Legal protection of animals and of the environment

Some of the cases studied by the team focus on how the notion of rights is used in court to defend animals and the environment without transforming them from ‘object or thing susceptible of ownership’ to legal persons. In the case of animals, the idea that some species should be given rights, which dates back to the 18th century (Bentham), takes on crucial importance in the current philosophical and legal debate. Initially advocated to oppose cruelty and to ensure animals’ basic well-being, such rights are now understood more broadly as the right to life, to dignity, to live in a natural habitat. Some cases studied by the team focus on how these arguments are used in court to defend animals and the environment.

In Italy, Vanessa Manceron, Giovanni Gugg and Isacco Turina work on cases of animal welfare, which is a relatively recent and historically less entrenched issue than in northern Europe. It is backed by NGOs, which may implement a broader programme of reforming Italian society by promoting the animal cause according to a political, legislative and legal agenda. It gives rise to thorny issues, since a large part of related disputes are linked to criminal organisations (‘ecomafias’, or ‘zoomafias’). While some activists favour direct action, others invest in institutions, with a reformist agenda of gradual improvement of animals’ legal protection and living conditions. The study focuses on the latter, in particular on NGOs which, through a network of committed lawyers, bring cases before the court to stop illegal acts such as dog fighting, wildlife smuggling, poaching, cattle theft, illegal betting on horse races, and to uphold the interests of animals.

In India, Daniela Berti studies the court’s handling of cases involving the presence of wild animals in town or those kept in captivity: leopards entering urban areas; monkeys living in buildings; birds kept in cages. She focuses on the stories behind these cases, the arguments used by the parties, and the issues these cases raise – of ownership, responsibility, dignity, cruelty, morality and different kinds of ‘rights’. The issue of defining wildlife in relation to domestication will also be addressed.

In Nepal, Chiara Letizia works on Public Interest Litigations against the mass animal sacrifice and on the rules governing animal transportation and on how these cases prompt judges to discuss the question of animal welfare and the entangled environmental issues. Mara Benadusi‘s research deals with cases involving elephants in zoos, animal orphanages, temples, and animals poached and sold in the Sri Lankan tourist industry. Animal rights organisations worldwide and their local branches run a long-standing campaign involving court action to defend elephants’ rights and to ensure their well-being. In China Stéphane Gros addresses the way national discourses about ‘national minorities’ and their right to cultural and religious differences intersect with transnational discourses about indigeneity and environmental protection in the context of the rapid expansion of protected natural areas.