By Sonnie Ekwowusi
Our world has become one big theatre for the celebration of theatrics and absurdities of all sorts under the cover and in the name of “human rights”. Nearly three months after the American Supreme Court ruled that a man can “marry” a man, and a woman can “marry” a fellow woman, two New York chimpanzees called Hercules and Leo have taken the Stony Brook University to the New York Supreme Court for “detaining” them in the university zoo and using them for scientific experiment. The seemingly recondite area of law which the Supreme Court was invited to resolve was whether the two animals who are not human beings can bring a legal action against the University. Whereas under the common law and English law (which borrowed heavily from Roman Law), only physical persons (that is, human beings) and juridical persons (that is, legal and corporate entities, limited companies, partnerships, NGOs etc ) can sue and be sue and can enjoy legal personhood.
But in their legal submission before the New York Supreme Court, the two chimpanzees through their lawyer, Steven Wise Esq., prayed the Court to release them from “illegal detention” at the zoo because they were “non-human persons” subject to law and entitled to the enjoyment of legal personhood and therefore eligible for the writ of habeas corpus and release from illegal detention.
In its defence, the Stony Brook University through Assistant Attorney-General Christopher Coulston urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the application of the two chimpanzees for lack of merit. He submitted that the two animals were not human beings recognized by law to enjoy human rights. He told the court that there was no legal precedent anywhere in the world permitting animals to enjoy the same rights as human beings.
After listening to the arguments from both sides, Justice Barbara Jaffe of the Supreme Court ruled in her 33-page judgement that all animals including chimpanzees Hercules and Leo and other “highly intelligent” mammals, are not persons under the law but properties, and therefore, “they are accorded no legal rights beyond being guaranteed the right to be free from physical abuse and other mistreatment.”. According to the judge, in law, “persons” are defined as those who have “rights, duties and obligations that things do not.”
After the judgment, the lawyer to the two chimpanzees Steven Wise Esq., left the court in annoyance. He has vowed to appeal to the American Supreme Court
What the above reveals once again is the depravity of our fallen condition, at least, in recent times. An Igbo lawyer friend simply described it in Igbo as uwa mmebi (meaning, a topsy-turvy world or a world that is upside down). And he is right. We live in a strange world. One danger in between the Scylla and Charybdis of the 21st Century “secularism” and “progressivism” is that it has reduced the human being to the level of an animal. From legalization of gay “marriage” in the U.S, we are now witnessing animals taking human beings to court to enforce their “rights”. The paradox is that the same society that weirdly argues that unborn babies are “human non-persons” who are not entitled to legal protection under the law are now glibly maintaining that animals are “non-human persons” that are entitled to legal protection under the law. What a warped and irrational quasi-syllogism.
The pertinent question is: What is happening to our world? For example, in 2008, Senator Emie Chambers living in Nebraska, U.S, filed a law suit against God, seeking a perpetual injunction against what he alleged as God’s harmful activities. Of course, the judge dismissed the suit because he said that God could not be properly served with the court process since he has no physical address on earth. According to the Judge, “Given that this court finds that there can never be service effectuated on the named defendant this action will be dismissed with prejudice“.
Anyway, back to the suit filed by chimpanzees Hercules and Leo at the New York Supreme Court. While dismissing the suit for lack of merit, Justice Jaffe issued a prediction. She said that attempts to extend human rights to animals may not succeed today but might succeed in the future. Note that the case of the two New York chimpanzees is not the first of its kind. For example, in December 2014, an Argentine Court of Criminal Appeals granted a writ of habeas corpus to Sandra, an animal living in a zoo in Buenos Aires. That was the first time an animal was recognized as having legal rights—personhood—in a court of law. The appeals court held that Sandra’s right to liberty was violated. The court also held that “it is necessary to ascribe to the animal the character of the subject of rights, since non-human subjects (animals) are rights-bearers…”. But on January 2, 2015 a contrary decision was handed down: the New York State Supreme Court, (Fourth Judicial Department) refused to grant a writ of habeas corpus for Kiko, a privately owned chimpanzee living in New York. Around the same time, the New York Supreme Court held that animal Tommy was not a “legal person” eligible for a writ of habeas corpus. Relying on its interpretation of what constitutes “legal personhood,” the court held that a legal person must be capable of having both rights and duties. And animals do not have rights and duties.
