Ecuador’s Constitutional Court recognizes animal rights in landmark ruling

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Ecuador was the first country to include a nature rights provision in its national Constitution. When the deal came before from Ecuador Constitutional Court judges elected to consider several issues, including: the scope of the country’s nature rights provision; whether animals can be considered subjects of rights; and whether Estrellita’s rights have been violated. The Court concluded by a vote of seven to two that the scope of the rights of nature includes animals and that, therefore, animals are subject to rights. The Court also indicated that habeas corpus could be an appropriate action for animals and that they may possess rights that derive from other sources in addition to the Constitution.

“This verdict elevates animal rights to the level of the constitution, the highest law in Ecuador,” noted Hugo Echeverría, leading Ecuadorian environmental lawyer, who brought the matter to the attention of the NhRP. “While the rights of nature were enshrined in the constitution, it was unclear prior to this ruling whether individual animals could benefit from the rights of nature and be considered rights holders as part of nature. Court said that animals are subject to rights protected by the rights of nature.”

The court’s detailed decision makes direct reference to the amicus curiae supporting the case of Estrellita presented by Professor Kristen stilts and researcher Macarena Montes of the Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School (ALPP) and lawyers Steven M. Wise and Kevin Schneider from Non-Human Rights Project (NhRP), assisted by students Marianné Núñez Núñez and Raquel Cerezo Martínez, both interned at the NhRP through the from the University of Barcelona Master’s Program in Animal Law and Society. The decision is available both in the native spanish And one English translation groups prepared.

Their municipality amicus brief asserted that the rights of nature should protect non-human animals, including individual animals such as Estrellita. She argued that while the Court was primarily concerned with protection at the species level, species are made up of individual animals, and what happens to an individual animal can have a significant impact on the species. He explained that it would be arbitrary to draw a line over a number of animals needed to count – 2, 3, 4, 10? One should suffice. The Court accepted arguments in the brief that challenged the traditional view that only ecosystems and species are protected by the rights of nature, not individuals.

In short, the ALPP and NhRP representatives urged the Court to determine that:

(1) Non-human animals may be subject to rights.
(2) Writs of habeas corpus may be suitable for non-human animals.
(3) Non-human animals are subjects of rights protected by the rights of nature.

The brief also called for relevant government entities to create protocols to ensure the rights of nonhuman animals under the Rights of Nature and habeas corpus.

In response to the decision, Professor Kristen stiltsfaculty director of the Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School, said, “The rights of nature concept is not well known in the United States, but in other parts of the world , including South America, it turns out to be an important legal tool to protect nature, including animals. And even in the United States, efforts are underway to recognize the rights of rivers, lakes and other natural habitats. The decision of the Ecuadorian Court is a model for all jurisdictions in the world. »

Steven M. WisePresident of the Nonhuman Rights Project, added, “This decision is a huge step forward in the global fight for nonhuman rights. We hope and expect fundamental legal change for nonhuman animals in United States is not far behind.”

Notes to editors:

Ecuador was the first country in the world to recognize the rights of nature at the constitutional level. At December 2, 2021 in what is hailed as a historic decisionthe Constitutional Court applied the rights of nature provision to ban mining in the Los Cedros Protected Forest.

Experts will discuss the Estrellita decision as part of Harvard Law School Animal Law Week 2022 on Thursday March 24 at 12:45 p.m. ET. The roundtable is open to members, the press and the public. Register here. For more information or to interview Hugo Echeverría, Steven Sageor teacher Kristen stiltscontact:

Read other works on constitutional provisions relating to the protection of animals by the Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program.

Context of ALPP and NhRP:

The Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law and Policy Program at Harvard Law School is committed to analyzing and improving the legal system’s treatment of animals. Professor and faculty director Kristen stilts and rights researcher, Macarena Montes, wrote on behalf of ALPP.

the Non-Human Rights Project is the only civil rights organization in United States dedicated solely to securing the rights of nonhuman animals. President Steven M. Wise and executive director Kevin Schneider wrote the brief on behalf of the NhRP.

