Apeus corpus? Chimps not human, says New York court

Apeus corpus? Chimps not human, says New York court
A New York court has ruled that a chimpanzee is not legally a person and is therefore not entitled to human rights. An animal rights group had sought to free a chimp from captivity, likening it to a person suffering unlawful solitary confinement.

Tommy is the great ape at the center of the scandal. Formerly in the entertainment business, his life has fallen on harder times and he’s forced to live in a cage on his own in upstate New York.

His owner Patrick Lavery, who’s had Tommy for 10 years, claims he is well-cared-for under strict state and federal license rules and inspections. He says Tommy lives in a seven room enclosure and has access to lots of toys and other forms of entertainment, according to AP.

AFP Photo / Tony Karumba

The case was put forward by the Nonhuman Rights Project, who wanted Tommy to be released from captivity and sent to a wildlife refuge in Florida to enjoy his retirement. A spokeswoman for the group Eyder Peralta stated why she believes chimps should not be kept in cages in solitary confinement.

"The argument has been that scientists have found that a chimp is cognitively similar to humans, therefore deserves some of the same rights. In this case, the Nonhuman Rights Project is asking the court for a writ of habeas corpus, which compels a person's captor to explain why he has a right to hold a person captive," she said

However, the courts have failed to see the group’s point of view. An appeals court in October ruled against the Nonhuman Rights Project in October and Tommy’s hopes for freedom have been dashed again after panel of five judges at New York Supreme Court's appellate division voted unanimously to deny Tommy legal personhood.

READ MORE: Human rights for chimpanzees? NY court to decide in landmark legal battle

"Needless to say, unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions. In our view, it is this incapability to bear any legal responsibilities and societal duties that renders it inappropriate to confer upon chimpanzees the legal rights — such as the fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus — that have been afforded to human beings," an extract from the ruling stated.

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AFP Photo / Sia Kambou

The decision was welcomed by Tommy’s owner.

"I just couldn't picture any court granting habeas corpus for an animal," he said. "If it works for one animal, it works for all animals. It would open a can of worms," Lavery said.

The Nonhuman Rights Project says it will once again appeal the decision.

"It is time for the common law to recognize that these facts are sufficient to establish personhood for the purpose of a writ of habeas corpus," the organization said, referring to characteristics of chimps it says are "similar to those possessed by human beings," the organization said in a statement.

There is some light at the end of the tunnel though for the Nonhuman Rights Project as the judges in the court added that the decision does not leave chimps defenseless. The judges cited legal protections to animals, including the fact that New Yorkers may not possess primates as pets.

"Thus, while petitioner has failed to establish that common-law relief in the nature of habeas corpus is appropriate here, it is fully able to importune the Legislature to extend further legal protections to chimpanzees," the judges said, as published on the Nonhuman Rights Project’s website.