Ape rights movement

Brainethics writes about the recent Austrian no-human-rights-for-chimp decision:

But what if the ruling have ended otherwise? What if Hiasl had been accepted personal rights? An article in Nature Neuroscience discusses some of the impacts of this ruling. For example, Hiasl could bring a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company that was involved in his kidnapping and illegal import to Austria some 20 years ago. But should one chimp get granted some - even not all - human rights, then chimps as a group should have many lawsuits going their way. Chimp group representatives could accuse companies for deforestation. And if chimps why not other non-human primates or even mammals?

The decision was covered last month by Nature News, in the context of other European political efforts:

But proponents of ape rights say they will appeal the decision and continue fighting for the cause elsewhere in Europe. In Spain, for example, they are pushing for a national law that would extend some human rights to apes.
Paula Casal, a vice-president of the Great Ape Project branch in Spain, says the Spanish law, first proposed a year ago, might finally be put to a vote soon in parliament. "After that battle is won, then we will have momentum to start organizing groups in other countries to do the same," said Casal, a philosopher at the University of Reading, UK.

There is much talk of rights in the context of biotechnology ("rights" of organisms not to be modified, "rights" of future generations) and animals, as in this case. Rights granted to a person incur obligations on the part of other persons.

They are often asserted, but can rights be discovered? This case turned in part on whether apes are legal "persons"; a suggestion based to some extent on scientific research about them. But surely this research can't discover that chimpanzees have human rights; nor is there any reason to think that chimpanzees interact with each other in ways that reflect a conception of chimpanzee rights.

It's not obvious that legislation is really about "rights" -- after all, the US has legislation preventing the butchering of horses, but that doesn't mean horses have a "right" not to be butchered. But effectively, the legislation imposes obligations. Some clarity about the purpose of the obligations would be welcome.


Stafford N. 2007. Chimp denied a legal guardian. Nature News doi:10.1038/news070423-9