amounts of endowment funding vary from a few million New Taiwan dollars to NT$50 million (approximately US$100,000 to US$1.7 million).

An application for establishment of a foundation will be made by submitting documents, including the charter of endowment, list of endowment property and supporting documents, list of directors and supervisors, if any, work plan, and other documents to the relevant government authority. (Articles 9-10)

Foundations shall be domiciled at the place where its principal office is located and may establish any branch office upon approval by the competent authority. (Article 6)

A foundation’s directors shall, within 15 days after receiving the approval document, apply for registration with the court having jurisdiction over the places where the principal office and branch office are located. (Article 12)

The Foundation Act requires foundations to establish a board of directors consisting of five (5) to twenty-five (25) directors, provided there is an odd number of directors. One of the directors should serve as the chairperson of the board, and another may serve as the vice chairperson. A foundation may also establish a supervisory board, provided that the number of supervisors may not exceed one-third (1/3) the number of directors.

The Foundation Act specifies that the government authority shall grant approval or dismiss the prospective foundation’s application within 60 days after its receipt of the application. When necessary, the time period may be extended for not more than 30 days. (Article 12)

Representatives of Offices of Foreign CSOs

Foreign CSOs may register as social associations or foundations but the preference for Taiwan citizens or resident foreigners, and the complicated application process which must be carried out in China, make the registration process difficult if not prohibitive. The Foundation Act, for example, allows foreign foundations to apply for recognition from the central competent authority by submitting the requisite documents in Chinese. (Articles 69-70) A recognized foreign foundation has the same legal capacity as a Taiwan foundation. (Article 71) A recognized foreign foundation shall apply to the court for registration of the establishment of its principal office within 15 days after its receipt of the recognition document. (Article 72)

Due to the challenges for foreign CSOs to register as a social association or foundation,  The Ministry of Interior, however, has issued directions for foreign CSOs to register a representative office in Taiwan. These instructions were first issued on November 4, 1987, by the Ministry of the Interior (Order (76) Tai-Nei-She-Tzu No. 539766) and amended on December 30, 2020. A representative office may operate in Taiwan only as the agent of its overseas principal and is not considered a separate legal entity. The responsible person may be a Taiwan national or foreign national with an ARC.

Significantly, while these directions apply to CSOs from Hong Kong and Macao that wish to set up representative offices in Taiwan, they “do not apply to people, legal persons or organizations from mainland China or other mainland Chinese institutions and organizations established in Hong Kong or Macao that wish to set up offices in Taiwan.” Nor may a person from mainland China “serve as the responsible person or be a staff member of an office.”

Establishing a representative office of a foreign CSO is relatively simple and does not require initial capital or a certain number of initiators. However, a representative office is not considered a legal entity and is not permitted to solicit local donations or recruit volunteers in Taiwan. All their funding must come from headquarters. Nor can a representative office organize public events on its own; rather, it must do so with a local partner. [2]
[2] As a result, large foreign CSOs, such as Doctors without Borders (MSF), Greenpeace, and Reporters without Borders (RSF), have made the effort to register in Taiwan as either a foundation or social association because they want to be able to do fundraising and carry out large-scale activities.

Barriers to Operational Activity

There are few prohibitions or restrictions on CSO activities, with the exception of promoting communism or “fake news”; see Article 4 of the Assembly and Parade Act and Article 63 of the Social Maintenance Act.

The law does impose governance rules and reporting requirements, but these do not appear to be unduly burdensome. Civil associations, for example, must convene a members’ congress every year to approve annual financial reports, which are then submitted to the government authority for “examination and reference.” The board of directors of civil associations should also meet every three months.

Foundations must have a work plan and budget for the current year passed by the board at the start of the year and submitted to the government authority for the record. They also need to have a work report and financial statements for the previous year passed and submitted to the relevant government authority for the record. Foundation boards should meet at least every six months.

Representative offices of international CSOs also must submit a work plan and budget for the current year and a narrative and financial report for the previous year to the Ministry of Interior and competent authority.

