Animals in Armed Conflict: Are International Humanitarian Law Treaties Regarding Cultural Property Enough to Offer Sufficient Protection?

By Kamya Chawla

1. Introduction:

During the Gulf War of 1990-1991, approximately eighty-five percent of Kuwait International Zoo’s animals died, illustrating the lack of protection for animals under International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Currently, IHL affords animals derivative and inadequate protection. For example, an evolutionary interpretation of IHL may permit the classification of certain animals as specially protected objects, including cultural property. Animals categorized as cultural property may then be the incidental beneficiaries of minimal IHL laws. Additionally, animals inhabiting the surrounding areas of protected cultural heritage sites enjoy indirect protection in armed conflicts. Such methods trivialize the protection of animals because the sentience of animals and their particular needs are not accounted for during wartime. Therefore, the absence of an explicit legal status for animals under IHL leads to their insufficient protection, demanding movement towards a separate IHL regime for animal protection.

2.  Protection of Animals as Cultural Property in Armed Conflicts

Under IHL rules, the protection of cultural property is two-fold — IHL instruments provide general protection to cultural property as commonly civilian objects in addition to specific mechanisms for their protection, given their intrinsic value. Such multi-layered mechanisms are set out in, among others, the 1954 Hague Convention and the 1999 Second Protocol. These conventions define cultural property as ‘movable or immovable property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people.’ As evident in the definition, these major IHL treaties on the protection of cultural property merely focus on human-made objects and do not contain any references to animals.

Despite the absence of animal references in the 1954 Hague Convention and the 1999 Second Protocol, animals may be incidentally protected via the protection granted to cultural heritage sites if they inhabit the sites’ adjacent areas. For instance, the Angkor Archeological Park is a cultural property provided with enhanced protection in armed conflict under the 1999 Second Protocol. Thus, the mammals and birds occupying the Park’s neighboring regions are protected secondarily. Overall, however, this form of protection only offers indirect and inexplicit protection to animals in spite of the direct harm they suffer from war crimes targeted at cultural property.

Furthermore, the narrow notion of cultural property may be interpreted progressively to include certain categories of animals, such as endangered and endemic species. As the development of cultural heritage law increasingly recognizes the relationship between natural and cultural property (due to the consistent interaction of humans with their environment), endangered animals may fall under cultural property, specifically as objects of historical or archeological interests. Moreover, as the World Heritage Convention (which does not cease to apply in times of armed conflict) preserves the natural habitats of animals in its Article 2, it also protects threatened species. However, under this approach, animals, in general, will not be protected. Instead, protection is offered only to animals classified as historical or archaeological interests or forming integral parts of a given heritage site. Thus, there is no guaranteed protection for companion animals, wildlife, livestock, and other categories of species.

In the IHL cultural property protection regime, using cultural property for military purposes or attacking such property is strictly prohibited, as stated in Article 4(1) of the 1954 Hague Convention. Thus, the endemic or endangered animals forming part of cultural heritage enjoy a supposedly high level of protection. However, this protection is subject to imperative military necessity, meaning the destruction of heritage sites that host animals may be justified. Additionally, in practice, it is challenging for armed conflict parties and, in particular, armed groups, to guarantee effective protection of natural heritage sites. This is because the sites are large and host a high number of species that are not concentrated in given areas, but rather frequently moving around. Consequently, as endangered animals are incidentally protected and other categories of animals are not even accounted for, the scope of protection is limited to certain animals under precise circumstances.

Overall, the protection of animals in times of armed conflict via cultural property fails to represent animals as sentient beings experiencing distress, pain, and suffering. As protection is incidental for limited categories of animals, others, such as livestock and companion animals, are not even granted protection, let alone value in their own right. As a result, in the last 50 years, certain species have vanished at a very high rate in wars. Even for the certain categories protected, their interests are subordinate to those of humans. For example, in the Kupreškić case, the protection for animals during armed conflict was partly called for due to their cultural significance for human populations, which disregarded the animals’ independent position as sentient beings. As animal protection in IHL cultural property treaties is dependent on dynamic interpretations, the regime is insufficient to guarantee protection and must be adapted to include the explicit protection of animals.

