Posts Tagged ‘Academic freedom’

Harvard comes to its senses: rescinds decision on Roth

January 20, 2023
Roth poses after an interview with Reuters in Geneva
Picture January 12, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Following the shocking decision not to award a fellowship to Kenneth Roth, the former head of Human Rights Watch (HRW), [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2023/01/10/pro-israel-lobby-in-usa-seems-to-control-harvards-human-rights-centre/], the Kennedy School at Harvard University said on 19 January that it has reversed its decision.

In the case of Mr. Roth, I now believe that I made an error in my decision not to appoint him as a Fellow at our Carr Center for Human Rights… We will extend an offer to Mr. Roth to serve as a Fellow. I hope that our community will be able to benefit from his deep experience in a wide range of human rights issues,” Elmendorf said.

The decision not to award a fellowship to Roth, first reported by The Nation, drew criticism from some alumni, the American Civil Liberties Union and HRW itself. Freedom of expression advocacy group PEN America said the decision “raises serious questions about the credibility of the Harvard program itself.”

Roth in a statement posted on Twitter on Thursday said he was “thrilled” that Elmendorf had rescinded his decision.

https://www.reuters.com/world/us/harvard-school-reverses-course-will-extend-fellowship-human-rights-advocate-2023-01-19/

Pro-Israel lobby in USA seems to control Harvard’s human rights centre

January 10, 2023

Kenneth Roth wrote in the Guardian of 10 January 2023 “I once ran Human Rights Watch. Harvard blocked my fellowship over Israel. I was told that my fellowship at the Kennedy School was vetoed over my and Human Rights Watch’s criticism of Israel”.

Kenneth Roth said Harvard’s move was a reflection of ‘how utterly afraid the Kennedy School has become of any criticism of Israel’.

. ..If any academic institution can afford to abide by principle, to refuse to compromise academic freedom under real or presumed donor pressure, it is Harvard, the world’s richest university. Yet the Kennedy School’s dean, Douglas Elmendorf, vetoed a human rights fellowship that had been offered to me because of my criticism of Israel. As best we can tell, donor reaction was his concern.

Soon after I announced my departure from Human Rights Watch [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/27/after-almost-30-years-kenneth-roth-will-leave-human-rights-watch/], the Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy reached out to me to discuss offering me a fellowship. ..

.. in anticipation of my stay at the school, I reached out to the dean to introduce myself. We had a pleasant half-hour conversation. The only hint of a problem came at the end. He asked me whether I had any enemies.

It was an odd question. I explained that of course I had enemies. Many of them. That is a hazard of the trade as a human rights defender.

I explained that the Chinese and Russian governments had personally sanctioned me – a badge of honor, in my view. I mentioned that a range of governments, including Rwanda’s and Saudi Arabia’s, hate me. But I had a hunch what he was driving at, so I also noted that the Israeli government undoubtedly detests me, too.

That turned out to be the kiss of death. Two weeks later, the Carr Center called me up to say sheepishly that Elmendorf had vetoed my fellowship. He told Professor Kathryn Sikkink, a highly respected human rights scholar affiliated with the Kennedy School, that the reason was my, and Human Rights Watch’s, criticism of Israel.

That is a shocking revelation. How can an institution that purports to address foreign policy – that even hosts a human rights policy center – avoid criticism of Israel. Elmendorf has not publicly defended his decision, so we can only surmise what happened. He is not known to have taken public positions on Israel’s human rights record, so it is hard to imagine that his personal views were the problem.

But as the Nation showed in its exposé about my case, several major donors to the Kennedy School are big supporters of Israel. Did Elmendorf consult with these donors or assume that they would object to my appointment? We don’t know. But that is the only plausible explanation that I have heard for his decision. The Kennedy School spokesperson has not denied it.

Some defenders of the Israeli government have claimed that Elmendorf’s rejection of my fellowship was because Human Rights Watch, or I, devote too much attention to Israel. The accusation of “bias” is rich coming from people who themselves never criticize Israel and, typically using neutral sounding organizational names, attack anyone who criticizes Israel.

Moreover, Israel is one of 100 countries whose human rights record Human Rights Watch regularly addresses. Israel is a tiny percentage of its work. And within the Israeli-Palestinian context, Human Rights Watch addresses not only Israeli repression but also abuses by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Hezbollah.

In any event, it is doubtful that these critics would be satisfied if Human Rights Watch published slightly fewer reports on Israel, or if I issued less frequent tweets. They don’t want less criticism of Israel. They want no criticism of Israel.

