Robert Spano, the president of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), received an honorary doctorate from Istanbul University on September 4, 2020. This occurred at a time when various bodies of the Council of Europe have noted that human rights are under tremendous challenges in Turkey. For example, the Venice Commission, Commissioner for Human Rights and the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, among others, recently have noted how Turkey has blatantly violated principles upon which the ECtHR was constructed. This includes matters from arbitrary arrest, disposition and replacement of elected local mayors by government appointed trustees, Internet censorship, and vaguely worded anti-terrorism legislation purging thousands of academics, also from Istanbul University, without the right of defense, among many other egregious examples negatively affecting the rule of law.

It is not unusual that the President of ECtHR and representatives of the court visit member countries from time to time. Such delegations are usually considered as diplomatic representation. The President travels with one or more other leaders and someone from the registrar unit. The purpose will usually be to discuss the court’s decisions compared to the legal situation in that country and how it can be improved. Such visits are considered ordinary diplomatic courtesy. While the President of ECtHR has the obvious right to visit any country he wishes, it is highly inappropriate that he accepts an honorary doctorate in law from Istanbul University. In this way Mr. Spano turned a promising meeting in Turkey into a scandal.

By granting the honorary degree to Mr. Spano, Turkey obviously thought it could use the occasion to try to silence critics of its atrocious human rights record. The fact that Mr. Spano did not decline the honorary doctorate will definitely be interpreted as a sign of legitimization of human rights violations taking place in Turkey under the current President’s rule. The ECtHR means hope to those people who suffer from human rights violations in their home countries. By accepting the honorary doctorate, in itself a scandalous and totally unnecessary gesture, President Spano also accepts the gross and repeated violations of human rights taking place on a daily basis in Turkey. Mr. Spano is naive if he seriously thinks that the honorary doctorate will provide him with a voice that Turkey will listen to. On the contrary, Turkey see it as a triumph to have the very president of the human rights court in its pocket. The question is whom the President of ECtHR primarily should serve? The abuser or the victim? By accepting the honorary doctorate, Mr. Spano chooses the party that is responsible for the suffering.

The EUTCC strongly dissociates itself from the fact that the President of the European Court of Human Rights receives an honorary doctorate from a member state that largely violates human rights. The
EUTCC takes this occasion to remind all those who champion the cause of human rights about its perilous condition today in Turkey.

On behalf of the EUTCC board

Kariane Westrheim, Chairperson
Dersim Dağdeviren, Board Member

EU Turkey Civic Commission
Twitter: @EUTCC1
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