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Animal Rights or Wrongs

1. Introduction to International Arbitration under Private International Law

Humans have long afforded themselves the concept of 'rights.' Originally the domain of kings, emperors and holy-men, rights are now extended on a global size to us all, perhaps most famously articulated in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

On the assumption that such human rights actually do exist (which is a debate for another time), the question we are concerned with here is the extension of that rights principle to animals. In particular, do animals have comparable universal rights to humans, some rights or no rights at all?

At the outset, let us draw the fundamental distinction between animal welfare and animal rights. Animal welfare is the idea of affording protections to animals so as to make their confinement or slaughter to be 'humane.' So, ensuring that the trucks that transport them to the slaughterhouse have minimum room per captive animal or that the bolt gun that kills them is efficient and doesn't cause 'unnecessary suffering.' Quite what the actual value is of trying to achieve an absence of 'unnecessary suffering' is on the way to an execution is a contentious point.

Prior to full emancipation in both the United States and the British Empire, there were movements concerned with the 'welfare' of slaves. They were of course slaves, but they had to be afforded limited protections in the absence of rights as free men and women.

Putting animal welfare aside, what then of animal rights? Do all animals have the same right to life as all humans? And if not, why not? How is that determined? By an absence of developed human reasoning or speech? If that is the case, then how is it that humans with pronounced developmental disabilities and communication problems, that cannot express themselves such as in the fashion that an animal cannot express itself, are afforded equivalent human rights?

While there are some limited legal rights to prevent cruelty to a selection of animals, they are just that - limited. While the state of Virginia has just established animal cruelty a felony offence with the passing of 'Tommie's Law' (following the fatal deliberate immolation of a dog), the offence only applies to cats and dogs. Presumably the law does not take such a dim view of turning rabbits, or cows, or sheep, or pigeons into flammable targets?

Sticking with Virginia, the state at the same time also allows for what it calls 'genuine cases' of need for animal experimentation. Including dogs.

How then does one square that particular Virginia circle when it comes to animals, even the preferred ones, having rights or protection under the law? Surely it is a case that it is either one thing or the other - dogs are either protected from harm in their entirety or they are available to be experimented upon?

Humans have a hard enough time implementing their own self-appointed code of rights -a simple glance through a post Second World War modern history book will confirm that. So it comes as no surprise that the issue of animal rights is seemingly even more perplexing.