The other argument that defenders of Israel have been advancing is that Human Rights Watch, and I, “demonize” Israel, or that we try to “evoke repulsion and disgust”. Usually this is a prelude to charging that we are “antisemitic”.

Human rights advocacy is premised on documenting and publicizing governmental misconduct to shame the government into stopping. That is what Human Rights Watch does to governments worldwide. To equate that with antisemitism is preposterous. And dangerous, because it cheapens the very serious problem of antisemitism by reducing it to criticism of Israel. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/04/amnesty-joins-debate-on-apartheid-versus-palestinians-but-reactions-debase-struggle-against-real-antisemitism/

The issue at Harvard is far more than my own academic fellowship. I recognized that, as an established figure in the human rights movement, I am in a privileged position. Being denied this fellowship will not significantly impede my future. But I worry about younger academics who are less known. If I can be canceled because of my criticism of Israel, will they risk taking the issue on?

The ultimate question here is about donor-driven censorship. Why should any academic institution allow the perception that donor preferences, whether expressed or assumed, can restrict academic inquiry and publication? Regardless of what happened in my case, wealthy Harvard should take the lead here.

To clarify its commitment to academic freedom, Harvard should announce that it will accept no contributions from donors who try to use their financial influence to censor academic work, and that no administrator will be permitted to censor academics because of presumed donor concerns. That would transform this deeply disappointing episode into something positive.

See also the reaction by Gerald L. Neuman: https://hrp.law.harvard.edu/staff-reflections/hks-kenneth-roth-and-the-message-to-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/jan/10/kenneth-roth-human-rights-watch-harvard-israel

Israeli Court backs Oded Goldreich who wants to donate Israel Prize money to human rights NGOs

April 15, 2022
Israel Prize winner in mathematics and computer science Professor Oded Goldreich will be donating his prize money to five left-wing human rights organisations [@WeizmannScience/Twitter]

Times of Isrel (TOI ) on 14 April 2022 reports on Professor Oded Goldreich, a recent recipient of the Israel Prize in mathematics, wants to donate his NIS 75,000 ($23,350) in prize money to five human rights organizations, including Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.

Goldreich, a professor of computer science at Israel’s Weizmann Institute, received the Israel Prize at the offices of the Education Ministry Monday, despite opposition from some government ministers and following a nearly year-long political saga over his alleged support for anti-Israel boycotts.

The five groups that will receive the prize money are Breaking the Silence, Standing Together, Kav LaOved, B’Tselem, and Adalah.

Breaking the Silence collects and publicizes mostly anonymous testimony of alleged IDF mistreatment of Palestinians. The organization has riled Israelis, and drawn ire from officials, who have challenged the authenticity of its anonymous claims and decried its work in international forums.

Standing Together supports and donates supplies to soldiers; Kav LaOved is a legal aid group for disadvantaged workers; B’Tselem documents alleged human rights violations in the West Bank; and Adalah is a legal center for Palestinians.

Last month, the High Court of Justice ruled that Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton must hand over the prize to Goldreich, following a petition against her refusal to give him the award filed by the members of the prize committee. The committee had initially awarded the honor to Goldreich last year.

The court ruling was a majority decision, with Justices Yael Willner and Yitzhak Amit siding with the appeal and Justice Noam Sohlberg opposing it.

Shasha-Biton had claimed that an academic boycott of Israel, which she said Goldreich supports, impacts freedom of speech. Amit ruled that “the harm to academic freedom of speech by withholding the prize from professor Goldreich is much worse.”

Denying the honor to a recognized academic over comments he made is “an invitation to monitor, track, and persecute academics in Israel,” Amit said. Shasha-Biton said at the time that she regretted the justices’ decision, but would respect it. She noted that since the court had previously said the education minister should decide the matter, it should have respected her decision.

“A person who calls for a boycott of an Israeli academic institution is not worthy of a state prize, no matter what his achievements or political views are,” she said.

