Spain's parliament approved a measure Wednesday to extend some human rights to gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans, becoming the first country to explicitly acknowledge the legal rights of nonhumans.
The parliament's environmental committee approved a resolution that commits the country to the Declaration on Great Apes, which states that nonhuman apes are entitled to the rights of life, liberty, and protection from torture.
The declaration, developed in 1993 by a group of primatologists, ethicists, and psychologists known as the Great Ape Project, demands "the extension of the community of equals to include all great apes." According to the declaration, apes may not be killed except under "strictly defined circumstances," such as self-defense. They may not be imprisoned without due legal process, and they may not be subjected to the "deliberate infliction of severe pain," even if doing so is said to benefit others.
Keeping apes for circuses, television commercials or filming will also be forbidden and breaking the new laws will become an offence under Spain's penal code.
Keeping an estimated 315 apes in Spanish zoos will not be illegal, but supporters of the bill say conditions will need to improve drastically in 70 percent of establishments to comply with the new law.
Spain’s conservative Popular Party also complained that the resolution sought to give animals the same rights as humans – something that the Socialist Government denies. Some critics questioned why Spain should afford legal protection from death or torture to great apes but not bulls. But Mr Pozas said that the vote would set a precedent, establishing legal rights for animals that could be extended to other species. “We are seeking to break the species barrier – we are just the point of the spear,” he said.
Spain's resolution is regarded as a landmark move against "speciesism," or human exeptionalism, but other countries have taken steps in recent years toward recognizing nonhuman apes as moral persons who possess an inherent worth and dignity.
In 2002, Germany's parliament voted to add the phrase "and animals" to a clause in the country's constitution requiring the state to uphold the dignity of humans. In 1992, Switzerland passed an amendment to its constitution that recognized animals as "beings," and not "things."
Last year, the parliament of Spain's Balearic Islands endorsed the Declaration on Great Apes.