La Cour!

23-25 JAN 2017




My first class at IEP (Sciences Po) was pretty disappointing, I admit freely, so I have exchanged it for a different class. My second class at the university was a bit more satisfying, but still not quite what I had expected. Monday morning, I had breakfast, rode the bus to the university to get my Carte Culture, which gives me access to museums and events at significantly discounted prices, and made it to Room 210 by 4:00 PM, or 16H as it is here.

Madame Lehni is teaching us this semester about the “politics of culture in divided societies” by using the case example of the conflict in and mural art of Northern Ireland’s Unionists and Nationalists. I hope I am able to take what I learn from this class and am able to apply it to other conflicts and/or divided societies as well. One of our first assignments is to watch the movies Michael Collins and The Wind that Shakes the Barley. One of my very first assignments is finding those movies.




Tuesday morning, I had breakfast again, of course, and then made my way to the Franz Liszt classroom at the château just upstairs. Madame Wassenberg is preparing us for a symposium in March that will discuss the possible consequences of returning borders (a variety of which, not just typical border controls, e.g., economic, social, cultural, etc., etc.) to the European Union, and Europe in general. I am in a small group of three, and our goal is to focus on the implications and ramifications of Brexit. I also have a separate, 10-15-page research paper to write for that class. And since I enjoy complex, smart-sounding titles so much, my two areas of interest are “A New Focus on Regional Administration in a Post-Westphalian European Union” and “Alsatian Identity in Flux: What is French, German, or local, and which is strongest?”

Quite the mouthful. I will most likely resort to something much simpler in a few weeks when I write the paper in a single fevered, coffee-to-the-max over-nighter. Perhaps one day I will write a whole paper on procrastination, perhaps, eventually.

Other than class, life here at the château has been pretty fun. Tuesday night, we held a surprise birthday party for two of our number. I could yarn (a verb I got from Cloud Atlas, one of my favorite movies, and I am going to keep and use this verb even though is sounds a little ridiculous. I like it, so there.) 1000 words on the party alone, but I won’t do that here. I will mention, though, that we near melted the candles by how many times we lit them thinking Laurel and Torin were just about to walk through the door. By the time they did arrive, the candles were half as tall. Fun times.


  • “LA COUR!”


After two rings of what sounds like an old rotary telephone silences the talkative room, a man in a black suit, white shirt, and simple tie appears from behind the translator rooms, he walks a bit toward the head of the room, and turns to us. He stands there for all of half a second carrying the weight of ceremony, with a dash of monotonous regularity, before announcing, proclaiming, to us, “La Cour!”

Quickly, he turns and takes his seat just behind the judges’ chairs. A line of 21 men and women parade from the same entrance and take their respective places at the 47-seat half-elliptical table (47 seats representing each of the 47 member states). Each person wears the black robes of a judge, and each has their own especial accoutrements representing their particular nation or station. Court President Guido Raimondi, from Italy, speaks, “you may take your seats.” Seventeen among them are the judges of the Grand Chamber. Three are substitute judges, and the last among them is the registrar.

We are now all seated, awaiting the hearing to proceed. This morning’s case is a relatively simple one it would seem involving a mother who wished to move from one place in her Netherlands neighborhood to another place very nearby, but was prevented from doing so by a Dutch law citing social restrictions on overburdening particular districts. She has brought the issue before the European Court of Human Rights, stating her human right “to freely choose her place of residence” was violated. What I could gather was at stake for her was her ability to choose a home for her family in an area that she wished to live. What I could gather was at stake for the Netherlands government was the validity of their “City Problems (Special Measures) Act” and whether is unfairly discriminates against particular individuals.

Mr. Wijling, counsel for the applicant (read: plaintiff), stands to speak and make his case before the court. I can see from behind the near-mirror-like window of the translator’s booth a red light turn on. This signals to the audience which translator is speaking at the time. As it is in the court, one may speak their mother tongue and a translator will be provided. As Mr. Wijling is from the Netherlands, he makes his case in Dutch.

Hurriedly, quietly, everyone moves to reach for their provided-headphones, switch to one of the English or French channels, and settle back into their seats to listen. There is an Albanian delegation in attendance, so an Albanian translator was also provided for their convenience. I listen in to the English translation for a bit. I will not pretend that it is terribly interesting, though, so next I remove the headphones to see what it is like to hear Mr. Wijling and his associate Ms. Azghay speak in Dutch. It is an interesting language that appears to be a clear mix between German and English. I catch familiar words every so often. I notice some of the judges are not wearing their headphones and suppose that they can understand Dutch, or rather they too are a bit bored.

The agent for the Netherlands, Mr. Böcker, stands to make his case as soon as the counsel of the applicant is finished. Mr. Böcker, though also Dutch, speaks English in what I recognize (assume) as a British accent. The two official languages of the 47-member state Council of Europe are French and English, so naturally, the two official languages of the European Court of Human Rights are French and English. It makes sense that this legal official, whose task it is to represent a nation, would speak the language of the court.

Now both parties have been heard. The time for questions from the judges has come. Judge Motoc from Romania asks the first question, in French. Then follows Judge O’Leary from Ireland, Judge Pinto de Albuquerque from Portugal, and lastly, Judge Sajó from Hungary. They all pose their questions in English. Judge Raimondi adjourns the court for thirty minutes.

Soon, we are back to taking our seats and donning our headphones. But even sooner, the counsel and agent have answered their questions and we are once again adjourned. Now, however, the court is done for today, and we make our leave. The deliberations and decision of the Grand Chamber will be heard at a later date. [I have made note to see how the court decides the case. It may have been a little boring, but in its own way, it was interesting to see the process.]

Outside of the courtroom, I can see how the exterior architecture plays into the interior. Outside, the European Court of Human Rights is made up of three buildings: An entry building with security, information pamphlets, and offices; one tower to the right houses more offices and, on the top floor, the circular courtroom with the 47-seat half-elliptical judges’ table; and the other tower to the left, which is slightly shorter than the courtroom tower, houses more offices and a smaller hearing chamber. Both of the towers are circular and bear slanted roofs, as if a giant cylinder had been sliced diagonally and each unequal half had been set side-by-side. There is a fourth attachment to these three structures that is a long, six-story-or-so line of offices that resembles a cruise liner.

Walking into the room on the top floor of the shorter tower, I am immediately entranced by the view. Where the courtroom bore no windows, the most important things being held within, this much smaller hearing chamber has glass for an exterior wall. And just beyond the windows flows the Ill River populated with gulls flying here and there, and on the opposite coast, the European Union Parliament building. I have already visited this building and written about it, but still, I cannot help but stare. The glass wave of the east-facing structure which houses the wooden hemicycle is more art than business, more emotion than politics. From this angle, I cannot tell if the Parliament building is reaching out for or looking toward the Human Rights building or if it seems to be moving altogether through it. The poetry and metaphor of the architecture is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, so I will leave out any personal interpretations [for now]. 

Our little tour concluded with a quote from the European Convention on Human Rights, the same with which I will also conclude this journal entry:

From the preamble of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Rome, 1950.

“[Fundamental freedoms] are the foundation of justice and peace in the world and are best maintained on the one hand by an effective political democracy and on the other by a common understanding and observance of the Human Rights upon which they depend.”


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