Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Animal Rights: ethics and respect

By Jaqueline B. Ramos*

The analysis of the way we deal with Nature evokes a very important reflection: the way that human beings relate to, use and/or exploit the non-human animals. Today there is no more doubt about the sentience of the animals (the ability to feel pain or pleasure) and subjects like ethics on the use of animals in circuses and the real need of using animals in Science, not to mention the environmental impacts and the respect for animal welfare at livestock farming processes, are being much more discussed and considered by society. Together with this urgency of humankind rethink the “supremacy” over the non-human animals, a new area, for reflection and action, has been being built and developed both in Brazil and in the rest of the world: Animal Rights.

In 1928, Italian professor Cesare Goretti affirmed that “the ones who mistreat animals do not know the universal pain that lies in each living being; they deny a genuine right, which exists even that the animal is not able to fight for it.” Some centuries before names like Francisco Bernardone (Saint Francisco of Assis), Leonardo Da Vinci and Mahatma Gandhi, this last one in the 20th century, had already used their arguments in favour of the defense of animal rights.

More recently, names like Australian philosopher Peter Singer, British primatologist Jane Goodall and South-African writer J.M. Coetzee (Nobel Prize of Literature in 2003, with the book “The life of the animals”) contribute, with their breakthroughs, researches and points of view to develop the perception that treat the animals with respect and dignity is much more than a ethics issue. Like public attorney Laerte Levai writes in the book “Animal Rights”, “slowly people are becoming aware that treating the animals with dignity is not a matter of doing them a favor, but it is a matter of fulfilling the rights that belong to them.”

Constitutional Right: Fortunately, in Brazil, country that is considered to have one of the most advanced environmental law in the world, animal protection is quoted in the Federal Constitution, approved in 1988. On article 225, it is defined that “the Government should protect fauna and flora and it is forbidden, with laws, the practices that could put in danger their ecological function, that could lead to extinction of the species or that expose animals to cruelty.” This idea was the basis for article 32 of the Environmental Crimes Law (9605, dated 1988), which consider a cruelty act against an animal a infraction with penalty.

Nevertheless, as Dr. Laerte explains in his book, despite the entire legal basis, it’s very difficult to change the scenery that has been causing, for centuries, so much suffering to animals without citizenship engagement activity and effective authorities action. Considering this, one can affirm that, apart from the lack of effective inspecting operations conducted by responsible authorities, one of the main difficulties to completely implement the animal rights is the subjectivity behind the concepts of cruelty and mistreating. For instance: keeping a wild animal locked in a small cage in a circus could not be considered as a mistreating if one believes in the idea that the animals are well feed and are part of the “family”. But, in fact, just the act of depriving a wild animal of enjoying its natural habitat and behavior for the sake of an economic activity, from each some people will have profits, must be defined as a mistreating. Not to mention other problems caused to animals that are exploited as products, or, many times, hunted and illegally caught from its habitat.

No matter the difficulties, the movement “Animal Rights” has been gaining power and credibility all over the world. Including Brazil. In 2005, professor and public attorney Heron Santana, from Bahia state, coordinated a case that became a world reference in the area. Together with other teachers, law students and animal defense organizations, Dr. Santana ordered for a habeas-corpus in favor of chimpanzee Suiça, 23 years old, who was living at Salvador zoo for four years.

After the death of Geron, Suiça’s partner, who had cancer, the female chimpanzee started to have an abnormal behavior. This was the justification for Suiça to be released from the zoo and to be sent to a sanctuary, to live with other chimps. Suiça was the first animal in the world that was recognized as a beneficiary of a law action, but she had no time to enjoy her freedom. The habeas-corpus was approved one day after she was found dead in her cage at the zoo. Even though, the case had an important role, very important to aware Judges and other legal professionals that analyze the cases related to animal rights.

In 2007, another event made history. Judge Gustavo Alexandre Belluzzo, from São José dos Campos (São Paulo state), approved the action ordered by the Public Justice Department and forbid the circus Le Cirque to present its shows with animals all over the state’s territory. The judgment’s text quotes the Federal Constitution and a regional law for protection of animals. Apart from that, the Judge affirms that “documents signed by vets and by IBAMA (Brazilian Environment Institute) simply apply for the formality of the process. In reality, the submission imposed to animal in circus tours leads to an abusive and cruel situation that no longer can be accepted by modern society.”

Despite these breakthroughs, a lot must be done yet in order that the animals are treated with the respect they deserve. Experimentation with animals and discussions about humanitarian slaughter and intensive farming to attend the high demand for meat still cause controversy and divide opinions. However, it’s very important that the discussion is based on reflection and leads to practical actions. And this has to do with everyone responsibility and social role. According jainismo (hindu religion), we should not harm other live being and liberation depends on each one individual effort. Gandhi, who was influenced by this ideology, used to ask, in his search for peace, for mercy for all the animals, reminding people that the non-human animals were victims of human cruelty and were not strong enough to resist. In other words, we could affirm that every animal have rights and deserve to be respect. Including you.

Source: Book “Animal Rights”, by Laerte Fernando Levai (Mantiqueira publisher)

Universal Declaration of Animal Rights

The Universal Declaration of Animal Rights was solemnly proclaimed in 1978 at UNESCO International Assembly. In spite of being considered a conquest of animal defense movement, the declaration does not have legal application. The 10 principles of the declaration are:

1 – Every animal has the right to life
2 – Every animal has the right to be respected and to have human protection.
3 – No animal should be mistreated.
4 – Every wild animal have the right to live free, in their natural habitat.
5 – The animal that men choose as a partner should never be abandoned.
6 – No animal should be used in experiments that cause them pain.
7 – Every act that put the life of an animal in risk is a crime against life.
8 – Pollution and environmental destruction are considered to be crimes against the animals.
9 – Animal rights should be defended with laws.
10 – Men should be educated since childhood to observe, respect and comprehend animals.

GAP Project – Great Primates Rights

GAP is an international movement that aims to defend the rights of the non-human great primates - chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and bonobos, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. The main rights are: the right to life, the protection of individual liberty and the prohibition of torture.

GAP was the result of ideas developed on a book that has the same name, written by philosophers Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer, who is considered to be one of the fathers of the animal defense and rights movement in the world. In the book, the authors and other renowned specialists, like British primatologist Jane Goodall, explain that human beings and great primates share important characteristics, like social organization, communications and strong affectionate bonds among the individuals, which demonstrates that they are intelligent and, consequently, that they should have similar rights to ours.

Currently GAP has representations on many countries, among them Brazil. Here the first ideas were put in practice in 2000 at Sorocaba city, countryside of São Paulo state. A three-month old orfan chimpanzee was adopted and raised as a human by microbiologist Pedro Ynterian, who established the first Brazilian sanctuary for chimpanzees. The “baby” was named Guga (see more on “Our Guests”) and aroused the interest for rescue and close treatment of chimpanzees victims of mistreating in the country, which was the start of GAP Brazil’s activities.

Since 2006, GAP Brazil is officially represented by NGO GAP Project – Support Group for Primates. On 2008, Brazil has four sanctuaries affiliated and aligned with GAP’s ideas that rehome 74 chimpanzees, the majority rescued and recovered after being mistreated at circus or living under inadequate conditions in zoos.

More information:

*Published at Aqualung Ecological Institute Magazine – n. 80 – July/August 2008

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