Do Animals Need a Bill of Rights?

Do you believe that animals deserve basic legal rights? Should there be legal remedy for animals who have had unnecessary suffering and death inflicted upon them? Yes! Right? However there seems to be confusion between what truly constitutes an animal’s rights and what we think our duties should be towards them. Elated drew up a proposal based on the Human Bill of Rights and it raises quite a few interesting points.

Note: Most of the terms used in this article are explained in the Glossary of Animal Rights Terms.

Confusing Animal Welfare with Animal Rights

Most laws protecting animals address improving animal ‘welfare’ standards and not protecting their ‘rights’. For example this is one of the points proposed by the ALDF

‘The Right of farm animals to an environment that satisfies their basic physical and psychological needs.’

On some ‘free-range’ farms the above requirement might be satisfied. However, when you refer to the ‘basic’ rights of animals, wouldn’t you be referring to their absolute or non-derogable rights such as their right to life, liberty and bodily integrity? When seen in this light, the activity of farming an animal by its very nature, even on the ‘kindest’ of farms, explicitly violates each one of those rights.

In order to ‘manufacture’ animals as economically viable products, all farm animals are routinely:

  1. bred = violation of their right to bodily integrity
  2. confined = violation of their right to freedom
  3. slaughtered = violation of their right to life

In fact, we would challenge you to find even one example of where animal agriculture does not explicitly deny the moral personhood of the animal involved.

Confusing Duties With Rights

Currently laws that protect the welfare of animals focus on our duties towards animals by specifying how we should treat them and is not about the animals’ rights. In fact, these laws are built on the false premise that violating the rights of animals is acceptable and normal.  By regulating the manner in which we should violate their rights, these laws further entrench this paradigm, ensuring that the animal rights violations will continue in-perpetuity.

When drawing up an Animal Bill of Rights we would need to approach it from another perspective, with the starting point being that animals have absolute rights based on their inherent value and their sentience.

Choosing The Template For The New Bill

When a member of the general public hears we want animals to have rights, their first response is ‘Do you want to give them the right to vote?’ We might initially dismiss that comment as being ridiculous, however when you think about it, it is a valid concern and needs to be addressed. In order to do this we decided to use the Human Bill of Rights as a template. You might be surprised by how the vast majority of the rights would still be as valid when applied to animals as they are to humans.

This Bill of Rights is being published in order to help the average layperson acknowledge the case for animals being declared as legal persons and not property. There is also the desperate hope that the animal organisations who claim to fight for the ‘rights’ of animals will be inspired to take this issue seriously and draw up a proposal that is respectful of the animals’ inherent dignity and worthy of being called an ‘Animal Bill of Rights’.

Elated’s Proposed Animal Bill of Rights

Founding premise: Animals are sentient and have inherent value. Therefore they have an interest in preserving their life, dignity, bodily integrity and freedom. They are entitled to have these interests protected by rights that are legally enforceable.