Likud MK and former intelligence minister Eli Cohen tweeted that “Goldreich is the symptom. The root of the problem is the High Court of Justice.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/controversial-israel-prize-winner-to-donate-grant-money-to-human-rights-ngos/

https://www.ynetnews.com/article/skrb3h4eq

https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20220414-israel-prize-winner-to-donate-award-money-to-groups-fighting-to-end-the-occupation/

Dutch university closes human rights centre funded by China

January 29, 2022

The Scholars at Risk Media Review of January 2022, carries an in-depth article about a university funding row which has raised fears of Chinese influence, written by Yojana Sharma on 26 January 2022:

The Free University of Amsterdam (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam or VU Amsterdam) in the Netherlands has said it will return Chinese funding for its Cross Cultural Human Rights Centre (CCHRC) after an embarrassing row over Chinese influence on academia when it emerged that several of the centre’s academics publicly denied China oppresses Uyghur peoples. See also: https://chinachange.org/2020/04/30/one-chinese-gongos-war-against-global-human-rights/

But the row in the Netherlands amid other recent controversies over Chinese funding of university centres and Confucius Institutes in Germany and the United Kingdom has also made university disclosure of foreign funding more urgent, academics said. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, the CCHRC at VU Amsterdam received a subsidy of between €250,000 (US$282,000) and €300,000 (US$339,000) from the Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing, China.

According to documents obtained by Dutch broadcaster NOS, the Chinese university was the sole financial contributor to the CCHRC during those years, which has raised eyebrows.

VU Amsterdam has said it would return the money it had already received from China for this year, NOS revealed last week. But the university only backed down after the damaging revelations prompted a public outcry and strong statements by the Dutch education minister and others condemning the activities of the centre.

On Wednesday NOS said the activities of the Centre were being suspended, with all its lectures for students cancelled, ascribing the decision to the executive board and deans of the university. The Centre’s activities were already in doubt after the return of funds, making it dependent on the university or other donors for its continued survival.

The row blew up just as the Dutch education ministry is due to present its National Guidelines on Knowledge Security on 31 January and to announce its ‘Government-wide knowledge security front-office’, which is expected to have an advisory role and support universities in identifying risks.

It also followed the publication last week of the European Commission ‘toolkit’ for universities on how to deal with foreign interference.

Dutch Education Minister Robbert Dijkgraaf responded swiftly and unequivocally to the report, saying he was “very shocked” that the funding arrangement signalled possible academic dependence.

“It is urgent and sensible that the Free University now takes action quickly. Scientific core values such as academic freedom, integrity and independence must always be guaranteed,” he said in a statement.

The minister added: “It is important that Dutch knowledge institutions are and remain alert to possible risks of undesired influence by other countries and that they take adequate measures to safeguard academic core values, especially when it comes to universal values like human rights.”

The centre runs an academic journal and organises conferences. Its mission, laid down in the financing agreement with the Chinese university, is to draw attention to a “global view of human rights”, and specifically to the way in which non-Western countries such as China view human rights.

University’s lukewarm initial response

After a lukewarm initial response when the university merely underlined that “as befits the Free University, the research of the CCHRC is independent, interdisciplinary, dialogical and socially relevant”, it added to its statement just hours later, saying “even the appearance of dependence is unacceptable” and announced that it was “taking appropriate measures”, including halting the funding from China.

The university said it has not yet decided whether it will also refund subsidies from previous years, but it said it would first conduct an investigation to determine “whether the independence of the institute’s research has been safeguarded on all fronts”.

The CCHRC website noted in October 2020 that a delegation of people affiliated to the centre ‘recently’ visited the western Chinese region of Xinjiang… the CCHRC website noted: “The situation we encountered in the four cities in this trip did not reflect the grim situation as depicted in the Western reports. There is definitely no discrimination of Uyghurs or other minorities in the region.”

CCHRC Director Tom Zwart, professor at Utrecht University, who is also a frequent guest at Chinese state events and on Chinese state television, told NOS any similarities between the centre’s positions online and those of the Communist Party were “coincidental” and were not steered by any direct influence. Zwart described the CCHRC website as a place for “uncensored free thought”, ascribing the comments on its webpages to individuals “who do not represent the organisation as a whole”.

On 26 January CCHRC released a new statement on its website saying the website would be “temporarily taken offline” in order “to check whether a sufficiently clear distinction is made between statements made on behalf of the Centre and opinions and observations made in a personal capacity.”

It added: “[The] Centre explicitly endorses the conclusions of the United Nations regarding the systematic violation of the Uyghur human rights. In this vein, the Centre’s director, in the presence of members of the Chinese State Council and the Politburo, called on 8 April 2021 to respect and protect the rights of Uyghurs and stop repressive anti-terrorism policies.”

