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Scientist: Governments must provide fundamental rights to certain animals

A table or tree has no benefit from constitutional protection against torture; a sentient animal (so also humans) does. If we want to have a just legal system, then this distinction must be visible in the law.

FLORIS VAN DEN DRIESCHE: ‘It is often claimed that the way we humans treat animals is the greatest injustice of the modern age… “When I was a student, it was briefly mentioned in Property Law that animals are items of property, just like tables and houses. Now, according to the Civil Code they are no longer items of property, but what that means exactly remains unclear. It is constantly claimed that we have human rights because we are human. But why are people the only party that has legal personality? When you think about it, animals look more like humans than tables and houses. And truth be told, people are actually animals.” Janneke Vink says.

“That is something that should motivate all lawyers: the law does not exist to bring about injustice. If there is any truth in that claim, then this is a huge issue in law, which after all facilitates the way we treat animals.” Because of her curiosity about the subject, Vink decided to conduct research into the position of animals in the democratic state under the rule of law. There is currently much public interest surrounding this issue. “In the nature reserve Oostvaardersplassen animals are starving in full glare of the public because they are part of an ecological project, and animal activists are breaking the law. There are also continuous examples of abuse in livestock farming and legal action is being taken on behalf of apes”…

“Sentience is explained as being the property of experiencing consciousness and feeling,” Vink continues. “But if you ask a philosopher what ‘consciousness’ is exactly, you end up with more questions than answers. The point is that an individual (human or some other species) can experience a sense of wellbeing. This explains why—ethically speaking—you could be allowed to kick a table or tree, but not a pig. If we want to have a just legal system, then this distinction must be visible in the law: a table or tree has no benefit from constitutional protection against torture; a sentient animal (so also humans) does.

We humans like to think we are different from other animals, but when it comes to aspects in the law which are of fundamental importance, then it is precisely here that we display great similarities. It is now time to acknowledge this in our legal system as well. But which species are sentient is a question that goes far beyond the limits of political and legal philosophy, and a question to which natural scientists are fortunately continually formulating answers.” This latter example concerns the number of legal cases in the United States in which animal rights organisations are trying to persuade judges to grant “claimant” chimpanzees the right to physical integrity’.  SOURCE…

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