The judgment of the New York Supreme Court is praiseworthy. I hope it would not be upturned by the American Supreme Court. Legal personhood only inheres in a person, created by God in his image and likeness and endowed with freedom and intelligence. It doesn’t inhere in animals. Because human beings are created in the image and likeness of God and endowed with freedom and intelligence, they are far superior to animals. This superiority of the human being above animals is what allows us to talk about the “dignity of the human being“. And the foundation of human rights is rooted in the dignity of the human being. That is why every human being is considered as a subject of law capable of acquiring rights and duties under the law. This is something that belongs to him (is his): it is an attribute of human nature, and not a concession of law.
Having said this, it is worthy of note that the Universal Declaration on Animal Rights 1978, Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare, some international treaties, conventions, protocols, and some countries’ municipal laws have accorded certain rights to animals in order to respect the environment and treat animals with dignity and respect as Pope Francis is urging in his Encyclical, Laudato Si. Specifically, Article 1 of the Universal Declaration on Animal Rights 1978 stipulates that “all animals have equal rights to exist within the context of biological equilibrium…”; Article 6 states that “experiments on animals entailing physical or psychological suffering violate the rights of animals…”while Article 8 states that “the massacre of wild animals, and the pollution and destruction of biotopes” constitute animal genocide.
In Nigeria, sections 20 and 44(2)(f) of the 1999 Constitution, sections 450, 456 of the Criminal Code, the National Environmental Standard Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) Act and other Nigerian laws frown at the abuse and maltreatment of animals. In fact, Section 7(c) of the Act mandates the Agency to enforce compliance with the provisions of international agreements, protocols, conventions and treaties on the maltreatment of animal and use of the environment.
But granting animal rights from physical abuse and from unnecessary maltreatment, torture and extermination as adumbrated above is completely different from granting legal personhood to animals. Steven Wise Esq. and other animal rights advocates passionately argue that legal personhood should be granted to chimpanzees, apes and the so-called intelligent animals on the ground that even though they are “non-human persons” they have rights, duties and obligations that things do not have under the law. This is flawed. A human person is a man or woman created by God in his image and likeness and endowed with will and intelligence. It is settled law that legal persons are either natural persons (that is, human beings or human persons) or artificial persons (that is, body corporate, limited liability companies, partnerships, registered non-governmental organizations and other juristic entities ) who can sue and be sued in their names and who are capable of exercising legal rights, duties and obligations under the law. Animals do not have these legal attributes. Therefore I agree with Justice Jaffe that “beyond being guaranteed the right to be free from physical abuse and other mistreatment.” chimpanzees, apes and the so-called intelligent animals do not enjoy legal personhood.
However the prediction of Justice Jaffe of the New York Supreme Court merits a deeper reflection. Justice Jaffe predicts in his judgment that even though attempts to extend legal personhood to animals may not succeed today it might succeed in the future. This is definitely a good prediction. One of the consequences of the questioning of the anthropological configuration of man and woman in this epoch is the erasing or blurring of the essential differences between a human being and an animal. Today in many western cultures man is equated with an animal. Man is depicted as one more animal without any higher destiny; without self-control and without any supernatural end. He is also depicted as a beast of pleasure that merely exist today to only satisfy the sensual appetites and dies tomorrow.
In her article, Pro-Animal, Pro-life, Mary Eberstadt writes that following Jeremy Bentham and other utilitarians, Peter Singer forcefully argues in his book, Animal Liberation, that the capacity to suffer is “the vital characteristic that gives a being a right to equal consideration”. In other words, since animals also suffer like human beings they should enjoy the same rights with human beings. According to Singer, “in short, when properly understood, animals have rights of the same sorts as humans-and in some cases, depending on the state of sentience, rights that trump those of certain humans…there will be some non-human animals whose lives, by any standards, are more valuable than the lives of some humans”
Some think that somehow Nigeria is immune from all these absurd ideas we come across in America and other places abroad. They forget that we now live in a global village that is out to forge out one global behavior and global attitude for all irrespective of cultural and religious differences. They forget that America has a strong influence on the rest of the world and that anything that happens in the U.S is easily exported across the world. For example, gay cartoons targeted at kids below age six are currently being exported from the U.S to the rest of the world including Nigeria. Why? To expose them to gay cartoons and gay movies early in life so that they grow up they will not find anything wrong with gay practices. Now, if for any reason the American Supreme Court wakes up one day and rules that Chimpanzees, apex and so-called other intelligent animals are legal persons sharing the same rights, duties and obligations with human beings under the law, it will become another legal precedent capable of being exported to Nigeria. And if exported to Nigeria and later embraced as part of the Nigerian law, the owners of dogs, goats, sheep, rams, fowls and other animals in Nigeria would not be allowed to kill them and eat them as meat. No rams will be killed during Sallah. No goats and fowls will be killed at Christmas. No animals would be kept in the Zoo. No dogs in Calabar.