Naruto & the Selfie – The Case is Settled

This story began on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi six years ago, and reached its climax in San Francisco just this Monday. Is is a happy ending? Maybe, but not entirely.

Way back in 2011 British wildlife photographer David Slater set off to spend a few days trailing and photographing a troop of macaques. According to the popular version of the story, David left his camera unattended for a time, and Naruto, a 6 year old male macaque known to conservationists, seized his chance. He fancied trying out his own pictorial skills – with famous results. Who hasn’t seen that wonderful toothy-grinned selfie?

Slater’s version of events is markedly different. He claims that after failing to get the monkeys to keep their eyes open in close ups, he’d spent some time coaxing them into pressing the shutter on his camera themselves. “It wasn’t serendipitous monkey behavior. It required a lot of knowledge on my behalf, a lot of perseverance, sweat and anguish, and all that stuff.”

Whichever is the truth, a collection of David’s photos including Naruto’s selfie was published in a book by a San Francisco publishing company, Blurb Inc, and the selfie went viral.

And that’s when the trouble started. In 2014, Slater took action against Wiki to stop them using the selfie without permission. Wiki refused claiming that as the monkey was the creator of the image, the photo was uncopyrightable. The impenetrable legal wrangling dragged on, and then in the autumn of 2015, PETA declaring itself Naruto’s legal representative, filed its own suit against Slater in an attempt to claim the monkey’s ownership of the selfie’s copyright. PETA’s argument was that US copyright law did not exclude nonhuman animals.

If PETA’s claim could be upheld, it might open up a significant pathway towards the holy grail: rights for nonhuman animals. But the judge turned the argument around, ruling that nonhuman animals were not covered by the Copyright Act.

Naturally PETA appealed and just last week oral arguments were heard in San Francisco’s ninth circuit court of appeals. Some interesting points of law were raised:

  • Whether Peta has a close enough relationship to Naruto to represent him in court
  • The value of providing written notice of a copyright claim to a community of macaques
  • And whether Naruto is actually harmed by not being recognized as a copyright-holder

“There is no way to acquire or hold money. There is no loss as to reputation. There is not even any allegation that the copyright could have somehow benefited Naruto,” said Judge N Randy Smith. “What financial benefits apply to him? There’s nothing.”

At one point, Judge Carlos Bea considered the question of how copyright passes to an author’s heirs: “In the world of Naruto, is there legitimacy and illegitimacy? Are Naruto’s offspring ‘children’, as defined by the statute?”

Slater’s publisher, also a defendant, even questioned whether Peta had identified the right monkey. “I know for a fact that [the monkey in the photograph] is a female and it’s the wrong age,” their lawyer said. “I’m bewildered at the American court system. Surely it matters that the right monkey is suing me.”

So, to cut a long story short, Naruto’s case was finally settled out of court. It was agreed that Mr Slater should retain 75% of any future revenues from the images while the other 25% be donated to charities protecting crested macaques in Indonesia.

A good result? The protracted legal wrangling over Naruto’s selfie has ruined David Slater. He could not even afford the flight to San Francisco to be present at the appeal, or pay his lawyer. “Every photographer dreams of a photograph like this,” Slater said “If everybody gave me a pound for every time they used [the photograph], I’d probably have £40m in my pocket. The proceeds from these photographs should have me comfortable now, and I’m not.” Instead he is struggling to get by, so much so he is “seriously on the verge of packing it all in”.

And PETA has had no success, as was hoped, in moving the Animal Rights agenda forward. That is incredibly disappointing.

The one good that we can take from the story – consolation for both parties – is that it’s thrown the spotlight on these endangered macaques. “These animals were on the way out and because of one photograph, it’s hopefully going to create enough ecotourism to make the locals realize that there’s a good reason to keep these monkeys alive,” Slater said. “The picture hopefully contributed to saving the species. That was the original intention all along.”

 

 

Sources

Lawsuit settled over rights to monkey’s selfie photo – Phys.Org

This Selfie May Set a Legal Precedent – PETA

Monkey selfie photographer says he’s broke: ‘I’m thinking of dog walking’ – The Guardian

Related posts

Persons not Property – Could the Tide Be Turning?

Cecilia Blazes the Trail – Or Does She?

Now is the Time for Pragmatic Vegan Advocacy

Good News in a Bad Week

A Promising Way Forward for Animal Rights?

Will Today be the Day Chimpanzees Become Legal Persons?

 

Cecilia Blazes the Trail – Or Does She?

20 year old Cecilia is famous. So much so, she will surely go down in history. Marcelino, her ‘boy next door’ at Sorocaba Great Apes Sanctuary in Brazil, is turning on all his charm for his sweet neighbour. He thinks she’s pretty special but he, like Cecilia herself, has no idea just how special.
Last November (2016) chimp Cecilia became the first animal ever to have been adjudged a nonhuman person in a court of law.

The judgement by the court in Mendoza Argentina granting Cecilia habeas corpus meant release, finally, from the cramped zoo she’d been confined in her entire life. Up until that memorable day it was all she had ever known, a miserable life made even more wretched by the deaths of her lifelong friends and companions, Charly and Xuxa. Can you imagine it. Cecilia was left heartbroken and alone.

It’s little wonder then, even after four months at Sorocaba she is still depressed. It takes more than a few short months of freedom and loving care to obliterate the emotional scars of 20 years imprisonment.

Cecilia, though special in terms of legal history, is just one of the many traumatised chimps, trafficked and mistreated in circuses and zoos before finding a safe haven at Sorocaba. “It is very important to talk to them so they don’t feel lonely,” says Merivan Miranda, one of the 30 carers. “So that they know there is someone there who understands them.”

When she first arrived, Cecilia “used to spend all her time lying down and did not interact with anyone,” says sanctuary vet Camila Gentille. Before handsome Marcelino moved in as her neighbour, the sanctuary staff had already tried a bit of matchmaking with Billy, but Billy was “too impulsive” for sad Cecilia.

But she is slowly getting better. And now, when Marcelino calls to her, she is starting to show him some interest, and even joining in the conversation.

Pedro Ynterian, director of the sanctuary, is certain that with time Cecilia will overcome her depression.“That is what she is seeking to do, so that she can partner with someone, and stop living alone.

“And she will manage to do it.”

Cecilia – now a person, no longer property.


monkey-1863833_960_720

Tommy, Kiko, Hercules & Leo

You may already know these guys as the chimp clients of the altogether awesome lawyer Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Rights Project. Unlike Cecilia though, their right to be designated nonhuman persons under the law has been denied by a succession of presiding judges in New York courts.

Woeful as this is for the 4 chimps – and all the others for whom the precedent would be set – Steven though disappointed is undaunted. He remains utterly convinced that advocacy for legal personhood and not advocacy for welfare improvements is the way forward for the animals.

Here is the upbeat opening of his keynote speech at the recent Animal Rights National Conference 2017:-

“It’s the beginning of the end of the age of animal welfare and animal protection and the end of the beginning of the age of civil rights, true legal rights, for nonhuman animals.

“It is the beginning of the end of activists having to beg and plead and cajole other human beings in an effort to get them to do the right thing for nonhuman animals, to get them to try to respect the fundamental interests of nonhuman animals, whose interests are presently invisible in courtrooms, invisible to civil law. And it’s the end of the beginning of the struggle for personhood and the civil rights of nonhuman animals for whom we demand those fundamental legal rights to which justice and equity and scientific fact entitle them.”

