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. 






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