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New York court rejects bid to extend human rights to animals

Animal rights

(NaturalNews) Do animals deserve to be free? Should they be granted legal rights that protect them from imprisonment, suffering and prolonged captivity? Steven M. Wise with the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) thinks so; in fact, he believes that at least some "nonhuman animals" should be granted legal rights and be treated as "persons," rather than mere "things," who possess the right to "bodily integrity" and "bodily liberty."

A New York appeals court doesn't share Wise's ideology. Their disagreement was made apparent following the court's rejection of an animal rights advocate's attempt to extend "legal personhood" to chimpanzees. The court ruled that "[p]rimates are incapable of bearing the responsibilities that come with having legal right," reports Al Jazeera.

The case was filed by the NhRP on behalf of a 26-year old chimp named Tommy who is currently being kept alone in a cage in a warehouse in Gloversville, New York. Tommy's owner, Patrick Lavery, says it's his decision where the chimp will go and not anyone else's, adding that Tommy is on a wait list to be taken in by a sanctuary.

While the chimp can't speak our language, it can be assumed he doesn't want to spend his life alone in a cage

The case was the first of its kind to be heard, and while the five-judge panel of the Albany court agreed that Wise had shown that Tommy was an "autonomous creature," they eventually ruled that it wasn't possible for a chimp "to understand the social contract that binds humans together."

"Needless to say, unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions," Presiding Justice Karen Peters wrote.

Tommy's supporters refuse to give up and are proceeding through further litigation.

"This is just the first appellate decision in a long-term strategic campaign" to win rights for chimps and other intelligent animals, said Wise, who helped found the Nonhuman Rights Project in 2007 in hopes of changing the law so that certain animals can be granted the right to be free from imprisonment.

Holding a J.D. from Boston University Law School and a B.S. in Chemistry from the College of William & Mary, Wise has practiced animal protection law for more than 40 years. He also teaches "Animal Rights Jurisprudence" at several law schools and has authored four books.

The group wants Tommy moved to a sanctuary where he's comfortable, and no longer imprisoned against his will. While the chimp can't speak our language, it can be assumed that he doesn't want to spend his life alone in a cage, said Wise.

"He is remarkably like us, and he suffers like us"

NhRP filed a motion for permission to appeal to New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals, arguing that the Third Judicial Department made several "significant errors of law" in their December 5th decision.

"Chimpanzees are autonomous, self-determining beings. Why shouldn't they be legal persons?" asked Wise. "How is it that we can ignore the autonomy of a nonhuman, while making [autonomy] to be a supreme value of a human being?

"Both as a matter of liberty and a matter of equality, you can't say that an autonomous person doesn't have any rights simply because he is a chimpanzee," added Wise. "He is remarkably like us, and he suffers like us."

Landmark ruling in Argentine court helps pave the way for other Great Apes

A similar case involving a 29-year old Sumatran orangutan named Sandra had a very different outcome. An Argentine court ruled Sandra can be freed from her imprisonment at a Buenos Aires zoo and be transferred to a sanctuary. The court recognized Sandra as a "'non-human person' unlawfully deprived of its freedom" reports Reuters.

"This opens the way not only for other Great Apes, but also for other sentient beings which are unfairly and arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in zoos, circuses, water parks and scientific laboratories," the daily La Nacion newspaper quoted Paul Buompadre, a lawyer for the Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights, as saying.

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