Steven continues (my paraphrasing):

There have been laws to protect animals’ welfare in America since the 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties which stated, “(n)o man shall exercise any Tirranny or crueltie toward any bruite Creatures which are usuallie kept for man’s use.” But to what extent, if at all, things have improved for animals “usuallie kept for man’s use” in the last 376 years is open to dispute. In spite of animal welfare laws working their way on to statute books in most countries and states, they remain, in Steven’s words, “pathetically ineffective”)

And there are other problems with pushing for improvements in animal welfare. One is that those who make money from them, the meat companies, the farms, the labs, the circuses, the zoos, the puppy mills can always, and often do, choose to ignore our advocacy on the animals’ behalf.

Another is that even if the owners of the animal ‘property’, or their political representatives do yield to public concerns, what has been conceded can as easily be revoked. Take the hard won successes for animals former President Obama signed into federal law. Along comes Trump – no friend of animals he, nor indeed of anything else much except money – and with one stroke of the pen, he can strike them out. Indeed, some are already consigned to the presidential trashcan, and more look like heading that way.

High welfare or low, protected or not, the animals still have “the problem of being a thing versus being a person.” 

“For years I have talked about a great legal wall that exists, and has existed, for 2000 years between things and persons. On the ‘thing’ side of the wall, today, in 2017, are all the nonhuman animals of the world. You have to understand what a legal thing is.

“A legal thing is an entity that lacks the capacity for any kind of a legal right. It lacks inherent value. It only has instrumental value for legal persons.

“It is a slave to the master. A legal person is a master to the slave. All of us here are legal persons. We are the owners of things, whether that thing is an elephant or this podium.”

But you don’t have to be a human being to be a legal ‘person’. A corporation can be a person. In india a mosque, a Hindu idol, the Sikh holy books are all legal persons. In New Zealand a river and a national park are both persons under that country’s law.

Let’s not forget Cecilia. And in July this year the Supreme Court in Colombia declared a bear a person and issued a writ of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus gives the right to bodily liberty and can only be granted to a legal person.

Today the NhRP is working with lawyers in 13 countries on 4 continents “to help them win personhood for as many nonhuman animals in as many countries as we possibly can.”

In the USA the NhRP will shortly be filing a lawsuit for elephants, and moving against the captivity of orcas at SeaWorld San Diego.

Steven finds a parallel between US courts denying his nonhuman clients personhood, and personhood being denied in the past to black and Native Americans, and women – unthinkable as that is to us now.

“They were wrong then. They are wrong now”

“With respect to the judges who are ruling that way now, at some point they, or their children, or their grandchildren are going to be embarrassed by the fact that they said such things in cases involving such extraordinary beings as chimpanzees or orcas or elephants.”

I am certain Steven is right. But much as I wish for it, I cannot see how this is going to help all the myriads of other animals in the world. Steven and his team have based the arguments they bring to court on the basis of the autonomy of their (at present captive) clients. The NhRP’s plaintiffs are members of species who have been scientifically proven to be self-aware and autonomous: currently, great apes, elephants, dolphins, and whales.” In their natural state, in the wild, a chimp, an elephant, a dolphin and an orca are all animals, it is universally agreed, who make their own decisions and determine their own lives. That autonomy NhRP says, is more than sufficient for them to be deemed persons. (Remember, you have to be a person to have the right to bodily liberty)

But what of other wildlife – pigeons, rats, frogs, fleas? Aren’t they autonomous too? Don’t they have a right to bodily liberty? But what judge is going to concede their personhood?

And what of the billions and billions of farmed animals? There are massive vested interests determined that cows, pigs, hens and sheep should never be considered autonomous and entitled to legal rights as persons.

Take this, for example, from the Animal Agriculture Alliance‘s home page: “Radical activist organizations are leading the fight to grant animals the same legal rights as humans and eliminate the consumption of food and all other products derived from animals. The ideology of the animal rights movement- that animals are not ours to own, enjoy, or use in any way- is a direct assault on farmers and pet owners.”

In June last year Canadian MPs voted down Nathaniel Erskine-Smith’s Bill C-246 — the Modernizing Animal Protections Act. Mr Erskine-Smith was not proposing animals should be designated persons in law. Nevertheless, Tory MP Robert Sopuck voiced the strong concerns of many about the idea of moving animals out of the property section of the Criminal Code and placing them into the public morals section. He said such a step would have “drastic implications” for farmers, hunters, trappers, anglers, and medical researchers. Clearly many of his fellow MPs agreed. The bill was defeated 198 to 84.

How will these nonhuman animals ever cross that wall that Steven talks about from property to personhood? Humans, especially those who exploit nonhuman animals for profit, will never be willing to give up the power bestowed on them by ownership. And unfortunately, it’s humans who make the laws that decide on the status of animals, and humans who enforce them.

“The Nonhuman Rights Project now, and we hope others in the future, are no longer going to ask. We are going to demand the rights that nonhuman animals are entitled to. The day of animal welfare and animal protection is passing and will soon be over.”

Fighting talk Steven, fighting talk. I so wish it could be true.

Please sign the Declaration of Animal Rights

Watch “Unlocking the Cage” – Full movie

Now is the Time for Pragmatic Vegan Advocacy

“In the fight to protect farm animals, our metric should be progress, not perfection”

At the bottom of this post  –  forgive the reblog, since it is always and only for the animals – you will find the link to an exerpt from Tobias Leenaert’s book, “How to Create a Vegan World.” The gist of it is that there will be a time for pure vegan idealism, but we’re not there yet. Right now guys, pragmatism is the name of the game. It seems like the HSUS and its CEO Wayne Pacelle are on the right track.

“HSUS’ anti-meat crusade is taking its toll on the beef industry and convincing kids to go green will only make matters worse.”
 The Humane Society of the United States “has almost single-handedly forced pork producers to change their policies.”
“The Humane Society of the United States is hitting the meat industry where it hurts. They’re convincing cooks to reduce the amount of meat from their menu.”

What is the relevance of this to us vegans and animal advocates here in the UK? Well, apart from the obvious – that HSUS‘s progress improving the welfare of farmed animals and encouraging people to cut back on meat, means fewer animals enduring less suffering – HSUS is the biggest animal charity in the world, and with its high public profile possibly the most influential ideologically.

CEO Wayne Pacelle opens what is clearly a deeply felt and thoughtful post in Alternet with those quotes, because they’re confirmation that his (and the organisation’s) pragmatic approach gets tangible results.

So it is hardly surprising that both the charity itself and Wayne personally are subject to frequent hostile onslaughts from Big Meat. That’s no more than you would expect. But sadly, vocal and sometimes vitriolic attacks also come from fellow activists, especially hardcore abolitionists. They have no time for HSUS, regarding the charity as paddling around in the shallows, or worse, fraternising with the enemy. (The charity also finds itself under attack from Big Meat stooges posing as hostile fellow animal activists)

Abolitionism condemns welfarist single issue campaigns such as those HSUS runs to get gestation crates and veal calf cages banned, for instance. The argument is that s-i-cs divert focus, time, energy and resources away from the only acceptable aim, which is to achieve full animal rights, to arrive at a world where animals are liberated from their present status as property for human use. That is what we all want and work towards, it goes without saying.

And that’s not the only perceived problem with ‘welfarism’, the dismissive term opponents apply to the one-step-at-a-time strategy employed by HSUS and other animal charities like CIWF, and here in the UK the RSPCA. Opponents argue that focusing on welfare improvements implicitly condones the use of animals for human purposes and allows people to keep right on eating meat and dairy with a clear conscience. We’ve all heard that old chestnut, “Oh yes, but I only buy high welfare meat.”