Ingrid d’Hooghe, an expert on China-Europe relations and senior research fellow at the Leiden Asia Centre, Leiden University in the Netherlands, said: “The director of the Centre said in an interview which was also on TV that they were fully independent, there was nothing that made them say what they were saying. But apparently it did not cross their mind that even if they are independent, it doesn’t look like it.

Dutch academic Lokman Tsui, a researcher on digital freedoms and a former assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said via Twitter: “Important to note: until this year, they [the university in Chongqing] were the only funder. Problematic, because it’s hard to be independent if your research centre relies on one single funder. Problematic also, because public universities in China are closely affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party.”

Tsui added: “But whether the research centre is independent or not is also beside the question. The more important question is: Why is the university allowing its integrity and its reputation to be compromised by accepting money meant to validate China’s atrocious human rights record?”

Need for disclosure legislation

“We need legislation that universities have to make funding public,” Fulda said, pointing to Section 117 of the United States Higher Education Act which requires universities that receive foreign gifts of US$250,000 or more within a calendar year to file a disclosure report to the government.

Other draft foreign influence bills, including the Senate Bill S.1169 in the US, are currently attempting to tighten those rules, including reducing the amount that has to be declared by institutions and individuals if the funding comes from certain countries such as China, after a number of universities failed to report substantial foreign gifts under Section 117.

An amendment to the UK Higher Education Bill tabled on 12 January in the House of Commons would require disclosures of foreign funds of £50,000 (US$68,000) going back 10 years.

“The question is, if the Dutch government or other governments in Europe issued new regulations where universities were forced to make these contracts public, whether it would change things, and I think it would,” said Fulda.

Leiden Asia Centre’s d’Hooghe said: “There is no regulation that forces people to register somewhere what kind of collaboration they have. With new regulations in Australia and, to a certain extent, in the US and Canada, you have to become public with that kind of information. Not so in the Netherlands.”

“It’s not necessarily that people want to keep it a secret, it’s just not something that is done routinely. So at top levels in the university, but often even at the faculty level, the departments don’t have a good overview of exactly what kind of research is being done with whom, and how this is financed,” she said

The Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) published a “Framework for Knowledge Security” in July 2021 that outlined risks and the need for monitoring research collaboration, as well as recommending that universities set up their own internal ‘knowledge security advisory team’ to include experts such as cybersecurity specialists.

The focus is on building risk awareness but does not go as far as requiring disclosure of foreign funding. Some universities have pointed out that they cannot ‘police’ research or researchers on behalf of the government.

Who will investigate?

The Netherlands Inspectorate of Education has not indicated that it will carry out a broader investigation into China influence at universities in the country, saying in a statement following the VU Amsterdam row: “No other signals about Chinese influence are known to the inspectorate.”

Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that the Inspectorate of Education “would be wise to do more homework in this area”.

“In a decade of documenting Chinese government threats to academic freedom around the world, Human Rights Watch has found threats at universities from Australia to the United States, and proposed a code of conduct to help mitigate these risks.

“One key step: universities should publicly disclose all direct and indirect Chinese government funding and a list of projects and exchanges with Chinese government counterparts on an annual basis,” she said.

“In showing its permeability to Chinese government influence, the Free University shouldn’t limit its response simply to returning the funding. It should urgently assess whether students and scholars of and from China on its campus are subjected to harassment or surveillance,” which she noted had been well documented elsewhere, notably in Australia, Canada, the UK and the US.

“University leadership and scholars should assess whether censorship and self-censorship have eroded the curriculum or classroom debate,” Richardson added.

“The Free University should also join forces with counterparts across Europe – from Berlin to Cambridge to Budapest – who have faced similar problems, and agree to share information and adopt common standards with the goal of collectively resisting Beijing’s efforts to curtail academic freedom. The list of potential participants – supposedly ‘free’ universities – is disturbingly long.”

EU toolkit for universities: will it make a difference?

The EU issued a toolkit for universities on 18 January. Although it is comprehensive, d’Hooghe noted that “these rules are not binding because the EU has no competence in the area of education”. Universities are outside Brussels’ remit.

She saw it more as a “service to EU member states who still don’t have national rules, who find it very difficult to develop them or don’t have the capacity to develop them”.

While many ongoing collaboration projects with Chinese universities continue, despite academics and researchers being unable to travel due to pandemic restrictions, d’Hooghe said she knew of many who “are staying away” from starting new projects with China, in part due to risks, including reputational risks.

