Because Europe prides itself on institutions that uphold and promote international law, the European Court of Human Rights is perhaps the most popular symbol of the European approach toward statecraft. As the Strasburg-based court was established under the aegis of Council of Europe, its jurisdiction is far broader than even the European Union. Today, 47 states are members, 20 more countries than have joined the European Union.
Alas, as often happens with human rights institutions, ego, arrogance, and an embrace of moral equivalence combines to erode their standing and betray the principles for which they stand. Former Ireland President Mary Robinson, for example, made a mockery of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights when she sponsored the Orwellian “World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.” A decade ago, Robert Bernstein took to the pages of the New York Times to lament how Human Rights Watch, the organization which he founded, had gone off the rails as current director Kenneth Roth twisted the group into a platform for his own political crusades. Then there’s the American Friends Service Committee: In 1947, it was a Nobel Peace Laureate; three decades later, its director transformed it into the chief apologist for the Khmer Rouge as he co-opted the platform for his own political grandstanding.
So it has now become with the European Court of Human Rights.
On September 4, Robert Spano (an Italian-Icelandic lawyer who serves as the court’s president) traveled to Turkey. There is nothing askew about this: court officials frequently travel to discuss processes to decisions. Spano, however, had another agenda: He accepted an honorary doctorate in law from Istanbul University. His visit and acceptance of the honor comes against the backdrop of a massive, multi-year crackdown on civil society inside Turkey. Freedom House, whose assessors have long been more apologetic to Turkey than objectivity would merit, now designate Turkey as not free. Reporters Without Borders, meanwhile, has labeled Turkey the world’s biggest jail for journalists. Religious discrimination in Turkey is rife.
According to the European Union Turkey Civic Commission, “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.”
Frankly, they are right. His acceptance of a Turkish human rights award is reminiscent of those whose ego or poor judgment led them to accept late Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi’s “Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights”
Spano’s decision to accept an honorary degree calls into question his judgment. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a masterful manipulator and Spano played into his hands. Simply put, Spano’s actions are an insult to the millions of Turks who now suffer human rights abuses at the hands of the Erdoğan regime. Institutions should be more important than the individuals who lead them. If Spano really cares about the institution he leads, he will resign. Conversely, if the European Court of Human Rights wishes to restore its reputation, it should terminate his presidency immediately.
Michael Rubin (@Mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official.
Tags: Opinion, Beltway Confidential, Blog Contributors, Turkey, Europe, Law, Court, Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Original Author: Michael Rubin
Original Location: European Court of Human Rights’ president degrades court with Turkish award