But activist-on-activist attacks, not welfarism, are the real waste of time and energy, taking the focus away from what really matters – the animals.

images

As a vegan of 31 years standing Wayne knows all too well the frustration many of us feel, and the sense of urgency to end the horrific treatment and slaughter of billions of animals -the anger, the grief, the emotional pain of knowing what these poor animals are enduring this very minute at human hands.

But dogmatic insistence that everyone sing from the same hymn sheet, accepting nothing less than total animal liberation, and hostility towards those with a different approach to animal issues will never get us where we want to be. Idealism alone, without pragmatism, rarely produces the goods. Diplomacy rather than confrontation, getting people on side, moving the animal agenda into the mainstream inch by inch, practising the art of the possible, is proving a very good way, maybe the best, to progress our common cause.

“Do you ever win friends by scolding others? If you want to repel someone, there’s no better way than to act like a know-it-all, condemn them and show that you have all the answers and that others are fools or callous and heartless.”  

(That just alienates people, as I’ve learned the hard way!)

“The fact is, you win friends by earning trust, by listening and responding to their views, by showing respect and tolerance. Why should we expect these principles not to apply when we are trying to win people over on the matter of eating with conscience?”

There’s no denying that HSUS’s strategy is working. In the last year it has got 175 companies including McDonald’s to agree to phase out cage confinement of laying hens. And nearly 100 companies – including Burger King and Safeway—to make the same commitment for gestation crates.

That is huge. It’s making life more tolerable for millions of farmed animals. And just as importantly, it is moving the case for animals and their rights higher up the agenda. It is focusing attention, opening the doors on what is happening inside those factory farms and slaughterhouses. Making people more aware. Concern for animals has become so mainstream now that 30% of Americans believe animals should have the same rights as humans. So the cause of animal rights has clearly not been harmed by advances in animal welfare. On the contrary,

“It’s no accident that the biggest gains in reducing meat consumption have been coincident with the biggest reform efforts to reduce the most suffering on factory farms. Nor it is coincidental that nations which have stronger farm animal protection laws tend to also have higher rates of flexitarianism and vegetarianism. I cannot tell you how many people have told me, after they saw our television ads in Florida against gestation crates or in California on battery cages that they decided right then and there to go vegetarian. You prick someone’s conscience on a single subject, and you never know where it will lead.”

So true. It’s hard to argue with such a common sense approach. The proof of the pudding and all that.

I’m sure I’m not the only vegan though, who sometimes feels tugged first this way and then that by the seemingly polar opposites of animal advocacy ideology, the pragmatic and the pure. But you know what? It doesn’t have to be either/or. I think I’ve found a kind of way of reconciling the irreconcilable. I’ll be a welfare-abolitionist hybrid, embracing both – like Wayne himself.

I remain an abolitionist at heart, in  faith, in hope and in making my life as free from animal use as is humanly possible. Who can there be who does not yearn to see all animals freed and given back their intrinsic rights? Until that day comes, I’ll just keep signing all those single issue petitions, keep supporting every cause that’s making the world a better place for animals, and keep trying to push our fellow earthlings to their rightful place – at the top of the agenda. Here’s to the peaceable vegan hybrid and more and ever-increasing wins for the animals!

All quotes from Wayne Pacelle. Read his full article on Alternet – it’s well worth it.

“Our play is for the mainstream, to reach the millions of people who have yet to make any move at all, to help as many animals as possible”

Link to Leenaert’s piece on Pragmatic Vegan Advocacy from his book “How to Create a Vegan World.”

Related Posts

The Bright New Age of the Humane Economy

A Whale’s Tale – SeaWorld & the Humane Economy

A Whale’s Tale – SeaWorld & the Humane Economy Part 2

The Pig Trial – It’s Not Over Yet

Just why are Gary Grill and James Silver, Anita Kranjc’s legal defence team in the infamous ‘Pig Trial’, not popping corks and toasting each other over glasses of champagne after their client’s welcome acquittal last week?

As we all know, in June 2015 Anita was attending one of the regular Toronto Pig Save’s vigils for animals headed to the slaughterhouse. She gave water through slats in the truck to pigs suffering from heat and thirst. The truck driver angrily confronted her, and the next day she was charged with two criminal offences.
Last Thursday animal advocates everywhere were rejoicing. Anita’s act of compassion was ruled not criminal and she was saved from a possible 10 year jail sentence.
So why were Gary and James not in celebratory mood? Because it wasn’t the win they (and Anita) had hoped for. “Contrary to the claims of many activists, the case did not put the ‘industry on trial’ or result in a ‘victory for animals’.”

On the charge sheet, Anita’s alleged offences were ‘criminal mischief’ and ‘interference with property’. So in a nutshell, the trial hinged on those two things: whether or not Anita was guilty of criminal mischief, and whether or not she had interfered with the property of a third party.

As for the criminal mischief, her team argued that giving water to thirsty pigs was acting for the public good. The judge agreed and dismissed the prosecution’s flimsy argument that the driver did not know if the water was in fact just water.

He also ruled that as the driver of the truck had no qualms about sending the pigs to slaughter in spite of Anita’s action, it was evident he did not believe the animals had been contaminated. The pigs’ ‘owner’ had suffered no financial loss, and his operation had not been affected in any way. There was no ‘interference with property’.


The most important part of Anita’s defence in terms of animal advocacy was the assertion that pigs are not property. As fully sentient, social, thinking, feeling beings, they are as much persons as we humans, and should be recognised as such in law. After all, if even corporations can be legal persons (and rivers and glaciers in some countries of the world), how much more pigs?

The defence called upon several expert witnesses, including Dr Lori Marino. Dr Marino sought to provide evidence that pigs are indeed persons, based on her years, if not decades, of rigorous scientific observation of, and research into different species of animals. Justice Harris chose to dismiss the eminent biopsychologist’s evidence as unscientific and biased – presumably because Lori is a vegan and animal advocate?

Justice Harris made it clear that under Canadian law, dogs and cats are property, and there are no legal grounds for considering pigs as anything other than property. Disappointing, but not surprising.


Ultimately commonsense prevailed with Anita’s acquittal. Commonsense would wonder why anyone performing the compassionate act of trying to relieve a fellow creature’s suffering should be charged with a criminal offence to begin with.

Which leads us to the sting in the tail of this whole story. The incident that sparked the whole commotion emanated from escalating tensions between the animal rights movement and the meat industry.

Gary and James believe that the truck driver’s confrontation of Anita in 2015 was deliberately staged in an attempt to put a stop to Toronto Pig Save’s thrice-weekly vigils. Unsurprisingly, the worst nightmare for those in the meat industry would be animal activism affecting their bottom line. It’s always all about the money.

Consequently, Van Boekel Hog Farms Inc are not happy with Thursday’s verdict. Fearmans Slaughter is not happy. Livestock farmers in Ontario at large are not happy.

“Organisations representing farms in Ontario expressed their disappointment with the decision, highlighting concerns that it would embolden animal rights activists and spark further confrontations between the two groups.

“Actions by Krajnc and activists like her should not be condoned by the courts as they threaten acceptable and legal farming practices and are a threat to food safety,” said Bruce Kelly of Farm and Food Care Ontario.” The Guardian

He added, “We can’t have a food system where people can interfere with food in any stage of the delivery. It’s not safe.” Global News. Some would say, including me, that slaughtering pigs for food is not safe – not safe for the pigs, and not safe for those who keep eating them.

This time, with this pig trial, the vested interests failed. They failed to shut the lid down on Toronto Pig Save, and by default other like-minded activists.

