Now Is The Time To Demand Legal Rights For Nonhuman Animals

As long as nonhuman animals are considered legal things, hard-fought victories on their behalf can be reversed with the stroke of a pen.


Steven M. Wise, Contributor President, the Nonhuman Rights Project

via The Huffington Post - 08/09/2017


Below is a lightly edited transcription of my Opening Plenary Talk at the Animal Rights National Conference, which took place Aug. 3-6, 2017 outside Washington, D.C.


It is fitting that at AR 2017, Animal Rights 2017, I announce on behalf of the Nonhuman Rights Project what we see as 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 itís 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.


Animal welfare, animal protection, has been around in some form since 1641 when the Puritans came up with their Body of Liberties. Number 92 said that ď(n)o man shall exercise any Tirranny or crueltie toward any bruite Creatures which are usuallie kept for manís use.Ē In 1822, Martinís Act was passed in England, which was an act for the protection of cattle. Later, England, all of the states of the United States, and other countries followed with anti-cruelty statutes and such statutes as the Twenty-Eight Hour Law and the Animal Welfare Act. The fact is they have all been pathetically ineffective. You just have to look around to see how ineffective animal welfare and animal protections are and have been. The purpose of the Nonhuman Rights Project is to stop all advocacy for nonhuman animals from being focused on welfare issues and moving them in a more effective way towards rights.


One of the major issues even when there are animal welfare or animal protection victories is that we have gotten them by asking somebody to, please, do the right thing. Sometimes they will do it; sometimes they wonít. Even when they do it, someone else may come in and undo it.


President Trump is a great example of that. With the same pen that President Obama used to sign various federal regulations that appeared to protect nonhuman animals and that went into effect after many years of valiant effort, President Trump Xs them out. Thatís a problem with animal welfare and animal protection. It is 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 ďthingĒ 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.


Today, all the nonhuman animals of the world are on the legal thing side, all of them; all of them lack the capacity for any kind of legal rights. On the other side are legal persons. Today, in 2017, all human beings are on the ďpersonĒ side of that wall.


But itís important to note that being a person and being a human being have never been synonymous, are not synonymous today, and will never be synonymous. Often the Nonhuman Rights Project has to explain this to judges who should already know that. Occasionally we lose cases because judges donít understand that this has never been true, it is not true now, and it never will be true,. Though they may misunderstand this today, one day they will be corrected.


Even today, in 2017, there are entities who are not human beings who are persons. Courts, for example, in pre-Independence India held that a mosque is a person, that a Hindu idol is a person. In 2000, the Indian Supreme Court held that the holy books of the Sikh religion were a person. More to the point, in the last year, New Zealand had designated a certain river, the Whanganui River, as a person who can sue and be sued and that owns its own bed. Last summer the Government designated a certain national park as a person.


More to the point, in November of 2016, the first nonhuman animal was characterized as a ďnon-human Person.Ē This was Cecilia in Mendoza, Argentina. The court ruled that Cecilia was a non-human Person, issued a writ of habeas corpus, and ordered her transferred to a sanctuary.


Last week, in the country of Colombia, their Supreme Court held that a certain bear was a person and issued a writ of habeas corpus. That bear is going to be moved pursuant to the writ of habeas corpus from where he is now, presumably to a sanctuary. We donít know for sure; itís a 35-page opinion in Spanish. We are having our translators translate it so we understand exactly where he is going to be moved.


The Nonhuman Rights Project spent years developing these ideas around writs of habeas corpus...


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