3. Recommendations

To circumvent the limited groups of animals protected under IHL treaties protecting cultural property and to account for the sentience of animals, a special regime for animal protection during armed conflict must be established. Forming a differentiated regime for animal protection is possible as portrayed by, among others, the existence of the cultural protection regime in IHL. In fact, the rules on protecting cultural property may serve as an example in designing and implementing a regime that assigns general protection to various categories of animals. In such a separate regime, the animals’ vulnerability and importance in the balance of nature will be explicitly addressed. Therefore, animals would be afforded definite and sufficient protection, independently of any other regime.

4. Conclusion

Under the IHL rules regarding the protection of cultural property, certain animals, particularly endangered species, are indirectly afforded minimum protection. Other categories of animals, including livestock and companion animals, are not even mentioned in the regime. This mechanism’s shortcomings are further exemplified in that it does not consider animals’ particular vulnerability and, consequently, does not account for their sentience. Instead, the general cultural property protection regime protects a sparse category of animals conditionally as, for example, the destruction of their homes may be justified by imperative military necessity. To conclude, IHL does not offer sufficient protection to animals in armed conflict and, thus, a special regime for animal protection must be developed.





Animal law scholars demonstrate the many aspects of the field at the second edition of the Animal Law Conference in Helsinki

By Veerle Platvoet

Now that the new academic year is in full swing, it is time to look back on the event that, at the Helsinki Animal Law Centre, closed the last academic year in June. Right before summer, the second edition of our animal law conference took place, with the Emergence and Establishment of Animal Law as a Legal Discipline as its theme. The conference was packed with fascinating and thought-provoking presentations from animal law scholars over the whole world.  

The conference consisted of three days, with a relatively closed-circle PhD workshop on the first day. With a total of four PhD researchers, their work was discussed by all participants in a pre-read paper format. The topics provided a sample of the broad spectrum of animal law. We discussed animal labor rights, the enforcement of EU farm animal regulations, wolf litigation in Norway, and the welfare of farmed salmon. The workshop created grounds for rich discussions on the papers and the wider PhD projects from the participants.  

The first day of the conference kicked off with a keynote speech by Alasdair Cochrane on the Speciesism of Human Rights. Cochrane discussed human rights from the perspective of animal rights, thereby creating a more in-depth view on both. His presentation provided food for thought for those interested in the function of rights in general, or looking to overcome the difficulties of creating more-than-human rights.  

After Cochrane’s keynote and the lively discussion that followed, the first parallel sessions were on Rights and Animals and Regional Approaches. Regionally, Norway was well represented with two presentations on wolf litigation and animal welfare more generally, as well as the concept of dignity in Swiss animal welfare law. In the rights-based session, different aspects of animal rights were examined. Animal agency, the relationship between animal rights and the Five Freedoms, and the criminological and environmental synergies and conflicts with animal rights were reviewed.   

The first day concluded with the formal launch of the Helsinki Animal Law Centre. Already established in February, we decided to launch the Centre during the conference, to be able to celebrate with the large community of animal law scholars that came to Helsinki. For the occasion, we organized a panel on the definition of animal law. As animal law as a legal discipline is relatively new, there are as many definitions on the discipline as there are scholars – and the three presentations on the panel evidenced this with their own interpretations of the field. Whether animal law is about the interest of the animal, limited by the rules by which the court plays, or largely informed by ‘scholactivism’, its framework leaves plenty of space for discussion to occupy its own conference.  

After a lovely dinner and a bright Finnish evening, the second day of the conference commenced with the keynote by Jessica Eisen on Constitutionalism and Animals. This keynote, much like the first did with human rights, provided as many insights into the more general theme of constitutionalism as well as its relation to animal law. Eisen illuminated the ‘hidden’ constitutional principle of animal exploitation, which explains the potentially contradictory constitutional protections many countries have for animals. Eisen’s presentation was very thought-provoking, as demonstrated by the following Q&A.  

Two parallel sessions were scheduled for the second day of the conference, with the first sessions discussing the role of science and ethics. Again, the sessions were varied, with the science-based session discussing invertebrate welfare, the importance of meat reduction, and the relation between science and law in the European Union welfare legislation. On the side of ethics, moral animal rights were discussed, as well as reframing animal exploitation as oppression, and the importance of animal culture.  

The final sessions were on procedural improvements and international animal law. The procedural aspects of animal law are often overlooked, and the presentations on continental animal standing, strategic litigation, and animal consent all provided engaging angles to the field. Globally, animal law can take many forms, and this was demonstrated by the presentations on diplomatic animals, global animal protection treaties, and animals in humanitarian law in the second parallel session.  