But Justice Harris’s summing up has practically handed the industry a blueprint for winning a conviction next time round. It’s ludicrously simple. Van Boekel Hog Farms’ prosecution of Anita fell down because the truck driver allowed the pigs to go to slaughter as usual, hence into the food supply chain. So all VBHF needs do next time is ‘euthanise’ just one animal declaring it tampered with, contaminated, and no longer fit for the food chain. Hey presto – ‘criminal mischief’ and ‘interference with property’ are proven, the defendant found guilty.

They will try again.


But meanwhile, “one of the unintended consequences of leveling criminal charges against her [Anita] is that the Pig Save movement has taken off. Last year, there were 50 such groups in North America. Now, she said, there are 150.” The Star

And here is this amazing, compassionate, fearless woman on the courthouse steps, after the trial.


Disclaimer I have tried to summarise in brief some of the main points of the trial, for my own benefit as much as anything, as a layperson. If I have misapprehended any of the legal niceties, please do not hesitate to bring them to my attention!

Footnotes

  1. During the trial, in presenting Anita’s defence, the lawyers refrained from referring to the Eric Van Boekel’s facility where the pigs were reared as a farm, instead using terms like ‘operation’ and ‘units’. After all, who in their right minds would consider such an intensive industrial facility a farm? Answer: the judge. Justice David Harris impatiently swept aside the defence team’s terminology and insisted the ‘hogs’ housing be referred to as barns, and the operation as a whole, a farm. He himself, he declared, was born and brought up on a farm. Does that raise questions of impartiality, I wonder?
  2. Other expert witnesses at the trial attempted to draw attention to environmental and animal welfare concerns surrounding the rearing, transport and slaughter of the pigs. Justice Harris dismissed these as irrelevant to the case and accused the witnesses of using the trial as a platform for animal activism. Well, why wouldn’t you?
  3.  Anita still faces another charge: of “obstructing police after a truck carrying pigs crashed near the Burlington slaughterhouse killing 42 of them. Krajnc was not blamed for the crash (the truck’s driver was charged with careless driving). But she was charged after Pig Save protestors at the scene crossed police lines in an effort to convince slaughterhouse workers to release some of the injured hogs to a pig sanctuary.” The Star

Sources

You can listen to Gary Grill and James Silver’s fascinating assessment of the case at Animal Liberation Currents

Judge acquits woman who gave water to pigs headed to slaughter – The Globe and Mail

Related posts

Will Today be the Day Chimpanzees become Legal Persons?

Good News in a Bad Week

Eight Women Changing the World for Animals 1

Thinking Pigs

8 Amazing Piggy Facts & Faces

Persons not Property – Could the Tide be Turning?

The Rights of Nature

“Just as human beings have human rights, all other beings also have rights which are specific to their species or kind and appropriate for their role and function within the communities within which they exist.”

The Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth

Nature has Rights! And not just in our wishful pipe dreams. Two countries hit the headlines recently with court rulings acknowledging the legal personhood of three rivers. In New Zealand the Wanganui River, and the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers in India now have rights. On 31st March India granted Himalayan glaciers the same status. They are legal persons.

A similar judgment has been made in Costa Rican law courts for the planet’s second largest reef which happens to lie in their waters.

Costa Rica’s not too distant neighbour Ecuador was already well ahead of the game – in 2008, the first country in the world to embed in the nation’s constitution itself, the Rights of Nature. The constitution was then put to a referendum of the people, and they voted yes. Ground-breakers indeed.

Not to be left behind, Bolivia was next to achieve a milestone for Nature’s Rights. Half a century after the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Bolivian President Evo Morales Ayma, drove forward the initiative to present the United Nations with a draft of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.

Since that time:

  • Nearly 40 municipalities in the US have adopted Nature’s Rights
  • The dignity of all beings is recognised in Switzerland’s constitution
  • Spain recognises the rights of apes
  • And Romania is in the process of doing the same for dolphins

The EU is lagging behind! But there is hope, as we will see. First, how law for Nature operates in most countries of the world now.

The law with reference to Nature at present stumbles along under one of three paradigms. All outdated, none holistic. Take your pick:
  • mechanistic – viewing the world as made up of separate unconnected objects interacting in a predicable way
  • anthropocentric – viewing the world as existing solely for the use of human beings – our own ‘natural resources’ or ‘natural capital’. Nature is judged only by its economic value to Man rather than on its own intrinsic value
  • adversarial – where one party wins at the expense of another. Guess who nearly always wins? It’s not Nature.
But we already have laws to protect wildlife and the environment – like our own UK Wildlife and Countryside Act. So why does Nature need legal Rights?

Generally speaking – though as we have seen there are exceptions – the law as it stands recognises only two kinds of ‘holders of rights’: humans and human-created entities such as corporations. Everything else – animals domesticated, farmed and wild, land and water, Nature itself – is ‘property’. Nature our thinking goes, belongs to us, is our possession. So laws of protection that come, can just as easily go, depending on the prevailing governmental winds.

The classic example is the USA’s iconic gray wolf, already extinct over most of its historic range. The wolf was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1974, delisted in 2012, relisted in 2014, and now once again loses  protection in Alaska, in national wildlife refuges fgs, under Trump. The man is hell bent on sweeping aside just about every protection U.S. wildlife and wild places – so hard striven for over decades – now enjoy. If ever there was someone out of tune with Nature….

Rights on the other hand give the highest level of legal protection.

Rather than treating nature as property under the law, Rights for Nature… acknowledge that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.  And we – the people –  have the legal authority to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can be named as the defendant [and in courts of law we can be its advocate].

And so we come to the ECI – A European Citizens’ Initiative for the Rights of Nature

vII8ChdUxsdMEueu8GoGHUsKT6xziUJ5k45bQMJKNm07IeMjECZMyq0pleanp1K3ViJy7gVg9qoqwzJo0jtlRpmUrAvHLW_lnSsI7h0k0O34H1o5KH6D9wTTRj5NsMGkHrS_3IUQ.pngThe European Citizens Initiative scheme was established five years ago with the aim of increasing direct democracy by enabling “EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies”. Now, a group of lawyers, environmentalists, academics and others from 13 EU countries have come together in a project to present the Rights of Nature to the EU Commission and get those rights enshrined in EU law.

Their Project Vision

Humanity flourishing in harmony with Nature.

Project Mission

To establish nature’s rights – legal personality and rights for ecosystems and other species – in law throughout Europe.

Project Aim

To launch a European Citizens’ Initiative to propose nature’s rights to the legislative agenda of the EU – see our Draft Directive.

Why This Initiative?

Ecosystems and other species are alive. Yet the law treats them as objects separate to us. This has wide reaching social and economic consequences that drive the environmental crisis. Rights of nature is a game changing solution that brings fundamental and systemic transformation to our legal and economic system by re-characterising nature – ecosystems and species – as a subject of the law with legal personality and tangible rights that can be defended in court by people. This ensures that economic activity operates to enhance rather than undermine the resilience of ecosystems so that humanity can thrive in harmony with nature. It forms a powerful counterbalance to corporate rights and a viable alternative to the financialisation of nature.  To find out more see this article – Rights of Nature – Why Do We Need It? and this TEDx Talk.

Nature needs us to create new legal systems that promote

  • respect for the profound inter-existence of all life
  • respect for the intrinsic value of all life
  • healthy relationships with all life
  • harmony with the universal laws that govern all life

Sadly, since the European Citizens’ Initiative first came into effect, only three ECIs have managed to collect the 1 million signatures required for a response from the EU Commission. And of those three, only one was approved for a follow-up proposal. (One of those rejected by the Commission was a proposal for the European Anthem to be sung in Esperanto!)

