Great Apes Rights, 30 years after

Posted in 05/09/2022

Our great apes relatives - Jeff McCurry/

Although Spain was the only country in the world where Parliament’s accession to the Great Apes Project was successfully defended, a Law on Hominids or Great Apes has not yet been passed

By Paula Casal – Professor at ICREA and at the Law Department at the Pompeu Fabra University of Barcelona / President of PGS Spain

03/09/2022 – El Diario – Blog El Caballo de Nietzsche

Almost thirty years ago Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer published The Great Ape Project (1993), bringing together the arguments of numerous philosophers and scientists in favor of recognizing the right of our evolutionary relatives to live without being tortured or imprisoned. Since then, many scientific discoveries have been made, laws have changed, the situation of great apes and also the moral argument. Therefore, the defense of the apes needed a scientific, legal and philosophical update, which was made, with photos and maps, in the book “Los Derechos de los Simios”, by Paula Casal and Peter Singer (Trotta, 2022). The financial benefits of the book were donated entirely to the Great Ape Project.

To begin with, now there is no longer the definition of “the three great species of great apes”, because all apes have been reclassified as hominids and there are ten species: the three of the genus Homo (humans, bonobos and chimpanzees), the Borneo orangutans, of Sumatra and Tapanuli, and the western, eastern, mountain and Cross River gorillas. Neanderthals and Denisovans, now extinct, are hominids. There are more species, but fewer individuals: Humans have driven everyone else to the brink of extinction, especially since the pandemic began. Tragically, this is happening just as we discover that they have far more capabilities than we previously thought and that, as neuroscientists Lori Marino and Bob Jacobs have shown, captivity causes profound brain damage in those with such capabilities, so conservation in zoos is not a option.

As wild great apes are slaughtered and their cultures become extinct, campaigns to defend captive individuals have been successful. In 1997, the UK suspended licenses to conduct invasive research and the US National Research Council ended breeding programs at National Institute of Health facilities on ethical grounds. The country also enacted the Chimpanzee Law in 2000, granting retirement, rather than euthanasia, to already-used chimpanzees.

In 1999, the New Zealand Animal Welfare Act banned biomedical research with no likely net benefit to great apes, and the Dutch Research Center abandoned it in 2002 due to lack of results. Sweden banned this type of research in 2003, Austria in 2004, Switzerland in 2006 and the European Union in 2010. In the United States, interest in experimentation has waned because of its high costs and low benefits. In 2011, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences published the report “Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research, Assessing the Necessity”, describing the experiments as unnecessary. Because ongoing acute stress not only produces depression but can also compromise the immune system, results are not only meager, but unreliable.

At first, we Spanish speakers limited ourselves to observing the struggle for the rights of Anglophone hominids. But later, the Great Apes Project in Spain and in Brazil began to spread the message with more perseverance and dedication than the others, until, finally, Latin America started an authentic legal revolution towards the recognition of hominid rights.

Alex Cuéllar and Rafa Sánchez’s docutriller “(Non)human person” (2022) follows the Habeas Corpus processes of orangutan Sandra (2014) and chimpanzee Cecilia (2016). But many other legal cases – such as Suíça (2005), Lilly and Debby (2008) and Jimmy (2009) in Brazil; Toti (2013 and 2020), Monti (2014), Toto (2014), Martin, Sasha and Kangoo (2017) in Argentina; Tommy (2013), Kiko (2013) and Hércules y Leo (2013) in the United States – presented the chimpanzee as a subject of rights and a legal entity. Philosophically, the most plausible conception of the person is as a grouping concept, that is, as a weighted list of non-arbitrary and related characteristics that are neither individually necessary nor sufficient. Memory, for example, is characteristic of people, but there may be people with amnesia and not people with memory. Other cluster concepts are art, democracy, species, and mathematical proof. Art, for example, is not necessarily something beautiful, nor a representation of nature.

Judicial processes and their defenses have been gaining a life of their own in the international legal culture and cases are increasingly frequent, involve more species and different procedures and reach higher courts. For example, in 2019, the Colombian Constitutional Court called me to testify as an expert in the Habeas Corpus of Chucho, an Andean bear. This is an example of how, once we manage to break the species barrier, and the legal rights of great apes are recognized, the door remains open for cases of other animals to be considered, which the cluster concept does not exclude. .

Indeed, these types of defenses have not only been applied to other primates, such as the monkey Estrellita, in Ecuador (2022), but also to other animals aware of their identity, such as orcas (Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Katatka, and Ulises in 2012) and elephants (Kaavan from Islamabad in 2020 and Happy from the Bronx in 2022). In Costa Rica, the rights of lion Kivu have already been recognized (2022).

And what did we do in Spain? The volunteers, especially Pedro Pozas, did not stop. But at the state level, practically nothing was done, despite the fact that Spain was the only country in the world whose the Parliament’s adhesion to the Great Apes Project was successfully defended.

Fourteen years ago, the Proposition of Law that deputy Joan Herrera (IC-Verdes) presented on June 25, 2008 was approved, collecting the two proposals that had been presented before in the Congress of Deputies, by deputy Francisco Garrido (PSOE – Verdes ) in 2005 and 2006, and which the Balearic Parliament had approved in 2007. José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero did not ratify it within the deadline, despite having been an initiative of his party, which publicly announced its support for Herrera and that all points of the proposition were approved unanimously or by an absolute majority. We missed a great opportunity to make history as a country. The leadership could now be assumed, and with success guaranteed, by any party, especially with some changes in the formulation and philosophical argument that Los Derechos de Los Simios explains. And the Great Ape Law that the Ministry of Social Rights and the 2030 Agenda promised us could also be created directly.

Since we started this march with the Great Apes Project Spain, in 1998, the need for this law has become very clear. To begin with, in Spain there is not even a law that forbids the private possession of hominids. That’s why we had to fight long legal battles to rescue monkeys that people have hidden in their homes, without veterinary assistance, sometimes without teeth to not bite and even without fingers, due to self-mutilation, followed by infection, which can generate mental pain, intense and continuous.

Sometimes it takes us two years to rescue an individual from a filthy cage, because as they are not domestic, agricultural, laboratory, or native fauna animals, or come from a foreign country, the monkeys remained on a kind of legal land and we can not appeal to legislation that gives some protection to these groups. Now, thanks to the Directorate General for Animal Rights (DGDA), things have improved and there is a new legal definition of “domestic” that we could try to apply.

But it is absurd that in order to defend beings with the capabilities of human children aged two to three we have to insist that they are “domestic animals”, when the problem is precisely the aberration of having a hominid as a pet or domestic animal. Now that there are those who propose the non-extinction of Neanderthals or Denisovans, it would be absurd if, in order to defend them, it were necessary to say that they are domestic animals. They are not pets, nor should they be. These are tribes that we must protect from massacre and extinction at the hands of executioners such as the coltan and palm oil mafias, as well as those who hunt them down to sell them as domestic animals.

For all these reasons, it is important that you write a letter to the DGDA in favor of a Hominid or Great Ape Law, and send it to Make history. Your great ape cousins ​​need you.