Learn more about the verdict:

The Constitutional Court of Ecuador warned that animals should not be protected only from an ecosystem point of view or from a point of view focused on the needs of human beings, but mainly from a point of view focused on their individuality and intrinsic value (paragraph 79).

This becomes relevant because protecting only animal species – neglecting the protection of individual animalswhich in turn constitute the species – endangers a large number of animals and fuels the idea of ​​a possibility of extinction. Even in the case of non-threatened animals, neglecting or failing to protect individuals also has an impact (paragraph 126).

The Court not only recognized animals as subjects of rights protected by the rights of nature, but also set out the rights that apply to some or all animals. These include:

  • Right to exist (paragraph 111).
  • Right not to be hunted, fished, captured, collected, mined, held, held, trafficked, traded or traded (Paragraph 112).
  • Right to the free development of their animal behavior (paragraph 112), which includes the right to behave according to their instincts, the innate behaviors of their species, and those learned and transmitted among members of their population, and the right to freely develop their biological cycles, processes and interactions (paragraph 113). Animals must be provided with sufficient space and social conditions to ensure the possibility of the free development of their animal behavior (paragraph 137).
  • Right to liberty and good living (paragraph 119). Animals have the right to roam freely (paragraph 137).
  • Right to food according to the nutritional needs of the species (paragraph 119). Animals must have access to sufficient food and water to maintain their health and strength (paragraph 137).
  • Right to live in harmony (paragraph 119).
  • Right to health (paragraph 119). Animals must benefit from adequate sanitary conditions to protect their health and physical integrity (paragraph 137).
  • Right to habitat (paragraph 119).
  • Right to assert one’s rights before the competent authorities (paragraph 121).
  • Right to physical, mental and sexual integrity (paragraph 133).
  • Right to live in a species-appropriate environment with adequate shelter and resting conditions (paragraph 137).
  • Right to life (paragraph 155). Animals must be assured of living in an environment free from violence, as well as an environment free from cruelty, disproportionate fear and distress (paragraph 137).

Further, the Court noted that a wild animal’s rights to life, liberty, and integrity, among others, must be protected regardless of the claims, intentions, or desires of third parties. If judges determine “that the deprivation or restriction of the liberty of a wild animal is unlawful, they must provide the most appropriate alternative for the preservation of life, liberty, integrity and other rights related to the victim […]” (paragraph 173). This implies that the environmental authority Ecuador failed to meet this requirement by confining Estrellita to the zoo. It is possible that conditions at the zoo contributed to his death.

Although the brief of habeas corpus was unavailable in Estrellita’s case due to her death, the Court said it may be appropriate to request the release of a wild animal depending on the circumstances of the case.

The Court explained that although it has so far considered the rights of nature in cases of “action for protection”, which is a specific type of action in Ecuador, this does not mean that action for protection is the only adequate action to protect the rights of nature or any of its elements, including animals. Therefore, the Court said judges must consider which action best suits the context and claims of the case, suggesting that other actions may be adequate to protect the rights of nature and animals, such as habeas corpus.

In addition, the Constitutional Court of Ecuador directed the Ministry of Environment to develop a protocol to assess the situation and needs of captive wild animals to ensure their protection; the memoir proposed this very idea. In addition, the Court ordered the Ombudsman and Congress to prepare and approve an animal rights bill, based on the rights and principles developed in the decision.

In this period of catastrophic climate crisis and sixth mass extinction of species, the Constitutional Court of from Ecuador constitutes one of the most important legal advances in the field of animal rights and environmental law in recent years. Until this ruling, lawyers, scholars and advocates have focused nature conservation on ecosystems and species, not individuals. Moreover, much of the work on the rights of nature did not view animals as rights holders. The Court’s groundbreaking ruling advances the constitutional protection of animals – from the level of the species to the individual animal – with their own inherent value and needs.

SOURCE Non-Human Rights Project

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