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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Animal Rights – A Voice For The Voiceless

Animals are not treated well in Pakistani zoos. Even the laws made for their protection are not playing a vital role in safeguarding of animals.

Kawaan suffered terribly for most of his life, but at last, his story has a happy ending. The lonely elephant spent many years in solitude. Mercifully, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) ordered that the elephant be found a suitable sanctuary.

Nonetheless, there are still innumerable animals that are in a similar plight in the country, enduring torment in silence. Unable to express their agony and depressed and miserable as a result. A recent judgement of  Athar Minallah, C.J. on animal rights suggests that there is a new hope of mercy for the voiceless beings.

Animals Act in Pakistan

Looking back, Pakistan has over a century-old law, The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1890, introduced by the British to protect animals and yet animals in Pakistan have suffered since time immemorial. The reason could be the very basic protection the act provides to domesticated animals and those that have been captured, leaving animals at large and particularly the wild animals in peril.

The act was amended in 2018, merely slightly increasing the punishments for cruelty towards animals. The act still lacks adequate protections for the animals.

While there are certain inadequate laws in place at the provincial level, such as The Punjab Animals Slaughter Control Act of 1963, the law at the federal level is mostly silent with no adequate protection for the voiceless beings as well, for example, The Pakistan Halal Authority Act of 2016 distinguishes between halal and non-halal animals.

It provides the rules and requirements of the animals to be slaughtered but the purpose remains to promote imports and exports, trade and commerce with foreign countries and inter-provincial trade and commerce in Halal articles and processes and not prevention of cruelty to animals. It could then be said that the law fails to provide adequate protection to animals.

Read More: Shortage of vets spells misery for Karachi zoo animals

The supreme law, the Constitution was considered to be silent on the subject of animal rights as well. The recent IHC judgement is a landmark in the sense that the honourable judge interpreted Article 9 and 31 of the Constitution in a new light, thereby paving the way for animal rights straight into the Constitution. Although the Constitution doesn’t expressly provide protection to animals, interpretation of Article 9 and  31 of the Constitution by the judge in the case implies that the animals do have rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Animals act in the light of Quran and Sunnah

Article 31 states, steps shall be taken to enable the Muslims of Pakistan, individually and collectively, to order their lives in accordance with the fundamental principles and basic concepts of Islam and to provide facilities whereby they may be enabled to understand the meaning of life according to the Holy Quran and Sunnah.

It is inconceivable that, in a society where the majority follow the religion of Islam, that an animal could be harmed or treated in a cruel manner.

Having quoted several verses from the Quran and the Sunnah/Ahadith of the Holy Prophet, the Court stated inter alia, ‘it is inconceivable that, in a society where the majority follow the religion of Islam, that an animal could be harmed or treated in a cruel manner.’

Article 9 states, no person shall be deprived of life or liberty save in accordance with the law. Interpreting the said Article, the judge inter alia stated, ‘the welfare, wellbeing and survival of the animal species is the foundational principle for the survival of the human race on this planet. Without the wildlife species, there will be no human life on this planet. It is, therefore, obvious that neglect of the welfare and wellbeing of the animal species, or any treatment of an animal that subjects it to unnecessary pain or suffering, has implications for the right of life of humans guaranteed under Article 9 of the Constitution.’

Wildlife Ordinance 1979: Safeguarding and relocation of animals

It is absolutely noteworthy that the judge considered not only Kaavan the elephant but other animals in peril at the subject zoo as well, including two brown bears, the marsh crocodile, lions, birds, wolves, ostriches etc while making note of their sufferings and directing that the Board constituted under the Wildlife Ordinance of 1979 relocate all the remaining animals to their respective sanctuaries.

In a nutshell, the relationship of the treatment of animals and the right to life of humans makes it an obligation of the State and its authorities to jealously guard against the cruel and illegal treatment of animals. Protecting, preserving and conserving the animal species and preventing it from harm is a constitutional obligation of the State and the authorities stated the Court.

Read more: Animals are dying in Pakistan’s zoos & no one cares

Saving animals from misery in the future, the Court directed that, the Board shall not keep any new animal in the Zoo till a reputable international agency/organization, specializing in matters relating to zoological gardens, has certified that facilities and resources are available to provide for the behavioural, social and physiological needs of each species of animals.

COVID-19 affects human behaviour towards animals

Novel coronavirus has taught the entire humankind to be more considerate of animals that get locked up in confinement for the enjoyment of human beings. During these times, I have huge respect for the judiciary of Pakistan for granting rights to animals being mistreated in the Zoo and giving voiceless animals a new hope for mercy and a chance at happiness.

That being said, the latest report of Animal Protection Index published in March 2020 ranks Pakistan at a ranking of E from A (the highest score) to G (the weakest score). It further states the Government of Pakistan has not pledged in-principle support for the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare.

It is time that the government of Pakistan expressly grant adequate rights to its animals in accordance with high international standards. The woes of a plethora of animals remain unheard.

The writer is a Barrister of the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, lecturer of constitutional and civil law and a human rights activist. She tweets at RidaT95. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.