Animals too should have their rights | Sunday Observer

Animals too should have their rights

10 November, 2019

It’s time to rethink our relationship with the animal world. Many incidents in Sri Lanka and the world over have shown that attempts to tame and connect with animals on human terms don’t always work and could have dangerous consequences.

Advocacy groups and humanitarians around the world have long argued for the rights of animals, fighting for their right as sentient creatures to a life free of torture and suffering.

If you ask any of your friends who have pets, they would say they love animals and consider their pets as part of the family. Yet, many would hesitate to answer questions like, ‘Isn’t it enough that we treat them humanely’? Why should animals have rights? What rights should they have, and how are those rights different from human rights?

Indian experience

While many countries now recognise animals as sentient beings with a “Right to Life” by law and even constitutional status, sadly, Sri Lanka lags far behind.

Take for example our neighbour, India, which is home to several religious traditions advocating non-violence and compassion towards animals. India has passed numerous animal welfare reforms since 1960. India’s first national animal welfare law, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, criminalized cruelty to animals. The same law created the Animal Welfare Board of India with legal powers to ensure that the anti-cruelty provisions were enforced and promote the cause of animal welfare.

Subsequent laws have placed regulations and restrictions on the use of draught animals, performing animals, animal transport, animal slaughter, and animal experimentation.

The amendment in 2006 added limitation clauses on Breeding of and Experiments on Animals (Control and Supervision). The clauses specified that experimenters must first try to use animals ‘lowest on the phylogenetic scale,’ use a minimum number of animals for 95% statistical confidence. In 2014, India became the first country in Asia to ban all testing of cosmetics on animals and the import of cosmetics tested on animals.

In 2017, India released further amendments to regulate dog breeders, animal markets, and aquarium and ‘pet’ fish shop owners.

She has made vast strides in animal welfare legislation and effective mechanisms to implement laws. Sri Lanka can learn a lot from the Indian experience.The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance in Sri Lanka which is 112 years old, is obviously an outdated piece of legislation.

Our Experience

Our failure to repeal this antiquated statute has created a public impression that successive Governments lacked the political will to bring about legislative improvement to the laws governing the welfare of animals. Nevertheless, there have been two significant developments on animal welfare during the last ten years.

In February 2009, Ven. Athureliya Rathana Thera, introduced in Parliament a draft Animal Welfare Bill. At the same time, the Law Commission of Sri Lanka, after extensive consultations with the public and examination of laws of other jurisdictions, prepared the Animal Welfare Bill. It was approved by the Cabinet and introduced in Parliament. It now awaits to be gazetted.

Animal rights versus animal welfare

Animal welfare, as distinguished from animal rights, is that humans can use and exploit animals as long as the animals are treated humanely and the use is not too frivolous. To animal rights activists, the main problem with this view is that humans do not have the right to use and exploit animals, no matter how well the animals are treated. Buying, selling, breeding, confining, and killing animals infringe on the animals’ rights, no matter how ‘humanely’ they are treated.

Furthermore, the idea of treating animals humanely is vague and means something different to each one. For instance, a dairy farmer may think there is nothing wrong in killing male chicks by grinding them up alive to cut feeding costs versus the yield. Also, ‘cage-free eggs’ are not as humane as the industry would have us believe. A cage-free egg operation buys their eggs from the same hatcheries that factory farms buy from, and those hatcheries kill the male chicks as well.

The idea of ‘humane’ meat also seems absurd to animal rights activists, since the animals must be killed to obtain the meat. And for farms to be profitable, those animals are killed as soon as they reach slaughter weight, which is still very young.

Animal rights activism is based on the idea that animals are sentient and that speciesism is wrong, the former of which is scientifically backed. Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist at Washington State University along with a panel of neuroscientists declared in 2012 that non-human animals have ‘conscious states with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviours.’ However, this is still hotly contested among humanitarians.

Animal rights activists argue that because animals are sentient, the only reason humans are treated differently is speciesism, which is the assumption that man is superior to all other species of animals and that he is therefore justified in exploiting them for his own advantage. This is an arbitrary distinction based on the incorrect belief that humans are the only species deserving of moral consideration,they say.

Speciesism, like racism and sexism, is wrong because animals popular in the meat industry like cows, pigs and chicken suffer when confined, tortured and slaughtered, and there is no reason to morally distinguish between humans and non-human animals.

Human rights versus animal rights

No one is asking for animals to have the same rights as humans, but in an animal rights activist’s ideal world, animals would have the right to live free of human use and exploitation - a vegan world where animals are no longer used for food, clothing or entertainment.

Of course, human rights are different from animal rights because we have the power to ensure that other humans have access to food and housing, are free from torture, and can express themselves.

On the other hand, it’s not in our power to ensure that every bird has a nest or that every squirrel has an acorn. Part of animal rights is leaving the animals alone to live their lives, without encroaching on their world or their lives.