But she noted that legislation on a national level regarding foreign influence could be tricky. “University autonomy is regarded as an important value and very important for science to advance, so universities are very reluctant to be limited by binding regulations.”

https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/20/dutch-university-hit-chinese-government-funding-scandal

Ahmadreza Djalali honored with 2021 Courage to Think Award

November 10, 2021

Scholars at Risk (SAR) announced on 9 November 2021 that Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali is the recipient of its Courage to Think Award for 2021. Dr. Djalali, a prominent scholar of disaster medicine sentenced to death in Iran, is being recognized for his struggle for academic freedom and connection to the international academic community. For more on the Courage to Think Award see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/165B4CC5-0BC2-4A77-B3B4-E26937BA553C.

Dr. Djalali’s wife, Vida Mehrannia, will accept the award on Dr. Djalali’s behalf at SAR’s virtual symposium, Free to Think 2021, on December 9. Information and registration for the free, online event is available here <https://www.scholarsatrisk.org/event/free-to-think-2021-and-courage-to-think-award/> .
Dr. Djalali is an Iranian-Swedish scholar who has held academic positions at Karolinska Institute, in Sweden; the Università del Piemonte Orientale, in Italy; and Vrije Universiteit Brussel, in Belgium. In December 2020, he was awarded a Scholars at Risk Fellowship at Harvard University, in the United States.
The continued imprisonment, extreme sentence, and mistreatment of Dr. Djalali in custody should be of grave concern for anyone who cares about the ability of scholars to work safely,” said Rob Quinn, executive director of SAR. “No scholar should face a death sentence, solitary confinement, and withholding of medical care for their academic or scientific work.
Not only has Dr. Djalali helped the development of the field of disaster medicine at higher education institutions, but he has also put his expertise into practice by supporting communities impacted by crises. Dr. Djalali provided medical aid, health services, and education to communities impacted by floods, earthquakes, and other disasters in Iran, including the 2003 Bam earthquake. While at the Center for Research and Training in Disaster Medicine, Humanitarian Aid, and Global Health (CRIMEDIM), in Italy, Dr. Djalali dedicated his research to resilience and performance of health systems, hospitals, and medical and rescue staff, and trained hundreds of humanitarian and medical staff around the world.
Dr. Djalali was arrested in April 2016 during a trip to Iran to participate in a series of academic workshops. It is strongly believed that he was targeted because of his ties to the international academic community, and the belief that he might trade his freedom in exchange for working for the Iranian intelligence service. On October 21, 2017, Dr. Djalali was sentenced to death for “corruption on earth,” based on unsubstantiated allegations that he had provided intelligence to a foreign government. Dr. Djalali was denied the right to appeal the conviction and sentence and has suffered from torture, ill-treatment, and a growing number of medical complications while in state custody.
On November 24, 2020, Iranian authorities moved Dr. Djalali to solitary confinement in preparation to carry out his death sentence. Dr. Djalali spent five nightmarish months in solitary confinement, awaiting imminent execution, until April 14, 2021, when authorities transferred him to a multiple-occupancy cell. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/26/as-iran-prepares-to-execute-ahmadreza-djalali-the-world-reacts/
For years, Dr. Djalali has been denied access to appropriate medical care for numerous health complications that worsened while he was in solitary confinement. These include leukemia, severe weight loss, chronic gastritis, low heart rate, and hypotension, gallstones, partial paralysis of the right foot, indirect inguinal hernia, hemorrhoid and fissures, low blood cell count, low levels of calcium and vitamin D, malnutrition, dyspepsia, and depression.
Authorities continue to deny Dr. Djalali access to his lawyer and his family in Iran, and from making calls to his wife and children in Sweden.

Call for Nominations for Courage to Think award 2021

June 23, 2021

Scholars at Risk is seeking nominations for the 2021 Courage to Think Award, which will be presented during an award ceremony at its annual Free to Think event in November 2021. Please submit a nomination by July 31, 2021, here.