All in all, it is astounding how such a young and emerging field already consists of so many passionate and engaged scholars, that all have their role in illustrating the diverse interpretations and aspects of the discipline. Although the definition of animal law is still undecided, it is clear that each of these themes contribute to the establishment of the discipline, and the animal law community will ensure its further growth. 

The Finnish Proposal on Fundamental Animal Rights

By Birgitta Wahlberg 

The History To Be Told 

The more I have studied animal welfare legislation over the years and visited different places where animals are used, kept, transported, or killed, the more difficult and disturbing it has been to see how we legally treat animals. The times that I have felt ashamed and been mentally in pain in front of the animals, is countless. It has been embarrassing and annoying to note how badly the law is protecting our common fellows, albeit the wordings used in the legislation is of the opposite. In addition to what we are causing the animals, the link to the climate crisis, biodiversity losses, pandemics, zoonosis, and public health issues in general, makes it very clear that how we treat animals, and thereby ourselves and coming generations, is not acceptable. 

In 2015, Steven Wise was invited to Stockholm as a guest by an animal rights NGO I was working for at the moment. I had talked with him at conferences a couple of times during the years and been inspired by the work of the Nonhuman Rights Project. However, in Finland, developments by case law would not be the way to go and I was struggling with my own thoughts considering constitutional animal rights. After a week of talking, talking and talking I was encouraged enough to reach out to colleagues asking their interest to draft a proposal of fundamental animal rights.  

To make the story short, during 2016–2017 the Finnish team wrote a proposal on a constitutional amendment on the fundamental rights of animals, which today consists of five main sections: (1) Protection of Animals, (2) Safeguarding Fundamental Animal Rights, (3) Fundamental Rights of Wild Animals, (4) Fundamental Rights of Animals Dependent on Human Care, and (5) Prohibition of Animal Breeding. In detail here.

The aim was to 1) define what the recognition of sentience of animals in the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union Art. 13 means in Finland, 2) to make concrete what fundamental rights of animals on the constitutional level would mean, and 3) to lay down the Principle of Precaution, the Principle of Necessity, and the Principle of Proportionality in the context of animal rights. 

The team consisted of Visa AJ Kurki, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Helsinki, Tarja Koskela, LL.D., university lecturer at the University of Eastern Finland, Susanna Pirilä, LL.M. from the University of Helsinki, Albert Jäntti, law student at the University of Helsinki, Roope Kanninen, law student at the University of Lapland, and me. 

The first draft of the amendment was sent to colleagues around the world for comments. After revising the content, the non-profit organization Finnish Animal Rights Law Society was established on Valentine’s Day 2018.  Today, the membership of the organization comprises over one hundred legal scholars and lawyers, and it is also supported by many private people in Finland. 

The Bill on Fundamental Animal Rights and the Citizen’s Initiative 

In November 2022 Member of Finnish Parliament Mai Kivelä (Left Alliance) filed a legislative motion (LA 71/2022, in Finnish ) to include fundamental animal rights in the Constitution of Finland (731/1999). The content in the motion was the proposal made by the Finnish legal scholars. However, the motion lapsed because of the parliamentary elections in April 2023. In accordance with the Finnish Constitution Section 49 unfinished matters in one parliamentary term does not continue in a new term if parliamentary elections have been held in the meantime. Therefore, in February 2023, the Finnish Animal Rights Law Society started a Citizens’ Initiative (CI) in a form of a bill. Meaning that the proposed legal text in the CI was the proposal on a constitutional amendment on the fundamental rights of animals. The required minimum of 50,000 signatures was collected within the required maximum period of six months (52,742 signatures in total).  

At the time of writing this blog, the CI is at the Population Register Centre for checking of names. After the confirmation from the Centre, a spokesperson for the CI can submit the initiative to the Parliament. The Parliament has an obligation to consider the initiative, but it is up to the Parliament whether it approves it or not. The Parliament can also make changes to the content. If the initiative is rejected by Parliament, a new initiative concerning the same matter can be set in motion. 

The consideration in the Parliament begins with a preliminary debate in plenary session. At the end of the debate, the Parliament refers the matter to a committee; in this case most probably to the Constitutional Committee. During the consideration in the Committee, spokespersons for the initiative must be given an opportunity to be heard. The Committee may also hear other experts and ministries.  