But with our support the chances for the ECI – Rights of Nature are hopeful. And here are ways you can help

If you have skills in the following areas and would like to be involved in co-creating this exciting history-making initiative, please get in touch with Mumta Ito, as representative of the organising committee, at mumtaito@gmail.com. The specific areas additional assistance is needed are:

  • Administration/administrative support; fundraising; accounting; research; IT/websites/social media; branding; education; advocacy; lobbying; project management.
  • Additional members to join the existing 13 country teams (UK, Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Ireland, Italy, Belgium and Latvia)
  • People who would like to lead the initiative in the EU countries where we still don’t have people (Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta, Lithuania, Estonia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Austria, Estonia, Bulgaria and Greece)
  • We also have places for self-funding internships in Findhorn and Andalucía.

Offers of skills support could be in a purely ‘advisory’ capacity or more hands-on – (no offer of assistance is too small). To be kept in the loop subscribe at the Being Nature Project.

We look forward to hearing from you and to creating together the legal frameworks needed to form a more resilient, thriving world for all of our future generations.

Of course here in the UK we have Brexit looming. But until the two years after the triggering of Article 50 is over, we can still have our say and make our contribution.

Follow European Citizens’ Inititative on Facebook here

Sign the Global Alliance’s Letter of Commitment to the Rights of Nature here

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It’s true UNESCO already has its own Earth Charter, approved at a meeting of the Earth Charter Commission in Paris in 2000. It lists four Principles. The problem for me lies in Principle Two :

a. Accept that with the right to own, manage, and use natural resources comes the duty to prevent environmental harm and protect the rights of people.

That strikes me as reinforcing the status quo, the rights of Man to treat Nature as property – more a denial of the Rights of Nature than part of a charter to protect them. I would like to see UNESCO replace the Earth Charter with the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth which places Man not bestriding the Earth, above Nature with the right to own it and use it, but as just one thread in the complex web of life, each part of which is every bit as entitled to rights as are we humans.

Read the full Universal Declaration here

And sign the petition to the UN for the Rights of Mother Earth here


Postscript

Two hugely important questions arise for me from discussion about the Rights of Nature.

The first, for those of us who are dedicated to Animal Rights: if we achieve legal Rights for Nature, what does that mean for nonhuman animals? Does it mean that animal advocates like the Nonhuman Rights Project should cease the legal battle to win personhood for individual chimpanzees like Tommy, and throw its weight instead behind the fight for Rights of Nature?

Does it also mean that if nonhuman animals have the right to live at liberty in their own natural environment without interference and exploitation from humans, that the farming of animals would cease?

That we would get the vegan world of which we dream? A sentence in the Declaration seems to say so:

‘Every being has the right to wellbeing and to live free from torture or cruel treatment by human beings”

Secondly, as the capitalist system is based on extracting Nature’s ‘commodities’ and exploiting animals, human and nonhuman in the pursuit of profit and ‘growth’, don’t we need a new paradigm not just for law, but for world economics too?

Maybe I can explore these questions further at a later date, but now I would greatly value your ideas and comments on this immense subject.

Related posts

Human Rights Are Animal Rights!

A Promising Way Forward for Animal Rights?

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

Through Artist’s Eyes- The Wondrous Web of Life & Death

Sources

Being Nature – Extending Civil Rights to the Natural World – The Ecologist

Rights of Mother Earth

Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature

European Citizens Initiative – Wiki

ECI for the Rights of Nature – International Centre for Wholistic Law

ECI Project Summary – A European Citizens Initiative for the Rights of Nature

Revising the ECI: How to make it ‘fit for purpose’ – Euractiv

 

Human Rights are Animal Rights!

by Peter Tatchell for the Ecologist

Abusing animals is no more justifiable than abusing people, writes Peter Tatchell. The moral touchstone is sentience, not species, and the ‘humans first’ ideology of speciesism is analogous to homophobia, racism & misogyny. Cruelty is barbarism, whether inflicted on humans or on other species. We need to recognise and accept our common animal nature.

Since we humans are an animal species, it is obvious that human rights are a form of animal rights; and that animal rights include – or should include – the human species.

“We accept that we have a special responsibility to protect weaker, more vulnerable humans. Surely the same reasoning applies to other weaker, more vulnerable thinking, feeling creatures?”

Sadly, not everyone sees it this way. Many view humans and other animals as totally distinct: drawing a clear, sharp line between animal rights and human rights.
That’s not my view. Sentience is the bond that unites all animal species, human and non-human. I accept our shared animalism and advocate our shared claim to be spared suffering and accorded inalienable rights.

It is true that other animals are less intelligent than humans and lack our mental-physical skills and our capacity for culture and conscience.¹ But this is no justification for abusing them. Just as we do not sanction the abuse of humans – such as babies and disabled people – who lack these highly developed capacities.

We accept that we have a special responsibility to protect weaker, more vulnerable humans. Surely the same reasoning applies to other weaker, more vulnerable thinking, feeling creatures?

There is, in my moral universe, no great ethical gulf between the abuse of human and non-human animals or between our duty of compassion towards other humans and other species.

Indeed, I see a link between the oppression of non-human animals and the oppression of human beings because of their nationality, race, gender, faith or non-faith, political beliefs, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Speciesism is analogous to homophobia, racism and misogyny

The different forms of human and other animal oppression are interconnected, based on the similar abuse of power and the infliction of harm and suffering. They cannot be fully understood separately from one another.

How we mistreat animals parallels how we mistreat people. Cruelty is barbarism, whether it is inflicted on humans or on other species. The campaigns for animal rights and human rights share the same fundamental aim: a world without oppression and suffering, based on love, kindness and compassion.

Speciesism is the belief and practice of human supremacism over other animal species. It is prejudice, discrimination or violence in favour of human beings; variously involving the exploitation, incarceration, mistreatment or killing of other animals by humans.

This humans-first ideology of speciesism is analogous to homophobia, racism and misogyny. A form of prejudice, domination and oppression, it is incompatible with a humane, civilised society.

We humans are an animal species. We know about pain and suffering. So why do most of us hold high-handed attitudes towards other animals and accept their abuse in medical laboratories, farms, zoos, circuses and sports events?

It does not follow that our highly sophisticated intelligence and material development gives us the right to lord it over other species. Just because we have the capacity to do so, does not mean that we should. On the contrary: our brain power and conscience give us a special responsibility of stewardship over the Earth and all its beings.

We must start thinking in a new way …

My thinking has been influenced by the Australian philosopher, Peter Singer, and his ground-breaking book, Animal Liberation. In my mind, it is one the most important books of the last 100 years. It expands our moral horizons beyond our own species and is thereby a major evolution in ethics.

Singer challenges human chauvinism. By viewing non-human sentient beings as ‘other’, we allow ourselves the ‘excuse’ to look down on and mistreat them; including to insult, exploit, abuse, dominate or even kill those ‘other’ beings. We stop seeing them as living, thinking, feeling creatures.

Anti-animal prejudice runs deep. Bigots often disparage other people with speciesist epithets. They accuse them of acting ‘just like a beast’ or ‘worse than an animal.’ This bigotry echoes the vile insults that black people are ‘savages’, women are ‘bitches’ and that LGBT people are ‘perverts.’

Before we can liberate the millions of oppressed humans and billions of exploited animals we need to free our minds and start thinking in a new way: to consciously eliminate the mentality of subjugation and entitlement that allows us to passively acquiesce or, even worse, actively participate in the cycle of abuse against other sentient beings – human and non-human.

Animal liberation is in the same ethical tradition as women’s, black and LGBT liberation. It is about ending the suffering that flows from a supremacist mindset and power relations of domination.