The Courage to Think Award recognizes individuals, groups, or institutions that have demonstrated an exemplary commitment to protecting scholars and promoting academic freedom, whether through their professional work, private or community service, or by facing personal risk. For more of this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/165B4CC5-0BC2-4A77-B3B4-E26937BA553C

Virtual Side Event on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and Academic Freedom today 9:00-10:00 EST in New York

October 21, 2020

Co-organizers:

●UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

●Permanent Mission of Finland to the UN

●Permanent Mission of the State of Qatar to the UN

●Open Society Foundations’ Education Program

●Scholars at Risk

Context: On Friday 23 October 2020 the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly will consider the report on academic freedom presented by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The report focuses on the ways in which the freedom of opinion and expression protect and promote academic freedom, and the special role played by academics and academic institutions in democratic society when assured of institutional autonomy and self-governance. Without academic freedom, societies lose their capacity for self-reflection, for knowledge generation and for a constant search for improvements of people’s lives and social conditions. Drawing on examples from all regions of the world, the report highlights the repression and harassment of scholars and students, unlawful restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression that interfere with research, teaching, debate and discussion by the academic community in their institutions or in other fora, and various measures, from funding of research to hiring of professors and administrators, that are used to erode and attack the autonomy of academic institutions.The report provides clear guidance on the scope of academic freedom, recognizing that it is protected by a wide range of human rights norms and principles, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression. It encourages individuals and organizations to articulate their claims as violations of academic freedom, and concludes with a set of recommendations to States, academic institutions and civil society. The side event is aimed at discussing how the report’s findings and recommendations can be used to ensure the realization of the freedom of opinion and expression to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers as an integral aspect of academic freedom and enhance the ability of academics and institutions to contribute to democracy and development around the world.Objectives

This side event will provide a forum to discuss the challenges to academic freedom, including social harassment and political repression of scholars, students, and institutions around the globe, as well as legal protections offered by international human rights law, including in particular the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and how the report’s analysis and recommendations can be used to protect the freedom of opinion and expression aspects of academic freedom worldwide.Modalities.

The one-hour moderated discussion will have the following format:

Opening remarks: H.E. Sheikha Alya Ahmed bin Saif Al-ThaniPermanent Representative of Qatar to the United Nations and H.E. Juan Ramon de la Fuente Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations

Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Presentation of the main findings and recommendations of the report Prof. David Kaye, former Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Panel discussion:

●Ms. Camilla Croso, Director of the Education Program of the Open Society Foundations, will highlight the role of academic freedom and its importance in advancing open and democratic societies

●Dr. Maleiha Malik, Executive Director, Protection of Education in Insecurity and Conflict, Education Above All Foundation, will discuss the particular challenges to academic freedom in countries affected by conflict

●Mr. Robert Quinn, founding Executive Director of the Scholars at Risk Network, will describe some current legal challenges and responses to pressures on academic freedom around the world

Concluding remarks: Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur.

Turkish human rights defenders shocked by honorary doctorate for ECtHR president Spano

September 5, 2020

This post has been written by Harry Hummel, the Senior Policy Advisor of the Netherlands Helsinki Committee, with many thanks:

This week, European Court of Human Rights president Robert Spano visited Turkey. A high profile event in the country. In the face of government denial of the massive human rights violations it is committing, the voice of the European Court has an extraordinary importance. Human rights defenders therefore expressed unease about the programme of the visit, which included talks with authorities, an address to the Justice Academy and the acceptance of an honorary doctorate at Istanbul university, but no encounters with civil society human rights workers. One of the oldest human rights organisations in Turkey, the IHD, wrote: <https://ihd.org.tr/en/ihd-open-letter-to-robert-spano-president-of-the-european-court-of-human-rights/>

Universities in Turkey are controlled by the Board of Higher Education that was established in the aftermath of the 12 September 1980 coup d’état. Universities in Turkey do not have scientific or administrative autonomy whatsoever. In the past university rectors were elected by academics serving that university but now they are being appointed by the president himself, the head of the executive branch, following changes introduced during the latest state of emergency period. Furthermore, İstanbul University that we learnt was presenting you with an honorary doctorate dismissed hundreds of academics through the state of emergency decree laws and it is one of the institutions that has virtually become the symbol of the state of emergency.

Dear President, you will see young judges and public prosecutors before you at the Justice Academy of Turkey where you are going to teach. During the state of emergency between 2016 and 2018 more than 4,200 judges and prosecutors were dismissed from their posts while more than 8,000 judges and prosecutors were inaugurated. These figures indicate that 45% of all judges and prosecutors on active duty have three years of professional experience or less. Moreover, complaints lodged by thousands of judges and prosecutors are still pending before judicial authorities for the deliverance of a ruling.

