Wednesday, July 19, 2017
The animal welfare and animal rights movement in the US has accelerated during the past two decades. But the US is not close to expanding legal rights to animals as has been done elsewhere.
In 2008, the Spanish parliament extended rights to chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and bonobos. This animal measure was not the first for members of the European Union. In 2002, Germany extended rights to animals through its constitution. In 1999, New Zealand passed measures granting protective rights for apes. While some argue that legal rights should not be limited to human-like species, there is no question that these measures are light years ahead of any US initiatives.
Most of the US protections of animals comes from a perspective of correcting cruel human behaviors toward them. Statutes reflect the intention to restrain human actions toward animals, but they do not reflect the perspective that, like humans, animals have inalienable rights. Struggling to preserve the rights that we have, it is unlikely that rights for humans will expand during the next few years. Any movement to recognize, on a formal basis, inherent rights of animals is not likely to be successful in the near future.
In a 2014 essay, William Shultz, former director of the ACLU, acknowledged that he was wrong when he earlier argued that "no rational person would believe that animals could claim the same kinds of rights as humans." He called upon us to examine which creatures should have a claim to rights.
Given the current lack of understanding of human rights on the federal level, animal rights advocates, like human rights advocates, will continue to be most effective on the international and local levels.
At the recent G-20 meeting, for example, the leaders adopted "High Level Principles on Combatting Corruption Related to Illegal Trade in Wildlife and Wildlife Products". While again the principals seek to protect animals from human cruelties, continued recognition of their need for protection may lead to the dialogue on whether protective action is at the same time acknowledging innate legal rights of animals.