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Citizen Ape: The Fight for Personhood for Our Closest Relatives

In many indigenous traditions, animals are viewed and respected as sentient beings capable of emotions and intelligence. In 2014, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that all animals have both statutory and constitutional rights.

GIOVANNI ORTOLANI: ‘Cecilia spent more than 30 years locked up without a trial. After the death of her companions, she spent her days and nights alone in a small cage with bare concrete walls and floor, unsheltered from the harsh weather of the Andes mountains. Then, in 2016, Cecilia finally got her day in an Argentine court. Judge María Alejandra Mauricio took a stand against the way Cecilia was being treated at Mendoza Zoo. The judge recognized the female chimpanzee as a legal person with rights—not a human, but also not a “thing” to be used at will—and ordered that Cecilia be transferred from her solitary confinement to an animal sanctuary…

In many indigenous traditions, animals are viewed and respected as sentient beings capable of emotions and intelligence… In 2014, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that all non-human animals have both statutory and constitutional rights in India. That was followed by a 2015 decision from the Delhi High Court that birds have the fundamental legal right to fly, and a 2018 decision from the Uttarakhand High Court that identified members of the entire animal kingdom as persons…

Western societies have tended to regard animals as things they can freely exploit and often abuse in the name of entertainment, profit or research… These historic rulings galvanized animal right activists and conservationists who have for years been challenging the status of the great apes in the court systems… One of them is Steven Wise, who, after reading it, became overnight an animal protection lawyer.

Wise today is an animal rights lawyer and scholar. He is also founder and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), which works to secure legally recognized fundamental rights for non-human animals. Among its board members is the pioneering primatologist Goodall, and its potential clients are not only individual great apes, but also elephants, dolphins, and whales living in captivity across the United States.

“The Nonhuman Rights Project argues that they are autonomous beings who can choose how to live their lives, that autonomy is a quality that judges and legislatures value highly and believe it is their job to protect,” Wise says… The NhRP has already begun to set up and collaborate with legal working groups in Britain, Spain, France, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Portugal, Argentina, Israel, Turkey, India, and Australia to develop non-human rights campaigns suited to the respective legal systems of these countries. It is also looking to expand into the countries where apes are still found in nature’. SOURCE…

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