ECtHR president says his Turkey visit no pretext for questioning court’s independence

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European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) President Róbert Ragnar Spanó has said that his September visit to Turkey, which sparked indignation among critics, is not a basis for questioning the independence and neutrality of both himself and the Strasbourg-based court, the Euronews Turkish service reported on Thursday.

Spanó was the first ECtHR president to pay an official visit to Turkey, the government of which is a party to more than 11 percent of the cases before the court, according to 2020 data presented by Spanó during a news conference on Thursday.

A three-day visit to a country is not long enough to meet with nongovernmental organizations or other such groups, Spanó told Euronews, adding that they have been inviting rights groups to the court for many years now and would continue to do so.

He went on to say that his visit to Turkey doesn’t affect his independent or neutral stance with regards to human rights issues in the country and doesn’t constitute a basis for criticism targeting him and the Strasbourg court.

The three-day visit, which took place between Sept. 3 and 5, 2020, involved meetings with several high-ranking officials, including a closed-door meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lasting for 45 minutes, and accepting an honorary doctorate from İstanbul University.

The ECtHR president, however, didn’t meet with any representatives from Turkey’s media outlets or human rights organizations critical of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, drawing the ire of Turkish dissidents, who chastised Spanó for legitimizing Erdoğan’s unchecked rule.

Rebecca Harms, former MEP and a rights advocate, also criticized Spanó on Twitter for accepting the honorary doctorate, saying, “If this is compatible with rules of ECtHR, it is a blow into the face of all Turkish citizens who still hope for justice and protection of human rights via the court in Strasbourg.”

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