Surely, in the twenty-first century, the time has come to emancipate non-human animals, just like we previously emancipated humans through abolishing slavery, male-only suffrage and anti-LGBT laws?

We have a moral duty to stop abusing other animal species. They aren’t really that different from us humans. Vertebrates share much of our DNA and our capacity for thought, feelings, emotions, sociability, language, altruism and empathy.

We need to recognise and accept our common animal nature. If we did that, the excuses and rationalisations for treating other species badly would fall away.


¹I love this piece and totally endorse everything Peter says – except for the statement: “It is true that other animals are less intelligent than humans and lack our mental-physical skills …” Intelligence is a human construct. Some nonhumans display remarkable intelligence even by that human-centric standard, while others show their own special intelligences that we can scarcely understand or lay claim to ourselves. As for mental-physical skills, many if not all of the 7.77 million species on our planet could give humans a good run for their money.

If you haven’t already done so, please sign the Declaration of Animal Rights


Peter Tatchell is a British human rights campaigner, originally from Australia, best known for his work with LGBT social movements. Tatchell was selected as Labour Party Parliamentary candidate for Bermondsey in 1981.

Event: Peter Tatchell’s keynote address ‘Human rights ARE animal rights’ takes place at Veggie World London at 2pm on Saturday 8th April, Kensington Town Hall, West London. Advance tickets available online: £8 for adults and £6 concessions.


Source: Human rights are animal rights! – The Ecologist


Related posts

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

Will Today be the Day Chimpanzees become Legal Persons?

A Promising New Way Forward for Animal Rights?

Vegan Rights & Why They Really Matter for the Animals

National Justice for Animals Week (USA) Feb 26-March 4 2017

If there is one thing that animals need in this cruel world, it is Justice. Thank you ALDF for promoting this hugely important issue with a special week.

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In celebration of National Justice for Animal Week, the fantastic Animal Legal Defense Fund which advocates for animals in America’s courts of law, honors the nation’s “Top Ten Animal Defenders”.
You can see which attorneys and police officers, fighting tirelessly for justice for animals, won this well-deserved accolade here. You may find you have a champion for animals right in your own backyard!

What is the Animal Legal Defense Fund?

Every day, ALDF works to protect animals by:

  • Filing groundbreaking lawsuits to stop animal abuse and expand the boundaries of animal law.
  • Providing free legal assistance to prosecutors handling cruelty cases.
  • Working to strengthen state anti-cruelty statutes.
  • Encouraging the federal government to enforce existing animal protection laws.
  • Nurturing the future of animal law through Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapters and our Animal Law Program.
  • Providing public education through seminars, workshops and other outreach efforts.

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Sign up for the ALDF’s email newsletter and action alerts here

Celebrate National Justice for Animals Week by supporting the ALDF here

An example of ALDF’s legal victories that brings hope in this case for four white tigers in Denver. Click here


I’m a little bit late getting this out to you. So if you want to be ready in advance for future Animal Months, Weeks and Days here is a full calendar. You will also see which to avoid, like December 27th’s ‘Visit the Zoo Day’!

Related posts

Canadian’s React to Animal Justice’s Animal Charter Billboards

Eight Women Changing the World for Animals 4

A Promising New Way Forward for Animal Rights?

Why I Love Loud Women, Especially Loud Vegan Women

“Well behaved women seldom make history”

… Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Dutch-born vegan Nancy Holten is a long time resident in Switzerland. Her kids were born there. She’s raising them there. But because her activism for the animals is “too annoying”, she has had her application for Swiss citizenship turned down for the third time.
Passionate vegans are no strangers to activism backlash. It comes in all shapes and forms, from the prosecution of Toronto Pig Save’s Anita Kranjc, and Ric O’Barry of the Dolphin Project’s incarceration and deportation from Japan, through to violent physical attacks on hunt sabs and vicious bullying in the school yard.
“People were telling me to kill myself by drowning in milk or by cutting myself with a razor blade. One teacher at the school told me I should go to TAFE¹ because I am ‘not a mainstream student’.”

… 16-year-old vegan schoolgirl Kaila Mackay.

More commonly, vegans experience backlash in the form of vitriolic abuse on social media. Unpleasant though that may be, the personal cost to the vegan post-ers is hopefully not as life-changingly prejudicial as being refused citizenship of the country where you’ve lived most of your life. Nancy Holten’s case has to be a first.

Speaking for myself, I was a child of the 50s and the youngest of 3 – a small girl in the shadow of two bigger, stronger, faster, cleverer brothers. In the small island where we lived everyone knew everyone, and you fell over backwards never to give offence. A setting for a golden childhood, but sterile soil for growing gobby girls with the promise of sprouting into loud proud women. It would have taken someone very special, and that very special someone I was not. So on the outside I became exactly what the island community thought I should be, a “well-behaved” girl who kept her maverick thoughts entirely to herself. This little girl had felt to her cost at a young age the angry stamping-on those kind of thoughts invited if she dared to speak them out loud. I never looked like making history.

You could be ‘nice’ and ‘kind’ and ‘gentle’ and ‘good’, all acceptable ‘feminine’ qualities. But if you were loud you were clearly none of those things, because being loud was the very antithesis of what was expected of the female of the species.

From then until now I’ve always had problems with my throat and my voice. My daughter puts it down to my having been effectively silenced, unable to ‘speak my truth’.

That was all last century though, before second-wave feminism came along. You would hope that kind of suppressive social pressure is long departed. But apparently not. It seems it’s alive and well in vegan Nancy Holten’s little Swiss town of Gipf-Oberfrick. Nancy however, is not to be silenced.

We’ll let you be an animal activist as long as you’re not too darn active, is what the residents of Gipf-Oberfrick are saying to her. It’s OK if you have views as long as you play nice, keep them to yourself, don’t be loud, absolutely don’t go public, don’t shove them down our throats, and above all don’t be annoying.

And what these good burghers think of her actually does matter, not just because the power of peer pressure is in inverse proportion to the size of a town’s population, but much more specifically, because under Swiss law they all have the right to sign off – or not – on her application for Swiss citizenship. The town’s spokesperson, Urs Treier, says they keep rejecting Holten’s application not because of her opinions but because she makes such a public display of the things she objects to.

Nancy is described as “not the quiet kind”. The local branch president of the Swiss People’s Party, Tanja Suter, says Holten has “a big mouth” and doesn’t deserve the “gift” of Swiss citizenship. Jeez!

This unstoppable lady has publicly voiced her opinions about piglet racing, hunting, animals in the circus, and horse breeding. But the one that really gets up the townsfolk’s collective nose, is her rant against their cows having cowbells slung around their necks. Is that so terrible? Yes, when you see the size of the bells, as in the pic below. They weigh in at 5kg apiece and rub and burn the cows’ skin. Plus the sound of the ringing must be deafening to the cows at 100 decibels. That is loud.

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The good people of Gipf-Oberfrick’s though view her campaigning as an attack on treasured Swiss tradition:

“The importance of the cow bell is highlighted in Swiss folklore, which reflects a period when a great Trychel, or large cow bell, was a rare and much-coveted item. The legend of the Simmental tells how a young cowherd strays inside a mountain, and is offered by a beautiful woman the choice between a treasure of gold coins, a golden Trychel, or the fairy herself. He chooses the Trychel.”²

But tradition can never be a justification for inflicting harm. In 2016, 200 million women in 30 countries suffered FGM³ because it is ‘traditional’ in their communities. That doesn’t stop it being wrong.

