Verdict follows 2014 grant of habeas corpus to an orangutan––but writs set neither animal free
MENDOZA, Argentina––A writ of habeas corpus granted on behalf of a chimpanzee named Cecelia on November 3, 2016 by Judge Maria Alejandra Mauricio, of the Third Court of Guarantees in Mendoza, Argentina, may expedite the proposed transfer of Cecelia from the Mendoza Zoo to the Great Primates Sanctuary of Sorocaba, near Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The sanctuary, operated by the Great Ape Project, would significantly improve Cecilia’s quality of life.
“Animals are not things any more”
According to Argentina Lawyers Association for the Rights of Animals (AFADA) president Pablo Buompadre, in a statement published on the Great Ape Project web page, “The habeas corpus recognition means that animals are not things any more, and puts them in the right place, recognizing their rights. We think that legal recognition is a very important step to assist in the release of other animals,” Buompadre said, “beginning with Cecilia, whose species is the most similar to humans.”
Like a writ of habeas corpus granted by the Argentinian Second Appeals Court in December 2014 on behalf of an orangutan named Sandra, the Cecilia verdict resulted from litigation filed by AFADA and the Great Ape Project.
But ruling may not change much
But––contrary to much hyperbole from online animal advocacy media––the writ of habeas corpus followed Argentinian legal precedent, specifically the earlier Sandra ruling.
As with writ of habeas corpus issued on behalf of Sandra, the writ of habeas corpus granted on behalf of Cecilia does not necessarily mean Cecilia will be transferred, although––unlike in the Sandra case––the proposed transfer is likely.
Most significantly, the writ of habeas corpus granted to Cecilia ––according to Judge Mauricio’s own 46-page explanation of the verdict––is not the step toward legal recognition of “personhood” for non-human great apes that others have pursued in unsuccessfully seeking writs of habeas corpus on behalf of chimpanzees in the U.S. and Austria.
Quirk in Argentinian law
Rather, like the ruling in the Sandra case, Judge Mauricio’s verdict results from a quirk in the structure of Argentine law.
Unlike either Anglo-Saxon common law, which forms the framework of law in the U.S. and most of the other nations that were once part of the British Empire, and unlike Napoleonic law, which is the foundation of law in much of Europe and the Middle East, Argentine law uniquely “was the first civil law that consciously adopted as its cornerstone the distinction between rights from obligations and real property rights,” summarizes Wikipedia.
This, Argentine courts have previously found, means that certain types of property, including animals, can possess some limited rights derived from human obligations.
“Not talking about civil rights”
In the Sandra case, wrote the Argentinian Second Appeals Court bench, in a unanimous decision, “We acknowledge that an animal is an individual with rights, and therefore non-human individuals (animals) are possessors of rights, such that they are protected according to the appropriate measures.”
In the Cecilia case, specified Judge Mauricio to the newspaper Los Andes, “We are not talking about the civil rights enshrined in the Civil Code,” which are reserved to humans, “but instead about the species’ own rights,” including the right to live in appropriate habitat.
Judge Mauricio’s decision concluded, as did the verdict in the Sandra case, that the writ of habeas corpus, as defined by Argentinian law, would be the most appropriate vehicle to use in ordering that Cecilia should be transferred to facilities more appropriate to her needs, and that the conditions for other animals at the Mendoza Zoo should also be improved.
Writ “starts the process”
Founded in 1903, the Mendoza Zoo was initially stocked with animals deemed “surplus” at the Buenos Aires Zoo, which had been founded as the Palermo Zoo in 1875. Having outgrown the initial location, the Mendoza Zoo was moved to the present site in 1941, which was never completed to the original design standards.
The Cecilia verdict, said the Great Ape Project, “starts the documentation process with the authorities of Argentina and Brazil to arrange Cecilia´s transfer to the Great Apes Sanctuary of Sorocaba. We cannot yet set a deadline or date of transfer, given the complexity of the process, but the sanctuary is ready to receive Cecilia and do all the follow-up necessary to adapt Cecilia,” who has been housed alone, “to her new life with her fellow chimpanzees.”
Orangutan Sandra remains in jail
Because Cecilia already has somewhere to go, the writ of habeas corpus issued on her behalf is like to be much more meaningful to her than the Sandra verdict has so far been to Sandra the orangutan.
Explained Luis Andres Henao and Almudena Calatrava of Associated Press on September 29, 2016, “Sandra remains in a concrete cell in Buenos Aires and may never see the rainforests of her ancestors.
“Sandra’s release seemed imminent,” Henao and Calatrava wrote, “after an Argentine court said in 2014 that she was entitled to some legal rights enjoyed by humans in a landmark ruling. It seemed even nearer when the 140-year-old zoo where Sandra has lived for most of her life closed its doors this year and officials announced that hundreds of its animals would be set free as the zoo is transformed into a park.
Hybrid status limits options
“But now Judge Elena Liberatori, who fought to free the 32-year-old orangutan, is agreeing with her caretakers that it might be best just to improve the conditions of her cage, instead of sending her to a reserve abroad, because such a move would put her life at risk.”
Born at the Rostock Zoo in Germany, Sandra was transferred to the Buenos Aires Zoo in 1994. She has no experience in the wild, and is “classed genetically as a hybrid orangutan—half Sumatran, half Bornean,” Henao and Calatrava explained, meaning that she could not be released into the wild with any reasonable chance of survival, and under international conservation protocols in effect since 1995, could not be introduced into any population in either the wild or captivity where she might have the opportunity to breed.
While Judge Liberatori ruled in a 2015 follow-up to her original writ of habeas corpus that Sandra is legally “not an animal but a non-human person,” Henao and Calatrava summarized, whatever “human” rights were won for Sandra did not include the right to choose her own mate or companions.
Matthew Hiasl Pan
Association Against Animal Factories founder Martin Balluch, of Vienna, Austria, brought the first “personhood” case on behalf of a great ape in 2007, seeking to have a chimpanzee named Matthew Hiasl Pan declared legally a person.
Matthew Hiasl Pan and a companion, Rosi, were captured in Sierra Leone in 1982 and smuggled into Austria for laboratory use, but were rescued and sent to the sanctuary by Austrian customs agents. The sanctuary subsequently went bankrupt. Balluch sought personhood status for Matthew Hiasl Pan in hopes of ensuring that he would not be sold abroad by creditors, beyond Austrian protection.
But the Austrian Supreme Court in January 2008 rejected Balluch’s last appeal. The European Court of Justice in early 2010 declined to hear further appeals brought by Balluch and British teacher Paula Stibbe, who had worked with Matthew Hiasl Pan for nine years and hoped to be declared his legal guardian.
While hundreds and perhaps thousands of academic papers and even some entire books have discussed the Matthew Hiasl Pan case since then, there seems to be no written record of what became of either Matthew Hiasl Pan or Rosi subsequent to the court verdicts––at least under those names.
Hercules & Leo
Similar cases brought in the U.S. by Center for Nonhuman Rights Project founder Steven Wise have failed to advance. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe in April 2015 ordered Stony Brook University to show cause why two chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, should not be released under a writ of habeas corpus from confinement for biomedical research. In July 2015, however, Jaffe rejected the appeal for a writ of habeas corpus.
Hercules and Leo were in December 2015 relocated to the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana. In May 2016 the New Iberia Research Center announced that it would eventually retire the entire NIRC chimp colony, about 220 chimps in all, to a new Project Chimps sanctuary under construction in Blue Ridge, Georgia.