There are government- and party-affiliated CSOs and foundations in Taiwan, but it is unclear if they are a threat to the independent civic space. It should be recalled that Taiwan was under one-party rule of the KMT for 51 years, so the influence of KMT-affiliated CSOs can be expected to be significant.

Barriers to Speech and Advocacy

There are very few restrictions on freedom of expression in Taiwan with the exception of promoting communism or “fake news” (see Article 4 of the Assembly and Parade Act and Article 63 of the Social Maintenance Act, which are both discussed under Barriers to Assembly below). In 2021, for example, four people were fined for social media posts with “inaccurate information.” As the main target of misinformation and disinformation from China, Taiwan has struggled to find a balance between freedom of expression and regulating speech in media and on social media platforms.

There are also challenges in focusing attention on transitional justice issues from Taiwan’s authoritarian period. However, people are free to discuss them.

Barriers to International Contact

There are very few restrictions on the ability to contact and cooperate with colleagues in the civil society, business, and government sectors within and outside Taiwan. However, international cooperation can sometimes be challenging given that Taiwan does not have a seat at the UN and is not recognized as a country by many countries. These restrictions result from the external environment, of course, and are not something imposed by the Taiwanese government.

There are also some restrictions on the ability of CSOs to contact and cooperate with organizations from China and Hong Kong given the growing political tensions between China and Taiwan. CSOs from mainland China may not set up representative offices in Taiwan, nor can persons from mainland China serve as the responsible person or be a staff member of a representative office.

The COVID-19 pandemic had also made international cooperation more difficult because of Taiwan’s strict quarantine policies, which were in effect until October 2022.

Barriers to Resources

There are no legal restrictions on domestic or foreign funding.

Neither the Civil Association Act nor the Foundation Act address whether or not associations or foundations can engage in commercial, business, or economic activities. Statements from social associations and foundations indicate there are no restrictions on carrying out commercial or economic activities as long as the profits are used to support the not-for-profit purpose of the organization.

CSOs are permitted to carry out public fundraising but they must submit a separate application for public fundraising to the Ministry of Health on an annual basis.

Barriers to Assembly

Assembly is regulated by the Assembly and Parade Act, which was first formulated in 1988 during Taiwan’s martial law period. The Act has been criticized as excessively strict and in parts unconstitutional, both by domestic and international civil rights groups and Taiwanese politicians, as well as in a 2014 decision by Taiwan’s constitutional court. The Act requires protesters to secure advance permission from the police and allows police to restrict protests near government buildings. Plans to amend the Assembly and Parade Act and abolish the government’s authority to withhold approval for demonstrations were announced during President Tsai’s electoral campaign in 2019, but they have not been realized.

The Social Maintenance Act contains overly broad and vague language that could be used to restrict assembly, particularly Part III, which prescribes fines for “public nuisance,” such as:

  • “Spreading rumors in a way that is sufficient to undermine public order and peace” (Article 63);
  • Intending to cause trouble by gathering a crowd at parks, stations, wharfs, airports, or other public places (Article 64);
  • Harassing residents, factories, businesses, public places, or publicly accessible places (Article 68); and
  • Wandering at midnight, looking suspicious, and giving no justifiable reasons while posing a threat to public safety (Article 71).

Trade unions are independent, and most workers enjoy freedom of association and the right to strike, except for teachers, workers in the defense industry, and government employees, who are prohibited from striking.

Unlike many of its Asian neighbors, Taiwan’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic did not include severe lockdowns or curfews but only short-term restrictions from March to June 2020 on the right to assembly. These included limiting open air gatherings to a maximum of 500 people and indoor assemblies to a maximum of 100 people.

