Latest News - 22/08/2013

India cites dolphin personhood in ban on dolphinaria

In an unprecedented move, the Government of India announced a nationwide ban on dolphinaria, citing dolphin intelligence and sensitivity as part of the reason for their decision and arguing that dolphins should be recognised as non-human persons.

India's Central Zoo Authority issued a circular announcing the decision of India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests not to allow the establishment of dolphinaria in the country and advising state governments across India to reject any such proposals. The ciruclar states:
'cetaceans in general are highly intelligent and sensitive, and various scientists who have researched dolphin behavior have suggested that the unusually high intelligence… means that dolphin should be seen as "non-human persons" and as such should have their own specific rights and is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purpose'.

As a government that represents nearly one sixth of the world's population, this affirmation of the unique status of dolphins at the government level is a significant step forward in the campaign to have the rights of whales and dolphins recognised. It is also gratifying to see the argument of non-human personhood being supported by the Central Zoo Authority and being used to effect a positive practical outcome, which will eventually bring an end to dolphin captivity in this vast country.

Why is Australia’s challenge to Japanese 'scientific whaling' so unique?

Anyone interested in whale and dolphin issues is unlikely to have missed the fact that the government of Australia has taken the government of Japan to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), to challenge the legitimacy of its so called 'scientific whaling' programme in the Southern Ocean.

Beyond the very real need to bring about an end to this sham research and for Japan to abide by the moratorium on commercial whaling, which has been in effect since 1986, there is also something very unique about this case.

Looking back over the history of the ICJ there are very few contentious cases that relate specifically to disputes over  living 'resources', or to an individual group of animals, such as whales. There have been cases on nuclear testing, oil platforms, territorial disputes (including disputes over the Antarctic). There have also been many cases about the use of force and other human rights issues, including individual asylum. There have been some fisheries disputes – which are similar to Australia versus Japan in that they relate to another species – but these disputes are about fisheries jurisdiction.  However, there is a fundamental difference between these fisheries cases and the Australian case. The fisheries cases approach the issue on the basis of resource partitioning or jurisdiction. 

Australia did not bring this case to argue for a resource that they believe is theirs to use. So what’s the motivation for Australia? Local public pressure, requesting that the government intervene. And why the public pressure if the whales aren't seen as a resource that could be under threat from scientific whaling or the longer-term threat of commercial whaling?

One answer might be that there is a strong sense among many Australians of having a 'responsibility to protect' these whales – whether or not they migrate to the Australian coast. Is it possible that the motivations for this case are utterly unique? That this represents a debate about not just what constitutes science in the modern era, but also represents outreach from a human population towards some other large, long-lived mammals, recognising that they deserve protection and that their lives cannot be tallied up on a chart for blue sky data gathering. The fact that whales are sentient mammals has significant bearing on this action from Australia and this is what makes this case utterly unique within the history of the ICJ.

Yale conference

At Yale University this December a conference called 'Personhood Beyond the Human' will focus on ‘personhood for nonhuman animals, including great apes, cetaceans, and elephants, and will explore the evolving notions of personhood by analyzing them through the frameworks of neuroscience, behavioral science, philosophy, ethics, and law'.

The conference aims to examine some of the history, science and philosophy behind the concept of personhood and explore ways to protect animal interests through the establishment of legal precedents and by increasing public awareness.

The conference will be co-sponsored by the Nonhuman Rights Project and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies in collaboration with the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. Keynote speakers will be Peter Singer and Steven M. Wise. 

Non-human Rights Project choose chimpanzee plantiff

In the coming months of the northern-hemipshere autumn, the Non-human Rights Project (NhRP) will file the first of a series of ground breaking cases in the United States. This first case will aim to have the rights of a captive chimpanzee recognised at the state level.

After much deliberation, the captive plaintiff has been chosen, but for strategic reasons the NhRP are keeping the details close until the case if filed. The NhRP will file a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of the plantiff and ask a state court judge to grant this chimpanzee liberty.

The significance of this first case, if successful, cannot be overstated, not just for chimpanzees and other great apes held captive in the US, but also for a range of species, including dolphins, which would also qualify as non-human persons using similar parameters.

It will be a long legal road, but this first foundation stone will be one to watch very closely.

New book on animal rights from German author

We are pleased to be able to advise German readers that Dr Karsten Brensing, of WDC Germany, has recently published a book, the title of which translates to:
'Personal rights for animals - The next stage in moral evolution'. This great book focuses not just on the rights of whales and dolphins, but also looks at the case, both scientific and philosophical for the rights of a range of other species. Brensing notes:

"It’s without doubt that among some species there are compassionate, self-aware individuals with a concept of time and space and the ability to think strategically and plan their actions. Some have their own culture, a good memory and the ability to communicate. Some use tools and seem to be aware of the concept of fashion.  Additionally, they show empathy and - in a simple way - a sense for justice and fairness. Looking at the fundamental abilities qualifying us as 'persons' there are many animals which are in no way inferior to us in this regard. The question is: do these abilities entitle us to think of ourselves as ‘special’? And who says so?"

Humanity is facing a profound challenge to the existing moral framework which places humans above all other species. Karsten Brensing identifies the basis from which a revolution for our thinking can grow.

The book is €17.99 and is currently only available in German, but we hope that an English translation will be coming soon.

Thank you for your support. Please don't forget to forward the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Whales and Dolphin to your colleagues and friends for them to sign and add their voice to this growing movement.


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