Great Apes Have the Right to Life and Liberty, Spain Says

By Eliza Strickland | June 27, 2008 3:31 pm

gorillaIt’s clearly a historic occasion, albeit a weird one: The Spanish parliament has announced its support for granting legal rights to gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans. The parliament’s environmental committee has approved resolutions committing the country to the Great Apes Project, an international campaign that aims to provide our closest genetic relatives with the right to life, the freedom of liberty and protection from torture [Great Ape Project]. The Spanish resolutions have majority support, and are expected to soon become law.

“This is a historic moment in the struggle for animal rights,” Pedro Pozas, the Spanish director of the Great Apes Project, told The Times. “It will doubtless be remembered as a key moment in the defence of our evolutionary comrades.”… Mr. Pozas said that the vote would set a precedent, establishing legal rights for animals that could be extended to other species. “We are seeking to break the species barrier — we are just the point of the spear,” he said. [The Times].

Some animal rights campaigners noted the irony of this breakthrough occurring in Spain, which still permits bullfighting. But for the most part, they celebrated the move as a happy development that will improve conditions for primates within the country. The resolutions require Spain to update its laws within the year to ban using apes in circuses, TV commercials, and films, and will also mandate improved conditions at the nation’s zoos. Finally, the new laws will forbid experiments on great apes. “We have no knowledge of great apes being used in experiments in Spain, but there is currently no law preventing that from happening,” Pozas said [Reuters].

Great Britain and New Zealand already forbid experimentation on great apes, and several weeks ago a Swiss court halted two experiments on the smaller rhesus monkeys, stating that society would not see enough benefit from the experiments to justify the burden on the animals [Nature, subscription required]. But the Spanish resolutions mark the first time a national government has proposed granting legal rights to non-humans. The development raises a host of questions: Could this lead to great apes refugees seeking sanctuary in Madrid? And what does it mean when a chimpanzee in Spain has more rights than a human being in an Iraqi prison? Stay tuned as society gropes for the answers.

Image: flickr/skrewtape

MORE ABOUT: animal rights, primates


  • Natalie

    Too bad unborn human babies don’t have the same rights accorded to them. Funny how we wouldn’t treat animals the way we do our own fellow human beings. Over 100,000 abortions occur legally every year in Spain.

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  • Tommy

    Think about it Natalie. Animals are eaten, experimented on, worn, killed for sport, caged, no we wouldn’t treat humans the same. Be bloody thankful

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  • WEUer

    @Natalie: According to research, legal abortion decreases the crime rate. Read “Freakonomics” by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt.

  • Robin Gregory

    Giving the great apes legal rights should not threaten anyone who treats animals kindly. Legal rights give the animals an avenue for justice in the event humans do engage in cruel or abusive conduct towards them. And btw Natalie, I doubt that human abortion rates will rise because great apes have legal rights.

  • Mr. Anonymous

    So if I am in Madrid and the local police find me with a dvd of one of “The Three Stooges” shorts where in one a gorilla is after Curly I can get arrested. Am I right? Is this world gone crazy?

  • Mr. Anonymous

    Also: have Spain banned the 1933 classic “King Kong” where the big monky got shot dwon from the Empire State building? Damn!

  • ninette jones

    This is Awesome –humans are evolving slowely–here is to compassion–Thank You Spain

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