Dear President, we do see the will to maintain communication with Turkish authorities in spite of all these negative developments. Turkey, however, is not merely composed of the political power itself. There stand before your court, on one side, the political power alleged to have violated rights and on the other side the victims of those rights violations.  Turkey has a quite developed and dynamic web of civil society organizations working in the field of human rights in spite of all these setbacks. In order for your visit to Turkey to genuinely be beneficial, your lending an ear to these civil society organizations that make the voices of rights victims be heard bears vital significance. We can list the following as examples: women’s organizations that have been defending the Council of Europe İstanbul Convention at a time when withdrawal from the Convention was on the agenda, Saturday Mothers who have long been searching for their children lost under custody and whose right to assembly has been prohibited, bar associations that objected to Law No. 7249 introducing multiple bar associations and regulations that went against the right to defense, and associations of lawyers who advocate for justice and rights, who are imprisoned to this end, who go on hunger strikes. We believe that it is not late to organize a public meeting with the press during which you can answer questions by civil society organizations.

Mixed feelings were expressed in particular about  the honorary doctorate. Former Istanbul University professor Mehmet Altan wrote an open letter to Spano <https://www.expressioninterrupted.com/open-letter-to-president-of-the-european-court-of-human-rights/> :

“The people who will be giving you an honorary doctorate are the very people who dismissed me and many other academics. Under normal circumstances, of course it would be pleasing to hear that you will be visiting Turkey. Unfortunately that’s not the case.”

The concerns about the doctorate were taken up by international human rights NGO Article 19 <https://www.article19.org/resources/open-letter-article-19-urges-president-spano-to-decline-honorary-degree/> :
ARTICLE 19 urges you to decline the offer of an honorary doctorate from Istanbul University due to the role of the University in the crackdown on the crackdown on civil society and purges of Turkish academia by the Turkish authorities.

More than 120,000 individuals <https://soe.tccb.gov.tr/> were dismissed through decree laws after the 2016 failed coup attempt, including more than 5,000 academics. While the process for these dismissals was not transparent, the Spokesman for the Council of Higher Education has previously confirmed in interviews that the management of the universities were responsible <https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-turkiye-38906141?ocid=socialflow_twitter>  for preparing the lists of academics to be dismissed by decree. University rectors from other universities interviewed by the BBC in 2017 stated <https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-turkiye-39055854>  that they prepared the dismissal lists in cooperation with the Intelligence services, using criteria defined by the government. 192 <http://bianet.org/english/print/183432-4-811-academics-from-112-universities-discharged-by-5-statutory-decress> academics <http://bianet.org/english/print/183432-4-811-academics-from-112-universities-discharged-by-5-statutory-decress>  were dismissed from Istanbul University by emergency decrees. Istanbul University itself dismissed at least 95 academics, <http://bianet.org/english/human-rights/176960-95-academic-suspended-in-istanbul-university-yok-suspends-4-rectors>  without due process or the opportunity for review. The consequences for those dismissed were devastating, as documented <https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/05/14/turkey-government-targeting-academics>  by Human Rights Watch.  Those dismissed from their academic positions were blacklisted, unable to find other work and had their passports cancelled. While the hundreds of academics who were dismissed for signing a peace petition had their criminal convictions overturned by the Constitutional Court, they still face unemployment as they were unable to return to their positions.

We also point out that the news about your acceptance of this honorary degree, as the Court’s most senior judge and particularly during an official visit, has raised huge concerns within Turkish civil society, undermining their trust and public confidence in the Court. We therefore respectfully urge you to decline the honorary degree you have been offered by Istanbul University.

In his speech accepting the honorary doctorate <https://echr.coe.int/Documents/Speech_20200904_Spano_Honorary_Doctorate_Istanbul_ENG.pdf> , Spano explained that accepting these kind of honors is part of the usual protocol for Court visits to Council of Europe member states:

It has long been a tradition as a matter of protocol that Presidents of the Court accept to be awarded the title of Doctor Honoris Causa during their official visits to Member States of the Council of Europe. Such offers have not been refused. In this regard the Court must always be seen to be independent and impartial and not making distinctions between Member States.

On this basis, I accept this award from this very prestigious institution which has been in existence for centuries as it will also give me, a former academic, an opportunity to stress the fundamental role of academic freedom and free speech in a democracy governed by the rule of law. These are core values which lie at the heart of the European Convention on Human Rights, a constellation of rights and fundamental freedoms which require that Government in all their actions be balanced and proportionate. In short, the Convention does not tolerate extremes.

