Criticized for Accepting Degree from Turkish University

Vala Hafstað

Róbert Ragnar Spanó, president of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) since April this year, is facing criticism from many directions for having accepted and honorary degree from Istanbul University Friday and for having met with Turkish President Recep Erdoğan, mbl.is reports.

Róbert, who is the first Icelander to have served as the president of the court, has been harshly criticized by human rights activists and by a former professor of Istanbul University for accepting the degree. Accepting an honorary degree from a university that has fired numerous academics is believed by many to reduce the credibility of the European Court of Human Rights.

“I’m saddened to watch Róbert Spanó’s visit to Turkey,” Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, former director of OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, writes on her Facebook page. She goes on to say that he, of all people, should be well aware that human rights are far from being respected in Turkey.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s leading international human rights organizations had this to say on Twitter:

Rebecca Harms, a German politician who served as member of the European Parliament from 2004 till 2019, is just as pointed in her criticism: 

“People who will be giving you an honorary doctorate are the very people who dismissed me and many other academics,” Turkish journalist and dismissed academic economist Mehmet  Altan wrote to Róbert before he accepted the degree.

Kati Piri, a Dutch politician and member of the European Parliament points out that Turkey has the most cases pending at the ECHR, and that the visit has politicized the court and damaged its reputation. 

Mithat Sancar, Turkish professor of law and co-chair of the People’s Democratic Party, wrote an open letter to Róbert, where he speaks of the “continuous and systematic deterioration in the field of human rights in Turkey in recent years” and lists human rights violations against academics in Turkey. He concludes the letter by asking Róbert to reconsider the decision to accept to honorary degree. 

You can read Róbert's acceptance speech here

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