Animal rights, human wrongs

  • Reflecting On The Law
  • Wednesday, 17 Oct 2007

We need to adopt and enforce laws and policies about humane treatment of animals in every sphere of interaction with our fellow creatures.

CRUELTY towards all other forms of life has been a shameful aspect of human existence for thousands of years.

We use our distant cousins in feather and fur for food. Many animals are exploited as beasts of burden. We kill beautiful creatures for their fur. To some people fashion statements are more important than reverence for life!

Poachers kill rare animals for ivory and for the manufacture of aphrodisiacs. Medical schools use live animals for dissection. Animal organs are used in xenotransplantation to save human lives. Genetic engineering of animals is increasingly common.

There are cruel sports such as hunting and cockfights. Matadors pierce bulls’ bodies to the roar of delighted fans. Animal businesses employ brutal ways of transporting creatures from farms to markets.

Slaughterhouses skin animals alive. Some of our exotic food preferences and cooking techniques are absolutely bestial. Fish and crustaceans are cooked alive. In some gourmet restaurants live monkey skulls are split open for connoisseurs to feast on raw brain!

The smugness with which man does whatever he pleases to other species exemplifies a brutal anthropocentric approach and is based on the principle that might is right.

I have reliable reports from animal lovers that, contrary to official denial, monkeys are being trapped and shot in Bangsar in Kuala Lumpur. It is suspected that unscrupulous traffickers in animals are emboldened by the recent lifting of the ban by our authorities on the export of monkeys.

Animal lovers fear that many of the monkeys trapped or shot dead will end up in cooking pots or on vivisection tables in laboratories.

I have strong doubts about the morality or utility of monkey and crow shoots, and the offering of rewards to catchers of stray dogs.

Are we ignoring the root causes of conflict between animals and humans – the damage to our environment, the slow elimination of our flora and fauna, the constant encroachment on animal habitats and the slow but sure de-gazetting of forest reserves, green belts and parks?

These human-centred development policies confirm our callousness towards animal welfare, and reinforce the mistaken view that all other forms of life on this planet exist only to serve human beings.

In fact, they have God’s own reason for existence.

Some readers will, of course, wonder why “animal rights” are important. Animals are, after all, a “lower form” of life.

My answer is that animals are our fellow creatures and part of God’s majestic creation. Like humans, they have a spark of life that deserves respect and demands compassion.

Whether animals can reason or talk is less important than whether they can suffer. It is undeniable that all animals with central nervous systems feel pain. Their suffering at our hands is as real as our suffering would be if the roles were reversed.

In an earlier age, most human beings had a “tribal ethic”. Members of the tribe were protected, but people of other tribes could be robbed, raped or killed as one pleased.

As civilisation advanced, the circle of protection expanded. We began to see the evil in tribalism, slavery, caste system, racism, religious bigotry, colonialism and gender exploitation.

Pete Singer says that “just as we have progressed beyond the blatantly racist ethic of the era of slavery and colonialism, so we must now progress beyond the species-ist ethic of the era of factory farming, of the use of animals as mere research tools, of whaling, seal hunting, kangaroo slaughter and the destruction of wilderness. We must take the final step in expanding the circle of ethics”.

“Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures” – Albert Schweitzer.

“Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar” – Bradley Millar.

Many studies indicate that those who are cruel towards animals are also more disposed to crimes against other human beings.

The movement for the protection of animals is split into two. The first approach is that animals are sentient beings possessing inherent value and deserving moral and legal rights.

Religions like Buddhism and Hinduism support this approach fully. In most other religions there are strictures against cruelty towards animals. Unfortunately there is as yet no international treaty on animal rights.

The second approach is that animals have no inherent rights, but their protection is part of the biodiversity of this planet. As such, animals should be protected because of their instrumental value for the survival of this planet’s ecosystem.

Both approaches call for methods and environments that are more humane for the lives of animals, and envisage that the time will come when animals will not be used as mere tools of human interest.

A few non-binding instruments like the International Convention for the Protection of Animals, 1988, and the World Medical Association Statement on Animal Use in Biomedical Research, 1989, have been framed by eminent legal thinkers and regional organisations.

Europe is providing leadership. There are documents for the protection of animals kept for farming purposes (1976), for slaughter (1979), as pets (1987), and during international transport (1971).

The Humane Society of the US has a number of documents on farm animals, biomedical research, animals in entertainment, and competition and companion animals.

Sadly, the Malaysian legal system has not developed along these lines. The Penal Code regards animals as property and makes it a criminal offence to “(commit) mischief by killing, poisoning, maiming, or rendering useless, any animal or animals of the value of five dollars or upwards”.

The law is obviously quite inadequate to deal with many of the animal abuses mentioned earlier.

What we need to do is to adopt and enforce laws and policies about humane treatment of animals in every sphere of interaction with our fellow creatures.

In addition, we need to conserve and protect areas that are vital to the survival of all other inhabitants of the earth. We need to learn to live with our fellow creatures. This new consciousness cannot wait. Time is running out on our planet.

The Government must join hands with animal lovers to remind the apathetic citizenry of the unity of life and its interconnectedness.

Education should be directed towards the refinement of the individual’s sensibilities in relation not only to one’s fellow humans everywhere, but also to all things everywhere.

Animals are not our underlings. They are an integral part of the net of life and time. They are fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of Earth. Our life depends on their survival.

Dr Shad Faruqi is Professor of Law at UiTM

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