They too have a right to live

Daily News
June 13, 2016
By: Jeevan Thaigarajah

The Indian Supreme Court has expressed anguish at the lack of international agreements that ensures the welfare and protection of animals. It classified the evolution of international law on animal rights into three stages.

1. Human self-interest as a reason for environmental protection.

2. International equity to meet the needs of future generations

3. Nature’s own rights where recent international instruments have asserted the intrinsic value of nature.

The court took cue from German constitution that obliges state to respect animal dignity. It also observed that Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia have enacted legislation to include animal welfare in their national constitution. It advanced the guidelines of the World Health Organisation of Animal Health, still known by its French acronym (OIE) that talks of five freedoms for animals to be “healthy, comfortable, well-nourished, safe and free from pain, fear and distress.” These are:

i) Freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition;

ii) Freedom from fear and distress;

iii) Freedom from physical and thermal discomfort;

iv) Freedom from pain, injury and disease; and

v) Freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.

The Apex Court said it was dealing with “an issue of seminal importance with regard to the rights of animals under our Constitution, laws, culture, tradition, religion and ethology”.

The world has given cues on how animals can and should be protected.

Cruelty to animals in Sri Lanka

Cruelty to animals is defined by Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance No. 13 of 1907 as amended by N0.19 of 1912, 43 of 1917, 9 of 1919, 23 of 1921, 16 of 1927, 17 of 1930, 12 of 1945 and Act no. 22 of 1955.

According to section 2 of the Ordinance, the offence of cruelty is defined as including cruelly beat, ill-treat, over-drive, or cause or procure to be cruelly beaten, ill-treated, over-driven, over-ridden, abused or torture any animal; cause unnecessary pain or suffering to any animal by an act or omission, as well as convey or carry or cause them in vehicles, basket, box, or cage or otherwise, any animal or position animals so as to subject them to unnecessary pain or suffering. The penalty for this offence is provided as a fine that may extend to hundred rupees, or imprisonment (maximum three months) or both. Further section 3 provides, “If any animal is found to be suffering and in pain by starvation the owner is guilty of an offence.” The punishment for this offence is a fine of hundred rupees, or imprisonment that may extend to three months or both.

Notwithstanding laws do we as society recognize rights of animals as one flowing from the Constitution, laws, culture, tradition, religion and ethology? If the trend is to vitiate from a majority of these markers we will struggle to contain the harm to animals as well as our environment.

Approval of the Animal Welfare Bill by the Cabinet of Ministers

Sanjeeva Jayawardane PC argued a Landmark case in the Court of Appeal which led to the State agreeing to revise and strengthen existing legislation. In the very same Court another case was filed on the basis an animal which was earmarked to be removed and was not.

Interestingly the law says, “No person shall abandon an animal” and goes on to state, “Any person who contravenes the provisions of any of the foregoing sub-sections shall be guilty of an offence and shall upon conviction after trial before a Magistrate be liable to a fine not exceeding twenty thousand rupees or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to both such fine and imprisonment. All offences are deemed to be cognizable offences within the meaning of the Code of Criminal Procedure Act, with arrest without a warrant and all investigations. A Magistrate can summarily try any offence under this Act or any regulation made and to impose punishments prescribed in respect of the same notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in any other law.” The penalties are therefore severe and can be summary by a Magistrate. No citizen therefore has latitude in respect of forsaking animals.

The Law Commission in 2006 proposed changes and presented a draft Bill. A decade later in February 2016 Cabinet approved new legislation. The objective is to strengthen the law on the prevention of cruelty towards animals and secure the welfare of all animals, by clearly defining offences and introducing stringent penalties, while also establishing a National Animal Welfare Authority with comprehensive powers to address all cruelty issues.

The Bill also widens the definition of ‘animal’ to “any living being other than a human-being” as the current law applies only to animals in captivity or domestic animals, leaving particularly important sectors such as wildlife without the protection required. Welfare issues related to animals in pet shops, animal experimentation, animal performance and the live transport of animals, currently not included in Sri Lankan legislation, are also included in the new Animal Welfare Bill. The suggested penalty upon conviction for the above mentioned offence is set to be a fine not exceeding fifty thousand rupees or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both such fine and imprisonment.

Laws in themselves are salutary. Implementation by statutory bodies charged with implementing them or canvassing before Courts is another matter.

Read more at the Daily News.