Turkey attacks foreign NGOs and prevents them from attending UN events

Abdullah Bozkurt/Stockholm

After summarily and arbitrarily shutting down more than a thousand non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Turkey since 2016, the Islamist government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has now started cracking down on NGOs in other countries.

The horrific campaign of repression against NGOs abroad recently manifested itself at the United Nations, where Turkish diplomats filed a series of objections to the participation of eight NGOs as observers in an anti-corruption conference , citing baseless accusations of terrorism.

This unprecedented campaign has angered many countries, including members of the European Union, who have opposed Turkey’s unjustified decision to block NGOs that are not even present in Turkey. Ankara dug in and eventually managed to stop major NGOs from splittingIparticipate in the UN event.

It all started when the UN began preparations for the 9th session of the Conference of States Parties (CoSP) to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in December 2021. Many NGOs around the world have expressed interest in participating in the event as an observer, and the secretariat has circulated the names of NGOs.

Among dozens of NGOs, nine faced objections, with Turkey contesting the participation of eight, according to conference chairman Harib Saeed al-Amimi of the United Arab Emirates. Turkey submitted two letters on September 28 and November 24 stating its opposition to the participation of the eight NGOs.

The letter submitted in September by Ambassador Ahmet Muhtar Gün, Permanent Representative of Turkey to the United Nations Office at Vienna, to the United Nations listed the following organizations as being linked to what he claimed was terrorism: Access Info Europe (Spain), Alliance on Civic Initiatives Promotion (Kyrgyzstan), Central Asia Research Institute on Corruption and Money Laundering (Kyrgyzstan), Expert Forum (Romania), Integrity Initiatives International (United States), The Good Lobby (Italy), Transparency International (Georgia) and Eurothink- Center for European Strategies (North Macedonia).

The objections were reviewed by the conference bureau on December 13 and 14, 2021, during which time the bureau recommended upholding the objection for the participation of the Libyan Association for Transparency as the NGO had no no legal status in Libya.

The letter from Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Muhtar Gün, who accuses leading NGOs of terrorism:


The remaining objections to the eight NGOs that were filed by Turkey posed a challenge to the office as none of them are actually located in Turkey. The bureau deferred the issue for further discussion in the hope of finding a compromise. But Turkey refused to budge, drawing criticism from other UN member states, who accused Turkey of targeting NGOs in other countries without probable cause or justification.

A Turkish diplomat present at the meeting claimed that his country was fighting against terrorism and that the control of the eight NGOs was justified and justified. EU member states as well as the US, UK, Australia and several others highlighted Turkey’s negative role in preventing NGOs from attending the conference. Speaking on behalf of 41 member states, including EU countries, a Slovenian diplomat said non-governmental organizations played a key role in supporting the global fight against corruption. It was therefore crucial that the conference engage a wide range of civil society organizations and that diverse voices be heard, in order to strengthen the implementation of the convention and ensure that States Parties are able to meet the current challenges. and future in the fight against corruption.

The principles of inclusiveness and transparency were at the heart of the conference and its work, she said, expressing concern that the work of the conference was being undermined by blocking the accreditation of non-governmental organizations. who had a proven track record in working on obviously relevant issues. to the objective and purpose of the convention.

A US diplomat also criticized Turkey, saying there was insufficient evidence to ban NGOs from attending the event and regretted that a number of state parties used the conference session to promote interests which were outside the scope of the convention. One of the NGOs that Turkey opposed was Integrity Initiatives International, a US-based NGO, and the US diplomat described the NGO as a strong supporter of global anti-corruption efforts. “His voice at the conference would make a significant contribution to the collective dialogue,” he added.

Yusuf Sağ, Deputy Patriarch of the Turkish Syriac Catholic Church (4th R), launched his book at a reception organized by the Intercultural Dialogue Platform of the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV) in Istanbul in December 2013.

A European Union diplomat then warned that Turkey’s objections set a dangerous precedent because none of the non-governmental organizations were based in the country that objected. He rejected the Turkish government’s accusations of terrorism against the NGOs and underlined that the European Union had serious concerns about Turkey’s objection to the participation of the eight non-governmental organisations.

A Romanian diplomat also slammed Turkey, dismissing Ankara’s claims that a Romanian NGO called Expert Forum has ties to terrorism. He said Turkey had not provided any evidence to support its charges, which went against the Romanian government’s assessment of the targeted NGO. “Such an unfounded accusation could endanger individuals and entities,” he said.

Letter from the EU Delegation in Vienna refuting Turkish terrorism allegations regarding the eight NGOs:


After a series of debates, Turkey continued to oppose the participation of the eight NGOs and succeeded in keeping them out of the UN event.

It was not the first time that Turkey sued NGOs at the UN. In 2017, at the special request of Turkey, the Committee of Non-Governmental Organizations canceled the consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the main charity group Kimse Yok Mu, the group for the defense of freedom of the press of the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV). and the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON), all affiliated with the Gülen movement, which is critical of the Turkish government.

Without presenting any evidence linking these NGOs to violence or terrorism and simply citing the fact that they had been shut down by the government with decree laws under the state of emergency and had therefore ceased to exist, the Turkish diplomats at the UN have asked the committee to withdraw their consultative status with the UN. None of the NGOs had the opportunity to defend themselves against the serious accusations or to plead their case before the committee.

The UN report details Turkey’s objections to the participation of some foreign NGOs in the anti-corruption conference and a wave of criticism of Turkey from other countries:


The GYV moved its operations out of Turkey and registered as an NGO in the United States following an unprecedented crackdown on NGOs in Turkey. However, this did not prevent the GYV from losing its official status at the UN due to the Turkish government’s lobbying campaign.

The representative of the United States requested more information from Turkey regarding the NGOs and requested information and evidence on the allegations that the NGOs were linked to terrorism. She also said that a response from NGOs must be sought before acting on their status in ECOSOC. Turkey has provided no evidence and asked the UN not to contact any of these NGOs.

Turkey has a seat on the Committee of Non-Governmental Organizations which expires this year.

Ambassador Ahmet Muhtar Gün, Permanent Representative of Turkey to the United Nations Office at Vienna.

Among the 1,325 associations and foundations in Turkey closed for terrorism in 2016 and 2017 by government decrees that are not subject to any effective judicial or legislative control are groups advocating for health, sports, education, charities, trade unionists and others who apparently have nothing to do with terrorism or any other crime, such as the Medical Ontology Foundation of Anatolia, the Gastrointestinal Oncology Foundation and the Health for All Association. They were targeted due to unconstitutional profiling by the government, targeting critics, minorities, opponents and anyone else who does not want to toe the line of the Islamist government in Turkey.

The Gülen Group was the subject of a crackdown following major corruption investigations in December 2013 that incriminated the inner circle of former Prime Minister and current President Erdoğan, including several government ministers.

Erdoğan dismissed corruption allegations, fired prosecutors and police chiefs, and stifled corruption investigations. He also described the investigations as “a plot by the Gülen movement to overthrow the government” and launched a crackdown on the group. The movement, led by Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen, has long criticized the Erdoğan government for its corruption and Ankara’s complicity with radical jihadist groups in Syria and Libya.

NGOs and individuals who criticized the Erdoğan government for its rampant corruption have been viciously targeted, with many being criminally investigated and maliciously prosecuted on trumped-up terrorism charges.

The Romanian government submitted a letter to the UN vouching for the NGO Expert Forum and rejecting the accusations made by the Turkish government:


Jennifer C. Burleigh