Let’s face it, the crowd, the majority of folk who prefer to do what’s expected and think what they are told to think, will always lash out at someone swimming against the current and threatening to rock their comfortable boat. These ‘loud’ activists are speaking the truth no-one wants to hear like the Old Testament prophets, who were invariably persecuted for their pains.

Speaking out the truth is never without cost to yourself. If you stick your head up above the parapet, nothing is more certain than that you will get it shot off.  What immense courage it takes to stand up and be loud, especially for a woman. But loud vegans’ courage is fuelled by compassion for the suffering, outrage at the injustices humans are inflicting on animals everywhere, and burning passion to see equality, liberation and justice prevail.

Here’s to all loud vegan women. I salute you. Heroes, everyone.


As for Nancy Holten, she knows full well what is at stake, having had her citizenship application turned down twice already. Yet still she refuses to shut up, refuses to stop being “annoying”, refuses to stop ruffling feathers in her little Swiss town. Because the fate of the animals is so very much more important than a few ruffled feathers – more important even than the coveted Swiss citizenship. I hope she finally does get what she wants. Switzerland should be proud to claim as one of its own an amazing person like Nancy who refuses to sacrifice her principles for her own expediency.

Give that loud annoying vegan woman a medal. We need more of her kind.

“Never be bullied into silence.”

… Harvey Fierstein


Postscript
We can’t all be Nancys. I know I’m not. If you are struggling with simply maintaining a veg*n lifestyle, you are not alone. 63% of new vegans polled said they couldn’t hack sticking out from the crowd.
If you are depressed at all the horrors you see, or burned-out from all your activism, you are not alone.
Don’t give up. Awesome help and support is available here. For the sake of the animals, and for your own, please check it out.

 

¹Technical & Further Education

 ²Wiki

³Female genital mutilation

Source: Town Says Animal Activist Can’t Be Swiss Citizen Because She’s ‘Annoying’ | Care2 Causes

Related posts

Vegan Race Driver Leilani Münter Banned from SeaWorld

Eight Women Changing the World for Animals 2

Eight Women Changing the World for Animals 3

No Age Limit on Activism for Social Justice

My Vegan Path – Interview with Hanna Golan

 

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A Promising New Way Forward for Animal Rights?

If the interests of animals are properly embedded in the democratic process…the laws adopted by a society are less likely to infringe their fundamental interests.

1822 is a date we lovers of justice and animals should all have tattooed on our hearts. Because 1822 was the year Richard Martin MP won for animals an important protection which was also a right: the right – for their own sake – not to be gratuitously harmed.

A 19th Century Irishman who fought more than 100 duels with sword and pistol – and obviously survived them all! – seems a most improbable man to put forward as father of the modern Animal Rights movement. But the small snowball he set in motion has just kept on rolling and rolling for the last 200 years, and growing into what we hope will soon become an avalanche.

For Martin it was who introduced a new Act to prevent the cruel and improper Treatment of Cattle, which made it an offence, punishable by fines up to five pounds or two months imprisonment, to “beat, abuse, or ill-treat any horse, mare, gelding, mule, ass, ox, cow, heifer, steer, sheep or other cattle.”

Up until ‘Martin’s Law’ was passed, it was the animal’s owner who was considered wronged by any harm done to the beast, not the poor animal itself. The animal had no greater status than a table or a chair, so harm inflicted on it was simply damage to the owner’s property. Martin’s Law changed that.

The prolific and accomplished duellist followed up his great legislative achievement by personally bringing the first prosecution under the new Act. The criminal – a fruit seller. The crime – beating a donkey. When the MP led the donkey into the courtroom to exhibit its injuries to judge and jury, he provoked a storm of publicity. Political cartoons appeared depicting him with donkey’s ears. Instead of being praised for his unusual-for-the-times passion for animal protection, he was publicly ridiculed.

Before another two years were out, this remarkable man was instrumental in founding the SPCA –  later the RSPCA – the very first animal protection organisation in the world, prompting the birth of similar groups in Scotland, Ireland, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. Only welfarism as yet, but animal advocacy began to spread around the world.

But that was 200 years ago. So where is Animal Rights today?

Well, because human society and its treatment of nonhuman animals is still, it goes without saying, regulated by law, changes in the law are what we continue to wrangle for in our pursuit of Rights for Animals. And laws that win new rights and protections for our nonhuman cousins have really gathered pace in the last decade.

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But when, just to take one example, badgers – a ‘protected’ species – are being slain in their thousands year upon year supposedly to safeguard other animals, dairy cattle – which later farmers will send to their deaths in the slaughterhouse  – there is clearly still a very long way to go.

So what if we didn’t need to change the law concerning animals at all? What if nonhuman animals had the right to have their interests properly taken into account before any human proposals were cemented into law?

Well, we just may have an exciting new way forward for Animal Rights, a way that could sweep aside the drawbacks inherent in all the various AR theories to date: it is the principle of political theory called the “all-affected.”

“The interests of animals are affected – often devastatingly – by collective decisions and, therefore, they, or – more specifically – their representatives, have a democratic right to have some say in the making of those decisions” says Professor Robert Garner.

If I can beg your patience a little further? To appreciate just how promising this approach could be, we need a super-quick run-through of Animal Rights in the past 40 years or so. Animal Rights is, as it always has been, dependent on two disciplines:

Philosophy, which deliberates on human perceptions of nonhuman animals, and their status relative to us.

And Law, which regulates that status.

I am neither a philosopher or a lawyer, so forgive my lack of expertise, simplifications of a complex subject, and any glaring omissions in my brief summary. This is a personal view, not by any means a definitive account of Animal Rights.

Utilitarianism

One of the first and most influential in recent years to grab hold of Richard Martin’s snowball and give it an energetic push down the mountain was Australian philosopher Peter Singer. He famously shook things up in the 1970s with his book Animal Liberation. His approach to Animal Rights was based on two principles:

  1. The separation of ‘human’ from ‘animal’ is illogical and arbitrary – there is far more difference between a great ape and an oyster than there is between a human and a great ape
  2. The utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham that ethics and morality are dictated by what will achieve “the greatest good of the greatest number”

It necessarily follows from his first principle that nonhumans must not be excluded from that “greatest number” for whom it is our moral duty to obtain “the greatest good”.

Drawback

The problem with this approach to Animal Rights is that if it can be established (by humans, nonhumans having no say) that the greatest good can only be achieved for the greatest number by the use of animals, even if this means inflicting pain upon them or causing them to die, then such actions are justified. Singer for example condones the use of animals where ‘necessary’ in medical research – a position I for one totally reject.

Subjects-of-a-Life

Following quickly on Singer’s heels, Tom Regan gave the snowball another hearty shove with his book “The Case for Animal Rights”. His was a very different argument. He proposed that if animals are ‘subject-of-a-life’ as unquestionably humans are, then their value lies in more than just their usefulness to humans.

“Such an individual has inherent value independent of its utility for others. Because of this inherent value, a subject-of-a-life has rights to protect this value and not to be harmed. Other subjects have a duty to respect these rights.”¹

Drawback

It seems a promising approach until you realise how high he set the bar for non-human animals to be worthy of consideration as ‘subject-of-a-life’, strangely, higher than is set for human beings.

The Big Stumbling Block – Species Criteria

For Regan, to be ‘subjects-of-a-life ‘ nonhumans must have “beliefs, desires, memory, feelings, self-consciousness, an emotional life, a sense of their own future, an ability to initiate action to pursue their goals, and an existence that is logically independent of being useful to anyone else’s interests” – his criteria any species must fulfil.

