International Law: Palace of Perplexity

In Strasbourg, France, last week, ribbon-cutting dignitaries opened a modest building with a grandiose name, "Palace of Human Rights." It is the first permanent home of the European Court of Human Rights, and the festivities were no sooner over than the court faced up to a judicial Everest: ruling on the language rights of northern Belgium's French-speaking minority. In the third case of its six-year history, the court's decision may also determine whether the court itself lives or dies.

The court's judicial authority flows from Europe's 1950 Convention on Human Rights, which was drawn up by 18 nations.* As...

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