"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged
by the way its animals are treated." —Mahatma Gandhi
Why Does This Matter?
Existing Situation Examined
Words of Wisdom and Support
There is a growing understanding in society of the importance of respect and protection for animals as an indicator of moral standards. Animal protection has become an important ethical and political question commanding major public interest in many countries. Despite this, there are as yet few countries that have secured even the basic requirements for humane treatment of animals in their constitutions.
Animals are sentient creatures with an intrinsic value. Action to take full and proper account of animal protection in international, national and regional constitutions is long overdue. World Animal Net (WAN), the most widespread animal protection organisation in the world with over 1,500 affiliated societies, has launched this project to start an international movement to acknowledge the legal status of animals and recognise them in constitutions.
Why Does This Matter?
It is important for both ethical and practical reasons to incorporate animal protection into constitutions.
Firstly, there must be recognition of the status of animals and the importance of animal protection objectives. These are already internationally recognised by consensus and morality, and should be reflected in legislation.
Secondly, practical problems arise when other constitutional objectives take precedence over animal ethics and protection because these are not included in the constitution. For example:
- Austria: In July 1998, Austrian artist Hermann Nitsch stage-managed a macabre public slaughter and disembowelling in the name of art. This offensive event was held in a castle in southern Austria, and involved naked participants gyrating in animal entrails and drinking their blood. As freedom of artistic expression is included in the Austrian constitution, the authorities would not consider any interference with this constitutional right.
- Germany: Germany is usually a strong supporter of animal protection. However, in the case of animal experimentation particular problems arise because freedom of research is included in the German constitution, giving this right precedence over animal protection objectives. Furthermore, a German Constitutional Court ruling in July 1999 stated that the principle of welfare balance in the area of animal protection (e.g. when in conflict with fundamental laws, such as scientific and educational freedom, artistic or religious freedom) could only function when animal protection had a constitutional ranking.
Existing Situation Examined
An examination of the existing situation shows some progress at European level, but little at international or national/state level:
The European Union
In June 1997, the European Union (EU) agreed a binding Protocol to its founding Treaty specifically dealing with animal welfare. This Protocol was introduced following strong pressure from animal protection groups and sympathetic European governments. It introduced a clear legal obligation for all Community institutions (Commission, Parliament and Council) to pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals. But to date no systematic practical measures have been introduced to ensure that the Community fulfils the provisions of its Treaty Protocol (for example, a system of 'animal welfare impact assessment').
The Council of Europe
The Council of Europe now has five animal welfare conventions, covering pets, animal experimentation, farm animals, animal transport and slaughter. However, it has introduced neither a general convention covering animal ethics nor one covering animals in entertainment.
Some animal protection objectives were included in the Indian constitution from its adoption in 1950. In particular, Article 48, which dealt with agriculture, included a prohibition on the slaughter of cows, calves and other milk and draught animals. In 1974, further provisions were introduced including Article 51A, which made it a duty of every citizen of India "(g) to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures".
India's visionary success with regard to its constitution is largely attributed to the country's traditional respect and reverence for nature and its leaders of eminent stature and vision - Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru on independence and Mrs Indira Gandhi on later amending the constitution.
A new law published in the Official Journal in January 1999 included amendments to Articles 24 and 25 of the French Civil Code to distinguish animals from 'things'.
Animal protection is included in Article 31 of the Serbian constitution of 1989 (former Yugoslavia). This is a long article dealing with environmental protection, which includes protection for individual animals as well as species: "Öanimals, both species and individual, are protected from extinction, destruction and abuse".
In 1641, the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed its first legal code - 'The Body of Liberties'. There were 100 'Liberties' and two of these dealt with animal protection: Liberty 92 forbade cruelty to animals, and Liberty 93 dealt with the protection of animals in transit.
The protection of domestic animals was included in the constitution of the Buenos Aires Autonomous City, Argentina, in 1996.
There is a campaign underway to incorporate animal protection into the German national constitution (and those of the Bundesländer or regions). The Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Green Party have supported this campaign. Animal Welfare is already part of the Länder constitutions for: Berlin, Bavaria, Brandenburg, Sachsen and Thüringen (5 out of the 16 German Bundesländer).
