Updated December 2014
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." Mahatma Gandhi
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 issue commanding global interest. It is also now covered by a growing body of international standards (under the aegis of the World Organization for Animal Health, or the OIE), which have been agreed by governments. Despite this reality, many countries have still not yet secured even the basic foundations for humane treatment of animals in their constitutions, and many others have only outdated and inadequate provisions.
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 widely connected animal protection organization in the world with over 1,500 affiliated societies, launched this project to start an international movement to acknowledge the legal status of animals and recognize them in constitutions.
Incorporating animal protection into constitutions for both ethical and practical reasons.
Firstly, there must be recognition of the status of animals and the importance of animal protection objectives. These are already internationally recognized by consensus and morality, and should be reflected in the fundamental governing principles of nations.
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 disemboweling 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 was not yet included in the Austrian constitution at this time, the authorities would not consider any interference with this constitutional right.
- Germany: Germany has traditionally been a strong supporter of animal protection. However, in the case of animal experimentation particular problems arose in the past because freedom of research was included in the German constitution, whereas animal protection was not. In 1994, a researcher filed suit after he was denied permission to perform a particularly cruel research on primates – and the court rules in his favor. . 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.
There has been some progress in the number of countries including aspects of animal protection or animal issues in their constitutions; but few of these have comprehensive provisions aimed specifically at protecting animals. There has also been some progress at international and European levels, but a lack of significant progress at UN level.
The United Nations
The Charter of the United Nations (UN) serves as its foundational treaty. Some recent progress has been made in advancing animal protection measures at the UN, such as the establishment of World Wildlife Day. Most advancements, however, have focused on conservation and biodiversity, only. The lack of attention to the need for global animal protection appears unjustifiable when the wide scope of UN activities is considered. To date, the UN has 15 agencies as well as a number of programs and bodies, in 'virtually all areas of economic and social endeavor'. These include The Universal Postal Union, The International Telecommunications Union, and the World Meteorological Organization. No agency or body, however, is tasked primarily with the protection of animals. Given the broad scope of the charter of the United Nations to solve international social, cultural and economic problems, much more is needed in the way of ensuring basic protections for animals of all species. Moreover, given that OIE has now established guiding principles and global standards for animal welfare [Link: http://www.oie.int/animal-welfare/animal-welfare-key-themes/], much work is needed to ensure that the achievement of these standards is stressed in UN forums.
The European Union
The European Economic Community’s original founding document, the Treaty of Rome (signed in 1957) did not originally include a reference to animal welfare. In 1992 a declaration on animal welfare was annexed to the revised Treaty of Maastricht. A further revision resulted in the Treaty of Amsterdam (which became effective on 1 May 1999) included a protocol on animal welfare requiring EU policy-makers to pay "full regard" to animal welfare when adopting legislation in a number of policy areas. In 2009 the text of the protocol was incorporated in the text of the Lisbon Treaty, as Article 13. This puts animal welfare on the same footing as other key principles, such as: promoting gender equality, guaranteeing social protection, protecting human health, combatting discrimination, promoting sustainable development, ensuring consumer protection, protect personal data.
The Council of Europe
The Council of Europe concluded five animal welfare conventions, covering pets, animal experimentation, farm animals, animal transport and slaughter. However, it did not introduce a general convention covering animal ethics, nor one covering animals in entertainment. Currently, the Council of Europe’s work on animal welfare appears to have stalled.
The National Level
World Animal Net has researched and compiled this chart of animal protection provisions in national constitutions.
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.
Did you know?
In 1641, the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed its first legal code - 'The Body of Liberties'. This code is known as a precursor to the Massachusetts Constitution in the USA. 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.
Animal protection has been included in the Swiss Constitution (Article 80), establishing established the mandate for federal legislation on animal welfare. This specifically covers animal keeping and care; animal experimentation; the use of animals; the import of animals/animal products, animal trade and transport; and slaughter.
In 2002, after a lengthy campaign, Germany added a provision to its constitution that is interpreted as enshrining the protection of animals as a major state objective, binding on all state actors. This reads: "Mindful also of its responsibility toward future generations, the state shall protect the natural foundations of life and animals by legislation..."
See this interesting paper on the inclusion of animal protection in the constitutions of Germany and Switzerland
Chapter VI, Article 225(1)(VII) of Brazil's Constitution (1988) provides that the government must protect flora and fauna from all practices that subject animals to cruelty prohibited by law.
Part 4 of the Serbian Constitution (2006) mentions the "protection and improvement of flora and fauna" as an area for government protection, although the term "fauna" here is generally interpreted as applying only to wildlife, not animals used in food production.
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.
The Humane Education Trust (incorporating Compassion in World Farming South Africa) carried out a long campaign to include animal protection objectives in the national constitution, including recognition of animals as sentient beings. This led to consideration of this matter by the Constitutional Review Committee, which ruled that the country’s animal protection legislation should be reviewed (but this aspect has not yet incorporated into the constitution).
For a number of years, several organizations in Italy have been working to introduce animal protection in the Italian constitution in the form of duties by Italian citizens toward animals and recognition of animals as non-human individuals.
In addition to national constitutions, there can be regional, local or even city constitutions. Examples of how animal protection has been included in these constitutions include:
Buenos Aires (Argentina)
The protection of domestic animals was included in the constitution of the Buenos Aires Autonomous City, Argentina, in 1996.
In 2002, the Florida constitution was amendment to prohibit certain inhumane confinement of pigs during pregnancy.
World Animal Net is calling for:
- The United Nations to specifically include animal welfare within the scope of its activities, and to bring forth, without delay, a draft convention or declaration, 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 further practical steps to implement its animal welfare Treaty Protocol in all the stated areas of its work.
- Individual nationsto support a Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare.
- 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).