Disparaging Language (ex curia) as a Barrier in Individual Complaints before the European Court of Human Rights (Zhdanov v Russia)—Lessons for the African System?
Keywords:Disparaging language, admissibility, abuse of process, human rights litigation
On 16 July 2019, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rejected an application by Russian human rights activist, Nikolay Alekseyev, on the basis that he had published personally offensive and threatening material online, directed towards the ECtHR. This was in the matter of Zhdanov and Others v Russia Applications Nos 12200/08, 35949/11 and 58282/12. Even though the published material fell afoul of the European Convention in that it amounted to an abuse of the court process, nothing offensive was contained in the applicant’s own submissions before the court. In like fashion to the ECtHR’s admissibility requirements, the African Charter contains a much more pointed exclusionary clause which renders inadmissible any communication that contains disparaging or insulting language. The difference between the two systems is that the European system relies on an open-ended concept of ‘abuse of the right of individual petition’, whilst the African system specifically proscribes insulting language. In this article, I analyse the approach of the ECtHR in the Zhdanov matter, and contrast it with the approach of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission) under Article 56(3) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. I further interrogate whether there were any instances where, in similar fashion to the Zhdanov matter, the African Commission declared a communication inadmissible on account of insulting language occurring externally, and not contained within the submission itself. Alive to the fact that the concept of ‘abuse’ in the European system is wide, the article is limited to cases in which the abuse of the right of individual petition under the European Convention manifests in disparaging or insulting language.
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© Published by the Department of Public, Constitutional and International Law, University of South Africa and Unisa Press.