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article imageArgentine court grants 'non-human rights' to orangutan

By Karen Graham     Dec 21, 2014 in Odd News
Buenos Aires - An Argentine judge has granted "non-human rights" to an orangutan being kept locked up in a zoo. The case is sure to raise the ire of creationists, and they will jump on this story like a "duck-on-a-Junebug."
The story started back in November, when an animal rights group filed a petition of Habeas Corpus, {a document more commonly used to challenge the legality of a person's being held against their will or in prison), on behalf of Sandra, a 29-year-old Sumatran orangutan in the Buenos Aires zoo.
Arguing that Sandra had "sufficient cognitive functions and should not be treated as an object," the Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA) won a landmark decision that will pave the way for many more lawsuits.
Lawyers for the orangutan were specific in their arguments, saying she was being illegally detained, and was "a person" in the philosophical, not biological, sense of the word. The animal rights lawyers were essentially giving human attributes to an animal, but Sandra's lawyers insisted she was actually a non-human person.
The Argentine court system had rejected the writ of Habeas Corpus several times before, and apparently decided to go ahead and rule in favor of Sandra's rights this time. The court agreed with the argument, saying the orangutan, born in captivity in Germany over 20 years ago deserved the "basic rights of a non-human person."
The Buenos Aires zoo has 10 working days to file an appeal in this case, otherwise, Sandra will be transferred to a primate sanctuary in Brazil where she can live in partial liberty. She will be much happier there because while in the zoo, she repeatedly avoided being seen by the public.
"This opens the way not only for other Great Apes, but also for other sentient beings which are unfairly and arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in zoos, circuses, water parks and scientific laboratories," Reuters quoted AFADA lawyer Paul Buompadre as saying.
This case is not the first time an animal rights group has used a writ of Habeas Corpus to try to get animals freed from captivity. On December 4, a New Tork state appeals court ruled that "Tommy," a chimpanzee, could not be considered a "legal person" as it "cannot bear any legal duties."
The appeals court judges wrote: "So far as legal theory is concerned, a person is any being whom the law regards as capable of rights and duties. Needless to say, unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions.''
Sandra's case is going to be argued for some time to come. Some people say giving "rights" to a non-human reduces the intrinsic value of the human race, belittling our dominion over animals. It can be argued that we as a society embrace the notion of "human exceptionalism." This is the belief held by many that humans are the most significant species on the planet, or in other words, because of our moral code, we have more value than an animal.
That argument is sure to set people to thinking. But in this particular ruling, animal rights activists have raised animals to the level of humans, but at the same time, reduced humans to the level of animals. So what does that mean for the lowliest in our human society? Will they also be considered "non-human persons?"
More about Orangutan, Person, philosophical sense, Argentina court, nonhuman person
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