The concerns of civil society are fueled by mixed feelings more generally <https://verfassungsblog.de/the-ecthr-and-post-coup-turkey-losing-ground-or-losing-credibility/>  about the approach of the Court in addressing the delaying and evading tactics of the Turkish authorities. In his open letter <https://www.expressioninterrupted.com/open-letter-to-president-of-the-european-court-of-human-rights/> , Mehmet Altan thanks the Court for a verdict against his own imprisonment. The verdict led to his release after a lot of legal wrangling by Turkish courts about its implementation. His dismissal has not been corrected however, a decision about this is lingering before inadequate Turkish appeal procedures (as are tens of thousands of other cases) which the Court however considers a ‘domestic remedy’ that needs to be exhausted before it can take up the issue. In the letter, he also mentions the case of his brother Ahmet Altan:

“The very section of the Court that you presided had given priority status to the application of Ahmet Altan, whose novels have been published in 23 countries, and who, even despite the Covid-19 pandemic has remained behind bars in Silivri Prison for the past four years. Even though the court is very much familiar with the file’s content, unfortunately we have been waiting for that priority to come into effect for the past four years.”

Whether the visit of Spano to Turkey has had a positive effect, will likely be also measured against progress in the case of Osman Kavala, a human rights defender who the Court has said should be released. His situation is under review by the Committee of Minissters, the Council of Europe’s supervisory body for execution of Court judgements. The Committee just this week repeated its call for his immediate release <https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/-/implementing-echr-judgments-council-of-europe-urges-turkey-to-release-osman-kavala> .

See also:

https://ahvalnews.com/robert-spano/echr-should-call-spanos-resignation-after-turkey-visit-human-rights-defender-fincanci?language_content_entity=en and

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/european-court-of-human-rights-president-degrades-court-with-turkish-award

European rights court president draws further ire by posing with members of Turkey’s ruling party

New tool in higher education: worldwide Academic Freedom Index (AFi)

April 17, 2020
On 26 March 2010 the Global Public Policy Institute and Scholars at Risk introduced the Academic Freedom Index (AFi), a new time series and near-global dataset on several dimensions of academic freedom. It calls on decision-makers in higher education and foreign policy, university administrations, research funding organizations, advocacy groups, and parliaments to use AFi data to better protect and promote academic freedom. It also includes recommendations for scholars and students.

The AFi aims to inform stakeholders, provide monitoring yardsticks, alter incentive structures, challenge university rankings, facilitate research, and ultimately promote academic freedom. It is the result of a collaborative effort between researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) and the V-Dem Institute, the Scholars at Risk Network, and the Global Public Policy Institute. AFi scores are based on expert assessments by 1,810 scholars around the world which are integrated in a Bayesian measurement model.

The data is publicly available on V‑Dem’s website. V-Dem also provides an online tool that can be used to analyze any of the indicators.

The full report as well as a working paper are available for download.

See also, from 2015: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/06/23/scholars-at-risk-publishes-first-academic-freedom-monitoring-report-free2think/

Free Universities: Putting the Academic Freedom Index Into Action

Scholars at Risk has a number of vacancies

October 6, 2019

Scholars at Risk is staffed by a team of professionals with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Take a look at the available positions listed below and apply as soon as possible, as positions are filled on a rolling basis. If you have an interest in volunteering or offering pro-bono services to SAR, please email them at scholarsatrisk@nyu.edu with a short proposal and a copy of your resume or CV.

Scholars at Risk (SAR) is seeking a highly-organized and team-oriented individual to join the SAR team as a grants associate/officer. Position summary This is new position will support SAR’s program and fundraising efforts by providing primary drafting and reporting on

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Scholars at Risk (SAR) seeks a Department Administrator to manage a variety of administrative and business processes and operations in support of SAR’s efforts to protect scholars and promote academic freedoms worldwide and to ensure the effective delivery of services

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Scholars at Risk (SAR) is seeking a highly-motivated, detail-focused, flexible and team-oriented individual to manage planning, delivery and follow-up to the 2020 SAR Global Congress, a large-scale, multi-institution biennial event that brings together up to 300 representatives of SAR network

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Scholars at Risk (SAR) seeks a Deputy Director (DD) to have overall responsibility for SAR’s day-to-day programming, internal operations, and administration. POSITION SUMMARY Reporting to the Executive Director (ED), the DD supports the Executive Director and the SAR Board, promoting

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Scholars at Risk (SAR) seeks a dedicated, detail-oriented intern with excellent writing and research skills to join SAR’s Advocacy team for Spring 2020. This intern may be based in SAR’s New York City office or based remotely. This position reports

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