Other National Campaigns
A project to include animal protection in the Dutch constitution was launched several years ago, and a parliamentary committee formed. Euro Parliamentarian Bob van de Bos received the 'animal protector of the year' award from the Dutch SPA for his work to promote this initiative. There have also been active campaigns to include animal protection/rights in the national constitution in South Africa and Italy.
The United Nations
Unlike the examples of the European Union and the Council of Europe, the United Nations (UN) has yet to conclude any animal protection (as opposed to conservation) measures. This is despite the fact that the UN's charter is wider and more appropriately phrased.
This complete lack of animal protection activity appears unjustifiable when the wide scope of UN activities is considered. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), which includes conservation but not animal protection/welfare, receives extensive funding and support. UN agencies help formulate policies and provide technical assistance and other forms of practical help in 'virtually all areas of economic and social endeavour'. These include the postal union, the telecommunications union, the world meteorological organisation - but absolutely nothing for the protection of animals.
Action for animals at international level is long overdue, particularly given increasing globalisation and the influence of GATT/WTO, which means that national and regional protective measures for animals cannot be applied in a trading context (without replacing these by protection at international level).
World Animal Net is calling for:
- The United Nations to bring forth, without delay, a draft convention or charter for the protection of animals, and to arrange an international conference on this issue of world-wide concern.
- The Council of Europe to conclude a general convention covering animal ethics and one covering animals in entertainment.
- The European Union to take practical steps to implement its animal welfare Treaty Protocol.
- All national governments to introduce animal protection into their constitutions (if they have not already done so).
- All regional governments and town councils to introduce animal protection into their constitutions and charters (if they have not already done so).
Words of Wisdom and Support
Smt. Maneka Gandhi, Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment, India:
"India has enshrined its commitment to animal protection in its constitution... I would urge every civilised society to similarly demonstrate its belief in the value of life."
"It is only when nations recognise animals and provide them certain constitutional guarantees that we can expect a more enlightened and equitable code of conduct towards other living beings. Animal protection is already an issue of public concern and morality. This must be reflected in legislation."
"As the forum for international co-operation, respectful of the rights of all nations, it is only fitting that the United Nations takes the lead in this matter, recognising animals too as great nations on earth caught in the same web of time and life on this earth. The UN has the moral obligation and authority to include rights and representation for non-speaking inhabitants of this earth. It must recognise animals as citizens of the world as well as press for all members of the international community to do the same."
David Martin MEP, Vice President, European Parliament:
"I firmly believe that there is a direct connection between the way we treat the animals in our care and the type of society in which we live. As I have always believed in converting the European Economic Community into a true European Community I have been at the forefront of arguing that animal welfare should be recognised in the treaties which govern the European Union (EU). I am proud that the EU has taken a lead in this field and would like to see Member States and other nations follow this lead by including animal protection in their constitutions."
Sadruddin Aga Khan(Former UN High Commissioner of Refugees):
"The suffering of sentient creatures is an intolerable blight on humankind and our moral progress. No compassionate being can witness animal suffering and not feel empathy and the desire to change a society that permits this to happen. There is now a groundswell of public opinion in favour of animal protection, and it is high time that this was translated into firm political action - by international and supra-national bodies, as well as individual countries and regions. I fully support World Animal Net's project in favour of including animal protection in constitutions, and call upon world leaders with vision to make this initiative their own and to carry it forward to reality."
The Catechism of the Catholic Church:
"Animals are God's creatures... men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals."
St Francis of Assisi:
"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men."
Buddhism - Mahavamsa:
"All beings seek for happiness; so let your compassion extend itself to all."
Islam - Quran:
"There is not an animal on the earth, nor a flying creature on two wings, but they are people like unto you."
"Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace."
Religious Society of Friends (Quakers):
Let the law of kindness show no limits. Show a loving consideration for all God's creatures.
Jeremy Bentham - Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation: (1789)
"The day may come when the rest of animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been witholden from them but by the hand of tyranny."
For more information about the Constitution Project, please contact:
World Animal Net
19 Chestnut Square
Boston, MA 02130
Tel: + 1 (617)524 3670
Contact: Wim de Kok