ERIC MICHAEL JOHNSON
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"If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin."
- Charles Darwin
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Nov 29, 2007

Great Ape Rights and Human Rights

Legal standing of great apes and the legacy of child exploitation


Chimpanzees are regularly used for biomedical experiments in the US

Image: Martin OC

Earlier I posted on the court cases that challenged the conventional framework of great apes as property and would offer them some protections as sentient beings (see Trapped Between People and Property, Primate Experimentation Under the Microscope and Courts Dismiss Great Ape Personhood). Since the European Union is moving towards granting more expanded rights to great apes it's high time that the United States got on board, and perhaps even stepped up to take a leadership role on this issue.

Pagan at Beacon Broadside has a terrific post on the issues that these legal cases raise and offers an insightful historical perspective on how animal rights may directly impact human rights.

The whole argument may seem trivial, but consider this: Laws that protect animals often change the nature of human rights. In the early 1870s, no laws existed in the United States to protect children from cruelty. And so, when advocates for an abused child wanted to defend her in court, they had to go to Henry Burgh, the founder of the American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals; having managed to outlaw the torture of horses and dogs, it was Burgh who helped to extend similar rights to children.

The issue boils down to a very simple question: since great apes are known to have the emotionally rich lives and intellectual depth of four-year old human children, is it appropriate to categorize these beings as objects to be bought and sold on the open market. Obviously granting more expanded 'personhood' rights wouldn't mean that apes could vote (human children are full persons and can't vote either, and no one is suggesting apes would even have all the same rights as children).

However, considering that GAP Kids was recently found to be using child slaves in their factories (and considering that international law is becoming more and more important in our globalized economy and that countries can sue companies for such international crimes) these are not tenuous concerns. Personhood rights for apes would be a powerful precedent to aid international authorities in combating such child abuse in the future. What court wouldn't recognize the hypocrisy of having laws in place to protect chimpanzees that are more expansive than for poor children?

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3 comments:

Mirandian said...

Animals & Children....innocent beings...in a world where they have NO say.

Field Notes said...

That's a good point you make about animal rights laws influencing human rights laws.. am going to catalogue that for use in my future class discussions of this issue.

Anne Gilbert said...

It does give us all something to think about; however, the issues, as you have implied, are not all "black and white".
Anne G