June 25, 2008

Spain’s Parliament First To Declare Rights of Apes

Spain may be better known throughout the world for bull fighting than animal rights, but its parliament declared support on Wednesday for the right to life and freedom of the nation's great apes.

The move is the first time any national legislature has called for rights for non-humans.

The parliament's environmental committee approved the resolution, which calls on Spain to comply with the Great Apes Project. The initiative, originated by philosophers Peter Singer and Paola Cavalieri in 1993, promotes the position that "non-human hominids" such as gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans and bonobos should enjoy comparable rights as humans, including the right to life, freedom and not to be tortured. The philosophers believe the apes are our closest genetic relatives.

"This is a historic day in the struggle for animal rights and in defense of our evolutionary comrades, which will doubtless go down in the history of humanity," Pedro Pozas, Spanish director of the Great Apes Project, told Reuters.

The measures are the latest among many transforming the once-conservative nation into a liberal trendsetter. Although the nation only legalized divorce in the 1980s, the government, led by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist party, has now legalized gay marriage, established an Equality Ministry and even diminished the influence of the Catholic Church.

The parliament's resolutions are expected to become law, and enjoy cross-party or majority support. The government now aims to update the statute book within a year to outlaw harmful experimentation on apes.

"We have no knowledge of great apes being used in experiments in Spain, but there is currently no law preventing that from happening," said Pozas.
Keeping apes for television ads, circuses or filming will also be banned, and violating the newly established laws would become an offense under Spain's penal code.

Although maintaining the estimated 315 apes in Spanish zoos would not be illegal under the new law, supporters of the measure say conditions must improve dramatically in 70 percent of establishments in order to comply with the bill.


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Great Apes Project