Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare
Why no international rights for animals?
Authorities address questions about human welfare and nature conservation at the highest levels of government, debate them at international meetings, and codify agreements among nations in binding Charters. United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
and the Convention on Biodiversity
are examples. Yet animals have no worldwide protection, possibly because they are so basic and important a part of human economic exploitation.
Animal rights is more tortuous to advocate than animal welfare.
The lack of success in shaping internationally binding charters on animal rights has not been for want of trying. People in modern times have attempted to identify and advance the rights of animals at least since the 18th century. Credit often goes to Henry Salt (1851 - 1939) for writing the first book on animal rights, published in 1892 (1). Salt traces animal rights efforts back to John Lawrence (1753 - 1839), one of the earliest modern writers on animal rights and welfare, who writes:
"I therefore propose, that the Rights of Beasts be formally acknowledged by the state, and that a law be framed upon that principle, to guard and protect them from acts of flagrant and wanton cruelty, whether committed by their owners or others." John Lawrence (2)
The 20th century saw a number of international declarations supporting animal rights. Perhaps the most prominent venture was the announcement (The Times, 17 October) in 1978 by the United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) of the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights.
(2) Among the Declaration's pronouncements were that all animals have the same rights to existence, no animal shall be ill-treated or subject to cruelty, animals shall command the protection of law, and dead animals shall be treated with respect. The Declaration, however, waned and faded away before it could reach significant levels of international agreement.
Then some of the world's leading animal welfare organisations started campaigning for the United Nations to adopt a new declaration. This time the declaration was on the welfare
of animals: the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare.
Why welfare and not rights? Welfare is an easier option than rights, being more acceptable to people it has a better chance of endorsement and enduring.
The animal organisations behind this new declaration envisage that signatory countries to the document would recognise animals as sentient beings. They hoped their declaration would make animal welfare an important global issue, pioneer the way for legally binding international agreements on animal welfare, and hasten a better deal for animals worldwide. Their declaration would also underscore the importance of animal welfare as part of the moral development of humanity.
This declaration is still distant and achieving it for animals will be a long and twisting journey. Children in charity work are the most popular and most supported beneficiaries, yet the Convention on the Rights of the Child
took thirty years of effort before the United Nations adopted it.
(1) Salt, Henry. Animals' Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress
. G Bell & Sons: London, 1892. Reprinted 1980 by Macmillan & Co: New York and by Centaur Press: London.
(2) John Lawrence , A Philosophical and Practical Treatise on Horses and the Moral Duties of Man Towards Brute Creation
, 1796, Vol 1, Ch 3, p123. T N Longman: London.
Below is a copy of a draft of the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare drawn up by a number of prominent animal welfare organisations in about 2003.
Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare
The Manila Conference on Animal Welfare recognizes:
That animal welfare is an issue worth consideration by governments.
That the promotion of animal welfare requires collective action and all stakeholders and affected parties must be involved.
That work on animal welfare is a continuous process
A PROPOSAL FOR A DECLARATION ON ANIMAL WELFARE ARISING FROM THE MANILA CONFERENCE
that animals are living, sentient beings and therefore deserve due consideration and respect;
that animal welfare includes animal health;
that humans share this planet with other species and other forms of life and that all forms of life co-exist within an interdependent ecosystem;
that, although there are significant social, economic, religious and cultural differences between human societies, each should care for and treat animals in a humane and sustainable manner;
that the term nation includes peoples, civil society and the state;
that many nations already have a system of legal protection for animals, both domestic and wild;
to ensure the continued effectiveness of these systems and the development of better and more comprehensive animal welfare provisions;
that the humane use of animals can have major benefits for humans;
that the "five freedoms (freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition; freedom from fear and distress; freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour)" and the "three Rs (reduction in numbers of animals, refinement of experimental methods and replacement of animals with nonanimal techniques)" provide valuable guidance for the use of animals;
that the provisions contained in this declaration do not affect the rights of any nation;
PRINCIPLES OF THE DECLARATION:
1. The welfare of animals shall be a common objective for all nations;
2. The standards of animal welfare attained by each nation shall be promoted, recognized and observed by improved measures, nationally and internationally, respecting social and economic considerations and religious and cultural traditions;
3. All appropriate steps shall be taken by nations to prevent cruelty to animals and to reduce their suffering;
4. Appropriate standards on the welfare of animals be further developed and elaborated such as, but not limited to, those governing the use and management of farm animals, companion animals, animals in scientific research, draught animals, wildlife animals and animals in recreation.
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