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10 Feb, 2022 11:16

Swiss to vote on fundamental rights for apes

Citizens in the Basel-Stadt canton will decide whether their fundamental rights should be extended to non-human primates
Swiss to vote on fundamental rights for apes

On Sunday, residents in the northern Swiss region of Basel-Stadt will take to the polls to decide whether non-human anthropoids should enjoy the same basic rights as their human cousins. 

The vote has been instigated by campaign group Sentience under Switzerland’s direct democracy system after amassing more than 100,000 signatures. 

The country's supreme court gave it the go-ahead after cantonal and city governments claimed the vote would violate federal law.

Sentience, which launched the campaign in 2016, said it was “thrilled at this historic decision,” after the supreme court threw out the regional government’s objections.

Basel-Stadt’s residents will vote on whether to give primates the right to life, as well as the right to “mental and physical integrity.” 

“This will mark the first time worldwide that people can vote on fundamental rights for non-human animals,” the group claims.

The group says that all primates are highly intelligent and experience human-like feelings and emotions, such as pain, grief, and compassion. It adds that they also maintain an active social life.

“Non-human primates have a fundamental interest in their life and physical and mental integrity,” Sentience stated, adding: “However, this is hardly taken into account by the Swiss animal welfare legislation.”

According to Sentience, some 150 primates live in the canton, which borders France and Germany.
Some experts have raised objections to the vote. Basel Zoo board member Olivier Pagan noted concerns around euthanasia.

“If the initiative was adopted, the scrutiny of their well-being and safety would no longer be the responsibility of experienced biologists, veterinarians and experienced caregivers, but of a mediator... or even unqualified lawyers,” he told AFP. 

Zoo veterinarian Fabia Wyss concurred, noting that, under the proposals, if she put an animal to sleep, she would be putting herself beyond the law.