Turkey’s campaign to punish foreign NGOs at the UN continues unabated

Abdullah Bozkurt/Stockholm

Turkey’s global campaign to prosecute non-governmental organizations that criticize President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government on a range of issues continues unabated, with the latest target being a prominent Geneva-based NGO that fights transnational organized crime.

In a letter to the United Nations office in Vienna, the Turkish government asked the United Nations to ban the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, also known as the Global Initiative, from attending the proceedings. of ONU.

Ankara claimed the NGO, which is made up of a network of law enforcement, governance and development practitioners and was linked to a terrorist group without providing any evidence to support the allegation. The organization was initially established with funding and operational support from the governments of Norway and Switzerland.

The Turkish move follows an ongoing pattern of relentless and systematic efforts by the Erdoğan government to suppress international NGOs that are involved in work that may be critical of Turkey. Turkey has in the past blocked the participation of foreign NGOs in UN events, citing similar allegations and making false accusations that have drawn a wave of criticism from countries that host such NGOs on their territory.

Turkey’s pursuit of foreign NGOs came after the Erdoğan government shut down more than a thousand NGOs in Turkey in 2016 and 2017, again on fabricated terrorism charges.

The letter from Ambassador Ahmet Muhtar Gün, Permanent Representative of Turkey to the United Nations Office at Vienna, which sought to block the participation of a Geneva-based international NGO in a UN event:


The letter submitted on December 20, 2021 by Ambassador Ahmet Muhtar Gün, Permanent Representative of Turkey to the United Nations Office at Vienna, alleged that Global Initiative supported the Gülen movement, a critic of the Turkish government on a range of issues. ranging from corruption to Turkey’s complicity with armed jihadist groups.

The movement faced a crackdown in Turkey following the December 2013 corruption probes that incriminated Erdoğan, his family members, and his business and political associates. Despite overwhelming evidence of crime, Erdoğan dismissed corruption allegations, fired prosecutors and police chiefs involved, and stifled corruption investigations.

Erdoğan claimed the investigations were a coup against his government and accused the movement of orchestrating the investigation, a claim the movement denied. In recent years, numerous media outlets, NGOs and individuals who criticized the Erdoğan government for its rampant corruption have been viciously targeted, with many facing criminal investigations and malicious prosecutions on bogus terrorism charges.

UN Meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee to Develop a Comprehensive International Convention on Combating the Use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Criminal Purposes, 7-11 March 2022.

Turkey is following the same script of fabricating terrorism charges to smear foreign NGOs and abuse international mechanisms to suppress criticism, intimidate those who dare to speak out against Turkey’s policies and silence critical voices on global platforms. The decision of the Turkish mission against Global Initiative was intended to punish the NGO by refusing its participation in an upcoming United Nations meeting Event entitled “Meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee to Develop a Comprehensive International Convention on Combating the Use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for Criminal Purposes”.

The meeting aimed to promote and strengthen measures to prevent and combat the use of ICTs for criminal purposes and cybercrime, while protecting ICT users against these crimes. It hoped to facilitate and support international cooperation in preventing and combating the use of ICTs for criminal purposes/cybercrime. The UN hopes to provide practical tools to improve technical assistance between Member States and strengthen the capacity of national authorities to prevent and combat the use of ICTs for criminal purposes.

Two letters to the UN from the Turkish mission in New York reiterating calls to prevent an NGO from attending a UN event:


For this, the UN is actively working with the private sector, NGOs, civil society and academia to promote its agenda, and many NGOs whose work focuses on cross-border crime were ready to participate in the event. However, Turkey claimed that the UN is an intergovernmental organization and the event should be led by member states. Turkey’s objection was overruled by the UN, prompting second and third letters from the Turkish Mission to the UN in New York on February 24, 2022.

The Turkish campaign did not prevent the NGO from attending the meeting at the UN headquarters from February 28 to March 11, 2022. Mark Shaw delivered a speech on behalf of the Global Initiative and thanked the president and the secretariat to have advanced.

Although Turkey failed to prevent Global Initiative from participating in the UN event, it recently succeeded in blocking eight NGOs – which are not even present in Turkey – as observers at a conference. anti-corruption, citing baseless accusations of terrorism. Turkey submitted two letters on September 28 and November 24, 2021 declaring its opposition to the participation of the eight NGOs — 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 (USA), The Good Lobby (Italy), Transparency International (Georgia) and EUROTHINK – Center for European Strategies (North Macedonia).

Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Muhtar Gün

EU member states as well as the US, UK, Australia and several others highlighted Turkey’s negative role in preventing NGO participation in 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. 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 that were not within the scope of the convention.

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.

Turkey had attacked NGOs at the UN in the past. In 2017, at the special request of Turkey, the Committee of Non-Governmental Organizations revoked the consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the main charity organization Kimse Yok Mu, the freedom group 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.

Statement delivered at the UN event by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime:


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 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.

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.

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