The Committee can decide not to support the initiative, or prepare its report for the plenary session. Once the relevant report of the Committee preparing the matter has been issued, a legislative proposal shall in accordance with the Finnish Constitution Sections 72 and 73 be considered in two readings in a plenary session of the Parliament. In the first reading, the report of the Committee is presented and debated, and a decision on the contents made. Then, in the second reading, the proposal is left in abeyance, by a majority of the votes cast, until the first parliamentary session following parliamentary elections. After the election, the proposal shall be adopted without material alterations in one reading in a plenary session by a decision supported by at least two thirds of the votes cast. If not, the initiative has lapsed. 

This means that fundamental animal rights might be amended to the Constitution of Finland earliest in 2028. 

The Future 

What the future holds for the animals in Finland is to be seen, but I am convinced that eventually the fundamental rights of animals are recognised in the Constitution. Likewise, I am convinced that such a recognition will also have a positive impact on animals’ lives and laws elsewhere. Constitutional developments will be the next meaningful normative responses against the oppression of the vulnerable group of sentient beings we are currently treating so badly. The words of Steven Wise echoes in my mind; “Keep the focus and do not waste your time on secondary issues.” Together we can change the world! 

The emergence of animal law in Europe: observations from the front row

By Visa Kurki

I became interested in animal law around 2010. I had already been interested in animal ethics and philosophy for a while, but I didn’t see the connection to my law studies. However, I came to realize gradually that animal law is actually a thing of its own. As a law student, you are mostly taught traditional areas of law such as contract law, constitutional law and so on. Going outside of these classical topics is not easy – unless you have a role model. Thankfully I had one: Birgitta Wahlberg was active at my undergraduate university, Åbo Akademi University. That’s how I ended up writing my LL.B. thesis on Finnish animal welfare law.  

Animal ethics is occasionally understood in terms two alternatives: the moderate animal welfare position and the radical animal rights position. Back in 2010, this bifurcation was reflected in animal law as well. To exaggerate somewhat, you had two options: you could either look at the details of the animal welfare legislation, or engage in idealistic and utopian research on animal rights. In other words, the alternatives were black-letter research de lege lata and theoretical research de lege ferenda. Furthermore, the literature was dominated by Anglo-American approaches, such as the abolitionist approach pioneered by Gary Francione and the approach to animal rights litigation championed by Steven Wise and the Nonhuman Rights Project. 

However, I didn’t feel at home with either of these alternatives. I wanted to understand the theory behind the lex lata – our existing law. I didn’t fully understand what many of our basic concepts meant. What do we mean when we say that the law prohibits inflicting “unnecessary suffering” to animals? I ended up writing my Bachelor’s thesis on the concept of unnecessary suffering in Finnish animal welfare law. During this time, I got interested in another fundamental question having to do with current animal welfare law: what does the adage that animals are legally “things” and “objects”, without rights, mean? I ended up writing my Master’s thesis on animal legal personhood. This got me interested in the topic of legal personhood more broadly, which ended up being the topic of my PhD dissertation, with the legal status of animals being merely one category of interest. 

After my PhD, I still felt we do not properly understand the legal status of animals. To address this gap, I started working on a research proposal. Together with Tero Kivinen, we managed to secure funding for the research project Animals under a Welfarist Regime (ANIWERE). The project seeks to produce a legal theory to explain the welfarist approach to animal protection that is prevalent in most Western countries.  

Even if the purpose of ANIWERE was originally somewhat more modest, a veritable animal law community has since grown in Helsinki. Last year, we organized an animal law conference. During the conference, I realized that Helsinki might be the largest European university in terms of the number of people working in animal law (prove me wrong!). To keep this community alive in the long term, we have recently established the Helsinki Animal Law Centre and our second animal law conference is taking place next week. As of now, the “Helsinki approach” appears to revolve around what was described above: a theoretical analysis of the foundations of current animal law. However, we are quite liberal in this regard, and welcome all sorts of approaches, be they normative or analytic. 

During my PhD, animal law was internationally still a relatively fringe topic, with no community to speak of, at least outside of North America. It was quite difficult to meet other people interested in the same questions. Online academic events were rather rare before the pandemic, so actual in-person meetings were much more important for the establishment of a community. This has also changed very drastically since; there are so many academic animal law events online, that I don’t have the time to attend all of them! 

Overall, it’s a pleasure and a privilege to have a front row seat for witnessing the emergence of a European community of animal law scholars. I cannot wait to see how the discipline will evolve further. 



