Skip to main content
School of Law

Are there any animal rights?

Date: 17 November 2023

In this paper, Dr John Adenitire investigates whether courts have recognized genuine animal rights. Recent cases, such as India's Supreme Court acknowledging the rights of all animal species in 2014 and Ecuador's Constitutional Court granting habeas corpus to the monkey Estrellita in 2022, raise the pressing question of whether courts worldwide have truly acknowledged animal rights.

His argument throughout this paper advocates for a skeptical stance regarding the recognition of animal rights by courts. To establish a foundation for this skepticism, he attempts to define animal rights. he examines two strands of scholarly thought on this matter: the ‘new wave’, represented by scholars like Saskia Stucki and Raffael Fasel, which primarily focuses on formal criteria for defining animal rights; and the ‘old wave’, exemplified by thinkers like Tom Regan and Gary Francione, which emphasizes an ethical stance rejecting the mere instrumentalization of animals. This ethical perspective, referred to as the ‘ethic of non-instrumentalization’, provides a necessary criterion for identifying genuine animal rights.

Applying this ethic, he scrutinizes global court cases that purport to acknowledge animal rights. His findings reveal that the majority of these cases fall short of aligning with the ethic of non-instrumentalization. Notably, the case law from India and Pakistan fails to meet this ethical standard. Even in Ecuador, where the Constitutional Court has recognized fundamental rights for wild animals, it simultaneously permits the instrumentalization of domesticated animals. Furthermore, an Argentinian court's recognition of genuine animal rights for the chimpanzee Cecilia, while commendable, relies heavily on highlighting Cecilia's similarity to humans, allowing for the continued instrumentalization of other sentient animals not so similar.

Consequently, despite some courts recognizing certain animal rights, their failure to fully embrace the ethic of non-instrumentalization warrants continued skepticism regarding the existence of animal rights in law.

Back to top