A New Animal Rights Treaty Regime is Needed that Mirrors Human Rights Treaties: Animals aren’t Commodities, They Have Inherent Rights

Liz Holmes
A fundamental shift is needed in global law protecting animals. Existing systems protect animals mainly as commodities for human benefit and trade. There is a need to enshrine in international law the inherent rights of animals and have protection regimes that mirror those of human rights treaties.
Humans make up only 36 percent of all mammals, but our species provides only minimally for the other 64 percent – that is when humans are not driving animals into extinction. A few international treaty systems provide some restrictions on the treatment of migratory species and endangered species.

This includes the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of

Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) of 1973 which seeks to “ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.”

But systems like CITES focus on non-human animals in terms of trade; animals are products and commodities, not beings with their own rights. CITES controls how different species are traded based on their level of threat of extinction. The level of extinction is determined by a vote among CITES member states. Organizations such as Humane Society International (HIS) and others lobby for the rights of non-human animals through CITES. What international animal advocacy groups make clear is their generally held opinion that non-human animals need to be protected for their sake, rather than as commodities or vanity objects for humans. However, protecting non-human animals through legal avenues based on their economic benefit to humans offers only a stop-gap solution. Non-humans should be protected because they are vulnerable and they cannot advocate for themselves.

International legal protection of animals should move away from a trade and commodity foundation to instead base itself on the ethics of care of articulated by J.M. Coetzee among others. Rather than considering intelligent living creatures who feel pain and joy as items to be traded, bought, and eaten, we need a more just and inclusive foundation needs to be used in developing and implementing international law.

Coetzee claims a parallel between the Shoah and factory animal farms. He examines the language used to describe the destruction of people during World War II and questions why we are comfortable using terms that describe a slaughterhouse to describe the atrocities of the Nazi death camps but yet we are unable to reverse those sentences to reflect on the circumstances of factory farms.

The reason is clear: humans do not value non-human animals as being equally worthy of life. Given how broadly the human species has spread, it becomes easy to believe that humans are somehow more deserving of Earth’s resources and bounty than other animals. But even Thomas Hobbes recognized that bees, for example, have their own political structure within a hive. Research has shown that bees are in fact social creatures that engage with each other through communication, nest construction, management if surroundings, and social hierarchy. None of this matters, however, bee societies brutally exploited for human use as well.

Factory farms are production mechanisms for the sex-slavery and genocide of non-human animals. Many companies, like cosmetic or pharmaceutical industries test on animals in horrific ways before testing on humans. This is an international problem to which all countries are both perpetrators and complicit bystanders. By giving less value to the lives of non-human animals, by objectifying them, humans have made the lives of non-human animals, in a Sartreian sense, a living hell.

Instead of negotiating the protection of non-human animal lives on the basis of their threat of extinction, policymakers should protect these creatures on the basis of their own inherent worth. Only through a change of mindset can we begin to craft policy that adequately accounts for the rights of non-human animals. This new mindset is a necessary foundation for a new non-human animal treaty regime which provides for the rights and lives of non-human animals. A new non-human animal treaty regime would likely mirror existing human rights conventions with an international list of rights inherent to non-human animals as well as a judicial body to resolve issues of rights violations. Only through new international agreements which are inclusive of all living creatures can we most create fair policy and enact change for the betterment of the whole international community.

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2 Responses

  1. Wow. Love this new voice from animalblawg.

  2. Very persuasively argued. Clearly years ahead of it’s time.

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