Do rights of nature include animal rights?

By Eva Bernet Kempers 


Rights of nature are on the rise. After their recognition in Ecuador, Bolivia, New Zealand, Uganda, and India, the most recent recognition of nature’s rights took place in Spain. In 2022, the Mar Menor was recognized as a legal person, which possesses legal rights, and can be represented in court. Rights of nature represent a new phase in environmental protection, and, according to Jasper Mührel, the latest recognition signifies the dawn of a European approach to rights of nature.   

Until now, animal law scholars have remained fairly sceptical about this development. Visa Kurki, for instance, argued that rivers and natural objects, in fact, cannot really ‘be’ legal persons in any meaningful way, contrary to sentient beings such as animals. Others have pointed to the dangers of the rights of nature-paradigm, as they fear that animal rights will be reduced to rights of species, falling victim to ‘environmental fascism’ when individual animals are sacrificed for the greater good. At the same time, however, some proponents of rights of nature assume that rights of nature automatically include animal rights, regarding the two as allies in the fight against anthropocentrism.  

This blogpost is an effort to clarify the debate on the relation between rights of nature and animal rights. It answers a seemingly straightforward question: do rights of nature include animal rights? I will put forward the argument that, despite of the philosophical animosity between the two paradigms, there is room for juridical amicability. I will suggest to see rights of nature as a layered concept with three dimensions: holistic, systemic, and individualistic. Albeit with a caution for the naturalization of rights, in this way the two perspectives can be reconciled.    


Philosophical animosity  

Rights of nature and animal rights are rooted in two opposite ethical paradigms. Nature’s rights are embedded in an environmental, ecocentric paradigm, regarding nature as a system that has inherent value as a whole. Animal rights, in contrast, accords inherent value to individual sentient beings (whatever their species). It disregards the relevance of ‘species’ as an abstract concept to which no moral obligations can be owed.  

From the perspective of animal rights scholars such as Tom Regan, the environmental paradigm is dangerously similar to a form of fascism, as individual (non-native) animals are easily sacrificed for the greater good. It holds that it is never legitimate to kill sentient individuals in order to save a species, as a ‘species’ has no interests that can give rise to rights. From the environmental perspective, on the other hand, this way of thinking demonstrates a laughable naiveté. Ecosystems are complicated and sensitive systems, and a small disturbance can endanger not just the individuals of one, but of many species: culling animals is crucial to safeguard the stability of the ecosystem as a whole.   

Rights of nature is historically closely associated with the environmental perspective. It frames itself as a movement of environmental protection, aiming to contribute to the restoration of the earth’s ecosystems. Granting nature legal rights is regarded a means through which to improve the current (failing) efforts to halt environmental degradation. Based on its ethical underpinnings, one would therefore expect an animosity towards individual animal rights, favouring the systemic approach, thus answering the question whether rights of nature include animal rights in the negative.  


Juridical amicability  

Legal reality, however, does not always reflect philosophical theory. When we look at the way in which holistic forms of rights of nature have been interpreted by courts in Ecuador and Bolivia, a very different picture appears. Rights of nature seem to include not only rights of ecosystems, and of mangroves, but also of rivers, species, and individual animals. In fact, the protection of species is interpreted as automatically leading to the protection of the individual animals of which a species is comprised. Hence, in Ecuador, killing any specimen of an endangered species constitutes a rights of nature violation. 

How exactly courts have turned the ethical animosity into a question of juridical amicability, becomes clear in, firstly, the Wild Parrot case in Brazil, and secondly the case of Estrellita in Ecuador. The Wild Parrot case appeared in 2019 before the Supreme Court of Justice. Considering the illegal capture of a wild parrot, the Court stated that “in the face of the current ecological crisis, it is necessary to rethink the Kantian concept of dignity” in light of the ecocentric jurisprudential matrix that is “capable of recognizing the web of life that permeates the relationship between human beings and nature”. According to the court, this entails the recognition of an intrinsic value conferred to non-human sentient beings, which share with the human being the same moral community, meaning that “any prohibition of the practice of ‘objectification’ should not, in principle, be limited only to human life, but should have its spectrum broadened to contemplate other forms of life as well”, thus “making a step beyond pure anthropocentrism”. This then translates in the need “to recognize the environment and non-human animals as beings of their own value, deserving, therefore, respect and care, so that the legal system can assign them rights and dignity.” Interestingly, the Court does not seem to be aware of any animosity between the environmental perspective and animal rights, mentioning “the environment and non-human animals” in one breath, as both deserving legal rights, without attaching any consequences to this recognition.  