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports and Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs
Taiwan National Human Rights Commission

The Implementation of Human Rights Conventions (this database includes national reports prepared collaboratively by Taiwan NGOs, scholars, experts and government, as well as independent opinions, on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination)

Council on Foundations Country Notes
U.S. State Department
2023 Human Rights Report: Taiwan
Fragile States Index Reports
Foreign Policy Fragile States Index
Academic and Research Reports
Asia Citizen Future Association (ACFA). 2023. Exploring Taiwan’s Role Amid the Crisis of Closing Space in Southeast Asia. Asia Citizen Future Association (ACFA), Taipei, Taiwan.

Shieh, Shawn. 2023. Taiwan’s Laws Regulating Civil Society: A Comparative and International Argument for Reform, 8 December, Taipei: Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.

Bertelsmann Stiftung, BTI 2022 Country Report — Taiwan. Gütersloh: Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2022

Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (CFE-DM), Introduction to Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) and Search and Rescue (SAR) Organizations in Taiwan

Taiwan: Freedom in the World 2024 Country Report

Lin, Teh-chang, Jessica Liao, and Adam Fields. 2005. “An Assessment of Civil Society in Taiwan (2005) Transforming State-Society Relations: The Challenge, Dilemma and Prospect of Civil Society in Taiwan.” CIVICUS Civil Society Index

Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. 2020. “Non-Governmental Organizations of Taiwan:A Force for Good in the World.” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan) Department of NGO International Affairs

International Commission of Jurists
Country Archives (28/4/2020)
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library

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 ngomonitor@icnl.org.

General News

Call for Petition — Taiwan CSOs: Proposed ‘Reforms’ Endanger Rights, Enable Transnational Repression (May 2024)
Opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) lawmakers are attempting to pass controversial legal amendments that jeopardize the security and right to privacy of everyone residing in Taiwan, particularly members of vulnerable communities. We, the undersigned civil society organizations (CSOs) in Taiwan, believe the proposals pose a significant risk to our staff, the people we represent, and our international partners. Though framed as an attempt to improve oversight of the administration of newly inaugurated President Lai Ching-te, the so-called ‘legal reforms’ include amendments that could be weaponized to target organizations and individuals in possession of sensitive information and material.

Taiwan remains only ‘open’ society in Asia: report (December 2023)
Taiwan has remained the only country in Asia with “open” civic space for the fifth consecutive year, according to the CIVICUS Monitor ranking. The “People Power Under Attack 2023” report named Taiwan as one of only 37 “open” countries or territories out of 198 globally, and the only in Asia.

Taiwan Faces a #MeToo Wave, Set Off by a Netflix Hit (June 2023)
A wave of #MeToo allegations has raced to the very top of Taiwan’s political, judicial and arts scenes, forcing a new reckoning of the state of women’s rights on a democratic island that has long taken pride in being among Asia’s most progressive places. Nearly every day, fresh allegations emerge, setting off discussions on talk shows and on social media, with newspaper commentaries and activist groups calling for stronger protections for victims…. To those working in Taiwan’s civil society, perhaps the most concerning of allegations are those directed at activists seen as influential leaders in the rights community.

Taiwan’s COVID-19 Response and Human Rights (March 2023)
Although it is generally agreed that the pandemic was handled well in Taiwan, examples abound of government policies that overrode basic democratic rights, freedoms, speech, movement and participation. A new report, “Collaborative Governance in Taiwan’s COVID-19 Pandemic Response,” which was published by the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), attempted to gauge how successful Taiwan’s government was in balancing human rights with public health measures. In general, Taiwan performed admirably, with “many good practices that others could learn from,” said Shawn Shieh, who authored the report.

Taiwan’s Failed Social Media Regulation Bill (October 2022)
Taiwan’s Digital Intermediary Service Act, proposed by the National Communications Council (NCC) in late June this year, was withdrawn in the Executive Yuan within a little over a month before being officially reviewed by the parliament. The legislation aimed to establish greater accountability for social media platforms and websites for the content on their sites and create mechanisms for greater transparency and responsibility for content moderation. Despite being one of the most at risk but least prepared countries for foreign disinformation campaigns, Taiwan strongly resists the legislation that would put greater responsibility on international digital platforms.