  1. Dignity *
    Animals are all born free and equal in dignity and rights. All animals are subjectively aware and sentient, endowed with inherent value and the capacity for self-determination. As such they have a right to dignity and equal protection under the law.
  2. Equality *
    1. Animals are all born equal. Animals have the right to equal protection under the law irrespective of their species, gender, age, disability, country of origin, level of intelligence, appearance, physical, intellectual or cognitive capabilities, or their ability to communicate with humans or each other.
    2. Animals may not be unfairly discriminated against and they shall be protected from discrimination.
  3. The right to life **
    All animals have the right to life and that right to life shall be protected by law.
  4. The right to liberty
    1. No animal shall be subjected to arbitrary confinement.*
    2. No animal shall be held in slavery, servitude or forced labour.*
    3. Animals are legally classified as ‘persons’ and cannot be the ‘property’ of someone else.*
    4. No animal shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.*
    5. ** Furthermore, humans are required to assume the responsibility for discovering and creating alternative methods of testing that do not include the use of animals.
  5. Domestication of animals
    1. Domestication is a form of slavery and as such, the act of domesticating animals whether through genetic manipulation, breeding programmes or training programes shall be prohibited and abolished. *
    2. As regards animals who are already domesticated: **
      1. The right to life of living domesticated animals shall be protected and they shall be allowed to live their full natural life span.
      2. The guardians of domesticated animals shall take responsibility for ensuring optimal living conditions for the rest of the animal’s natural life.
      3. Domesticated animals shall be allowed to live in a manner which is closest to the natural way of life that is peculiar to their own species, as is possible. This includes but is not limited to the nature of their food, habitat and exercise levels.
      4. Domesticated animals shall be given as much autonomy over their life as is possible while still living in a domesticated environment.
  6. Security of person **
    1. All animals have the right to bodily and psychological integrity. This would include, but is not limited to, the following:
      1. No animals shall be forced to procreate.
      2. No animal’s reproductive processes or bodily functions may be exploited, manipulated or violated in any way. This includes but is not limited to the harvesting of milk, eggs, wool, urine, honey, shellac and other secretions from animals.
      3. No animal shall be branded or have any identifying marks made on their person. The integrity of their ears, tails, teeth and hides may not be violated.
      4. No tracking devices shall be attached to an animal, or inserted into their body.
      5. No animal will be the subject of invasive or non-invasive testing. Their organs may not be harvested. They may not be used to manufacture vaccination serums. They may not be subjected to dietary stress or sense deprivation. They may not be used as test subjects in vivisection.
    2. All wild animals have the right to make their own decisions concerning reproduction. The integrity of their family units shall not be violated by human intervention.
    3. All breeding of domesticated animals is prohibited and shall be abolished, unless all of the following conditions have been met:
      1. the animals have been successfully integrated back into the wild
      2. they are fully capable of self determination in their new home environment
      3. the procreation is a result of the animal’s own autonomous actions without the strategising of human beings.
  7. Wild Animals
    1. All animals have the right to survival in their natural habitat. They have the right to forage or hunt for food and to build their own homes, thus ensuring for themselves and their families a dignified existence. If circumstances are preventing animals from fending for themselves then human society is obligated to form organisations that will take steps to improve their circumstances to such a level where the animals’ continued survival is ensured.
    2. All animals have the right to safe habitation, food and water. No animal shall be arbitrarily deprived of his home or sources of food and water
    3. The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures to allocate and manage wild life reserves and marine park areas in order to safeguard the rights of animals to a safe living environment.
    4. National government and other agencies shall liaise to ensure, within reason, that animal migratory channels allow freedom of movement, without regard to national borders.
    5. All animals have the right to leave any country, including their country of origin, and to return to their country of origin.
    6. Animals will not be subject to arbitrary eviction or re-location.
    7. Animals have the right to seek and to enjoy a safe home, free from persecution, in any country they choose.
    8. Animals are free to choose whom they wish to associate with. They are free to institute and regulate their own community laws without interference from human beings.
  8. Privacy **
    1. No animal shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or communication, nor to attacks upon his dignity and reputation. This includes but is not limited to documentaries and research projects that invade and manipulate the animals’ social structures, family life, environment and location.
    2. All animals have the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
  9. Environment
    1. Animals have the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being.
    2. It is the responsibility of human beings to protect the environment through reasonable legislative and other measures to prevent pollution and ecological degradation, promote conservation, and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources.
  10. Access to courts
    1. Animals have the right to legal defence of their rights.
    2. Animals have the right to have any dispute that can be resolved by the application of law decided in a fair public hearing before a court, or where appropriate, another independent and impartial tribunal or forum.
    3. Animals have the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted them by the constitution or by law.
  11. Freedom of thought and expression **
    1. Due to the sentient nature of animals it is assumed that they have language, thoughts and belief systems. All animals have the right to freedom of thought and the right to formulate their own belief systems and to change those belief systems if they so choose.
    2. Animals have the right to express their opinion using the communication method of their choosing.
    3. These rights are entitled to protection even if humans are not able to relate to or understand the animal’s thought processes, beliefs or language.
  12. Political rights
    1. Animals are entitled to representation at government level by individuals or organisations who act in their best interests.
    2. The best interests of animals shall be taken into consideration in all decisions made by the state.
  13. Duties to humans
    1. Animals have no duties towards society.
    2. Animals are not required or permitted to perform work or services. This includes but is not limited to the entertainment industry, law enforcement, health care and as companion animals.
    3. Animals shall not be used as resources by someone else.
  14. Limitation of rights
    In the exercise of their rights and freedoms, animals shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

Absolute and Non-Derogable Rights

Type of Right Rights Covered
* Absolute Rights — cannot be limited in any way, at any time, for any reason. 1, 2, 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 4.4, 5
** Non-Derogable Rights — may be subjected to limitations due to article 14 above. However they cannot be compromised, not even by the state in circumstances which threaten the life of the nation.  3, 4.5, 6, 8, 11


Kayli, despite being bred for "beef”, had enough self determination to make a dash for her life from the slaughterhouse. She values her life. So should we. Photo © Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.

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