A second informative case is the verdict on the monkey Estrellita, which was decided by the Constitutional Court of Ecuador in 2022. The court firstly made clear that “[w]ithin the levels of ecological organization, an animal is a basic unit of ecological organization, and being an element of Nature, it is protected by the rights of Nature and enjoys an inherent individual value.” Discussing several trends in the legal protection of animals, the Court subsequently noted that the recognition of animals as subjects of rights constitutes the most recent phase in the development of their legal protection. It emphasized that “[i]n this sense, this Court warns that animals should not be protected only from an ecosystemic perspective or with a view to the needs of human beings, but mainly from a perspective that focuses on their individuality and intrinsic value.” However, it hastened to say, insofar as human beings are omnivorous by nature, their right to feed on other animals cannot be forbidden. It also noted that the recognition of animal rights would not stop the necessary actions to control species populations, especially with regard to non-native species. Just as in the Wild Parrot case, then, the recognition of animal rights remains without further consequences.  

Interestingly, in both judgments, no conflict between nature’s rights and animal rights was observed. On the contrary, animal rights were considered as an inherent and inevitable aspect of rights of nature; an automatic implication thereof. The philosophical animosity is, through judicial interpretation, turned into amicability: rights of nature and animal rights are perceived as two sides of the same coin. Rights of nature are then understood as a paradigm-shift to a non-anthropocentric understanding of law. 


Rights of nature as a three-dimensional concept 

In order to make sense of the way in which courts have given shape to rights of nature as including individual animal rights, I propose to regard rights of nature as a three-dimensional concept. It encompasses not only the holistic idea of ‘nature as a subject of rights’ but also grants rights to the more systemic dimension of ecosystems, species, and collectives (e.g. mangroves or forests) – since nature, essentially, is made up of such collectives – and to the individualistic dimension of entities that are either sentient or non-sentient. The different dimensions are interdependent: individual entities always exist as embedded in larger networks of collectives and ecosystems, which again exist in the context of the planet (or ‘nature’).  




To some extent, this scheme can also be of help in the balancing of different rights against each other. Even though we may attach more weight to animal rights than to plant rights, such rights should always be understood in their context, e.g. with reference to the other dimensions, such as the status of the species or ecosystem in which they reside. Hence, the rights of an endangered specimen may then be found to weigh more than the rights of a non-native specimen that poses risks to the systemic dimension of nature. In the same way, the three-dimensional understanding of nature’s rights would imply an inherent limit to human rights, stemming from their embeddedness in and interdependence with the systemic and holistic dimension of nature.  


Critical note: the naturalization of rights 

The three-dimensional concept of nature’s rights poses an attractive schematic overview of the way in which the rights of individual animals fit into the larger rights-of-nature concept. It should be noted however that this portrayal also bears the risk of ‘naturalizing’ rights.  

What I mean with this is the following. The very purpose of moral and legal rights is to go against the state of nature; to protect the weak and vulnerable from the strong and powerful. To have a right, means having a claim to someone not doing something to you that he or she would be capable of. This is precisely why the movement of animal rights strives to have the rights of animals recognized: to protect them from human exploitation.  

The way in which animal rights have been interpreted in the context of rights of nature, however, is not as ‘defying’ nature, but rather as confirming the natural state. Even though both courts make extensive references to animals’ ‘intrinsic value’, this recognition is not understood as implying any radical changes in human behaviour. In both jurisdictions, animals are still eaten and can still be killed in order to safeguard the balance of an ecosystem. The question is, therefore, whether rights understood as such hold any transformative force.  



Rights of nature can include the rights of individual animals. Even though the concepts are historically rooted in opposite ethical paradigms, they can be reconciled through legal interpretation, as the Wild Parrot case and Estrellita case have shown. My proposal to regard rights of nature as a three-dimensional concept, that encompasses both the rights of humans and other animals, best explains such legal interpretation. In this way, animal rights are, just as human rights, conceptualized as dependent on the larger web of relations of which they are part.  