Humans all have rights independent of Regan’s requirements: newborn infants, certain disabled people, elderly people with failing mental and physical health – none of these could fulfil his criteria, but their rights are nevertheless guaranteed.

He is said not to be speciesist but so many species would be left by the wayside. Would the honey bee, for instance, reach Regan’s bar? Does the honey bee have ‘an emotional life’ and ‘beliefs’? And who decides? Humans of course. When it comes to nonhuman animals, Regan limits those supposedly deserving of rights to ‘normally mental mammals over a year old, several species of birds, and possibly fish’.

Apart from the few wild animals that qualify, certain farmed animals – cows, pigs and sheep – could benefit from his approach. But not calves, piglets or lambs, and very probably not (in spite of what we now know of their intelligence and complex emotional and social life) hens. Certainly not the millions of day-old chicks that drop off the conveyor belt into the grinder.

The criteria he has set would leave billions of animals, and a very large slice indeed of the estimated 8.7 million species on the planet without rights.

Abolitionism

In the here and now, animal advocates fall broadly speaking into two camps: the abolitionists and the welfarists. The foremost spokesperson for Abolitionism is Professor Gary Francione. As a lawyer with a background in philosophy the Prof is peculiarly well qualified, one would think, to set out the ideal path for the AR ‘snowball’ to travel.

Abolitionism is based upon the philosophical premise that all animals, human and nonhuman, have the basic moral right not to be treated as the property of others. Therefore any human use of nonhumans is unjustifiable, just as human slavery is unjustifiable. All animals exist for their own purposes, not others. The moral baseline is veganism.

The battle for Abolitionism is legal as well as philosophical since in law, with a few notable exceptions, such as in a limited way in France², the status of nonhuman animals is still that of property. And most laws that relate to animals simply protect their welfare to a greater or lesser degree – without changing their status.

So how to get that legal status changed?

Two ways the status of nonhumans can be changed:

  1. By governmental legislation
  2. In the law courts. If a change in status can be established in a court of law, a legal precedent is set which would subsequently apply to all similar cases.

There are heroes for animals like Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Animal Rights Project in the US, and the Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA) in Argentina, toiling tirelessly to get that status change from property to person accepted in a court of law.

Drawback

It’s a tough battle, less like giving the AR snowball a gentle nudge on its way, much more like pushing an elephant up a mountain. And once again there is a major problem. We are back to the dreaded Species Criteria. Bringing a case to court, a lawyer has to limit him/herself to a particular client or clients on whose behalf he/she is pleading. And we’d be crazy to think a judge would grant personhood to, say, a silkworm, let alone to the entire animal kingdom. The right client has to be chosen.monkey-256420__340

So what are the criteria by which a lawyer selects a client that has the best chance of success in court? The NhRP’s current plaintiffs are “members of species who have been scientifically proven to be self-aware and autonomous: currently, great apes, elephants, dolphins, and whales.”

This list of the species that qualify is even more meager than Regan’s. The idea, of course, is to ‘get a foot in the door’ for one species, which would pave the way for others. But I’m guessing it will be a long long while before science decides silkworms are self-aware and autonomous, the first hurdle they need to jump if their advocates are to pursue this particular route to legal rights.

I applaud their efforts and don’t wish to sound unduly pessimistic, but short of turning the entire world vegan, it is unclear how in practical terms Prof Francione is going to achieve his Abolitionist goal.

Protectionism/Welfarism

Certain animal charities such as PETA, Animal Aid, Viva, also advocate total non-use of animals for human purposes. But where out-and-out Abolitionists are at odds with them, is their pursuit at the same time of incremental welfare improvements to reduce the suffering of animals alive now.

Drawback

It could be – and is – argued that campaigning for greater protections is a distraction from the goal of Animal Rights. Or worse, counter-productive, allowing the public to believe they can keep right on using animals, as long as it is done ‘humanely’. Abolitionists certainly think so and reject single issue campaigns. But that’s an argument we won’t get into just at the moment!

And the majority of other animal charities like ASPCA, HSUS and the RSPCA make no bones about their purely welfarist agenda.

Out-and-out revolution

There is absolutely no doubt that nearly all the exploitation and abuse, legal or illegal, humans inflict on nonhumans is in the service of the great capitalist god Profit. When it comes to lining their pockets humans have no regard for the rights of animals. So the answer is simple –  bring down capitalism.

Drawback

Or is it? Personally, I can’t see the overthrow of capitalism stopping people wanting to eat meat and cheese, use leather or wear fur. Isn’t it likely, or at least possible, that today’s capitalist factory farms would be tomorrow’s communist or socialist state-run operations?


Finally, the good news!

At last we come to Professor Garner’s exciting new paper Animals and democratic theory: Beyond an anthropocentric account” published in Contemporary Political Theory less than two months ago. Even the title whets the appetite!

The Prof bases his thesis on the ‘all-affected principle’, already current in political theory. It goes like this: in a democracy, the interests of every sentient being affected by legislation must be considered. And those who clearly cannot speak for themselves must have their rights represented by those who can.

“A democratic polity should take account of animal interests, not because a substantial number of humans wish to see greater protection afforded to animals, but rather because animals themselves have a democratic right to have their interests represented in the political process.”

So exactly why should we believe Garner’s new political theory could do better for animals than what has gone before?
  • Firstly, because it removes disputable questions of morality, ethics, and humanity (humaneness) from the equation. Under this principle Animal Rights is a purely political matter. You don’t have to believe it immoral to exclude nonhumans from democracy – it’s enough that it’s undemocratic.
  • Secondly – and I think this is huge – because it sweeps away all those contentious species criteria we were talking about. Here there are no criteria to fulfil, except that of sentience alone.

So no longer does AR depend upon humans deciding whether an animal is ‘intelligent enough’ or has a ‘sufficiently complex emotional life’. A life need only be sentient. And that, says Professor Marc Bekoff, author of a Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience³, is now beyond dispute:

“After 2,500 studies, it’s time to declare animal sentience is proven.”

Not so very long ago black people and women, though most certainly affected by the collective decisions of their society, were entirely excluded from the democratic process. They battled hard for their rights, their vote, their say.

And won.

Because the ‘all-affected’ principle is surely the very heartbeat of Democracy.

Animals next!

To get general acceptance for Professor Garner’s new approach to AR, to help turn that snowball into an avalanche, please share widely!

You can read his complete paper here

Check out CASJ (Centre for Animals & Social Justice) who commissioned his work, and whose aim is to achieve:

• an overarching legal/political status for animals
• the institutional representation of animals’ interests within Government
• a government strategy and targets to improve animal protection

¹Subject-of-a-life – Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy

²What France’s New Animal Rights Law Actually Means For Animals – The Dodo. This change in French law “only applies to pets or wild animals tamed or held in captivity. The sentience of wild animals, meanwhile, is not recognized.

³A Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience – Psychology Today

Footnote: The EU already implements something approaching Prof Garner’s thesis.

“In terms of Regional Economic Communities (RECs), the European Union (EU) is the most progressive one in regard to including animal welfare in its sphere of policy work. Its activities in this area are based on the recognition that animals are sentient beings.

An amendment to the constitutional basis of the EU, the Treaty of Lisbon, which came into effect on 1st December 2009, now includes this principle and made it a binding condition to pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals when formulating and implementing policies in relevant areas.This puts animal welfare on an equal footing with other key principles such as: gender equality, social protection, human health, combat of discrimination, sustainable development, consumer protection and data protection.”

 

Other Sources

There are three Animal Movements – Armory of the Revolution

Animals have democratic right to political representation – CASJ

The Case for Animal Rights – Wiki

Animal Rights – Wiki

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