Featured Speakers #3

An Idea for Animal Rights, a Path for Animal Welfare

Prof. David Favre

What is a rights issue and what is a welfare issue? This is important to differentiate. One critical piece of the puzzle for animal welfare is the adoption of an international treaty for animal welfare because states need to have that level of force to push against them to enforce animal welfare standards. Prof. Favre has already started to draft this treaty 20 years ago and it is actually already complete, we simply need someone to sign it. But the core in this issue is state sovereignty: every state has the right to decide autonomously. Giving up some of their sovereignty allows them to be part of a larger community; will we soon be in the position where States will want to become a community for the sake of animal welfare? This is the real threshold barrier. 

The structure of Prof. Favre´s treaty (similar to CITES) is the one of an umbrella treaty, which is a very basic treaty document, underneath which you then build more complex language. So at the moment Prof. Favre´s treaty has 4 protocols, which have to be signed by all members, and in each protocol there are anexes, which can be done by majority vote. The policy and principles try to take in consideration as many States as possible. The definitions included are the ones of "animal", "wildlife", "domestic and companion animals"; the choice regarding the content of definitions is a policy choice. Within the language of the treaty we have to consider that it has to be simple and inoffensive. One of the hooks though is that you just can´t sign on the general language without signing the specific protocols too. In the protocol much more detail can be provided, such as in the case of the general definition of companion animals and the deepening of such definition in the protocol. Furthermore anexes include future objectives related to what is stated in the protocol. The Future of this treaty is uncertain, it is all about the political power and the communication power. 

What about animal rights? What is the difference between welfare and rights? Rights is a more philosophical dimension and regarding rights we have already decided that animals are ethical subjects. The barrier to change is the property status of animals. There are three different kinds of property in the world right now: real, personal, and intellectual. The majority probably agrees that animals must have some relationship to humans in order to safely exist within the human society. But the question is what is the future of animals in relation to property? Do we want them as non property? Do we want to establish the relation guardian/companion? Prof. Favre thinks that we already started the process of separation: animals are different from property. Dogs are not the same as books. Still, his hope is to make a clearer separation: living (animals) and non-living (books, tables, cars, etc.) personal property. So he hopes we will end up with now 4 kinds of properties: real, personal, intellectual, and LIVING. The Swiss have moved the closest to this definition. Art. 120 of the Swiss Constitution states that it shall take in consideration the dignity of living beings; art. 641a of the Swiss Civil Code states that animals are not objects. Switzerland could be a good starting point for the treaty.

Last but not least we launch a new idea: what if we allow individual owners to give partial self recognition to the animals they own? Actually this can only work in the common law systems. For example you have the full title to a chimpanzee and acknowledge the chimpanzee an equitable title. 

Martina Pluda
Communications Officer
Master in Animal Law and Society
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

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