But should animal law scholars support the inclusion of animal rights in the rights of nature paradigm? I have noted the danger of the naturalization of rights as reproducing, rather than defying, the natural state. This would eventually erode the very purpose of rights as protecting the weak and vulnerable from the tyranny of the powerful. If animal rights do not prevent us from killing them for our pleasure (because we can), then why would human rights prevent governments from ruling with brutal force (because they can)? 

Still, I am carefully optimistic about a possible alliance between the two. In the end, both rights of nature and animal rights have a common enemy: legal anthropocentrism. If rights of nature manages to push the human off its pedestal, it will also be a win for animal rights, bringing us a step closer to a just and sustainable multispecies pluriverse.  


Helsinki Animal Law Centre goes to South Africa: Reflections from the Workshop “Animal Law in General and Animal Rights in Particular”

By Marina Baptista and Veera Koponen

We, doctoral researchers Veera Koponen and Marina Baptista Rosa, are honored to start the blog series of our recently established Helsinki Animal Law Centre. Our Centre currently hosts the research project ANIWERE, which stands for Animals under a Welfarist Regime. 

The system called welfarism refers to how animals are currently protected in most countries. In this regime, animals are widely used by humans and this use has been regulated by anti-cruelty laws. The discussion has been shifting from anti-cruelty to animal protection and animal welfare, but the starting point has been the same for centuries: animals are not treated as ends in themselves, but as mere things. As such, although animals receive some degree of legal protection against unnecessary suffering, this protection is limited to the extent that it does not impose excessive burdens on their instrumental use for human benefit. However, the welfarist paradigm has been receiving increasing criticism. There does not seem to be any ethical justification to treat animals the way humans have been treating them. Under the welfarist regime, most forms of animal suffering are justified in the context of food production, scientific experimentation, entertainment, wildlife management, companionship, and cultural practices.  

Legal research related to animals has been gradually detaching from animal philosophy. Animal law has recently become more established in Europe. In Finland, where the Helsinki Animal Law Centre is based, the constitutional approaches to animal law have been under much discussion and research. To gain a global perspective, we headed to the World Congress of Constitutional Law, which was held in December 2022 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Veera co-chaired a workshop with university lecturer Birgitta Wahlberg entitled “Animal Law in General and Animal Rights in Particular”, and Marina gave a presentation in the same session.  The workshop attracted junior and established researchers from all over the world covering many fascinating different approaches to animal law.  

For instance, Professor Tomasz Pietrzykowski opened the first session with an intriguing presentation on evolutionary approaches to animal law. One of his many compelling claims was that significant changes in social attitudes – such as our use of animals – do not happen by argument only. Instead, we also need to pay attention to economic, political, and technological factors. After that, based on an amusing anecdote connecting Happy the elephant to Peppa the pig, PhD researcher Paulien Christiaenssen discussed why animal rights movements will always need the company of legal animal welfare advocacy. PhD researcher Ankita Shanker discussed her recently published paper on the emergence of animal rights discourse in legal rulings all over the world and, in sequence, Professor Giuseppe Martinico provided a fascinating talk on human rights for animals. Associate Professor Yaffa Epstein ended the first session of the workshop with an intriguing discussion on the rights of nature and animals in the EU.  

The second half of the workshop covered mainly regional perspectives to animal law. PhD Researcher Lauretta Eckhardt discussed the dignity of animals in the Swiss Constitution, and Marina talked about the Brazilian constitutional animal protection experience and how it has helped elevate the legal status of animals to the point of having their legal standing recognized in many recent cases. Likewise, lecturer Vivek Mukherjee provided the audience with ample insight into the entry of animals in the Indian Constitution, and Amy P Wilson and Melanie Murcott discussed many aspects of the South African animal law, including positive Constitutional Court decisions expressing concern with the intrinsic value of animals. The last presentation was given by the Philosopher Yolandi M Coetser on ecofeminist animal law. She challenged the canonical Western philosophy that grounds animal welfare laws and raised many other takeaway provocative reflections that closed the workshop on the perfect note! 

The amplitude of topics and perspectives presented in the workshop made us feel very optimistic about the future of animal law in general and animal rights in particular. We came back home with much more than a better understanding of constitutional approaches to animal law. We now have an even longer list of provocative questions and reflections to be incorporated into our own work – and we guess this is how we know it has been a good conference. Foremost, we are delighted to have witnessed this important moment for the discipline and to be part of the ever-growing group of scholars from various disciplines and parts of the globe who are invested in analyzing the foundations and underlying questions of animal law.