The issue on animal welfare and protection of animals is an important issue that has been inadequately addressed by the existing laws in Sri Lanka. The law on animal cruelty as it stands is an archaic one as the country has experienced its last amendment to the law addressing cruelty to animals in 1955, and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance of 1907 under which welfare of animals is taken into consideration is over a century old, and needing urgent reforms with outdated fines, and the implementation being on a rare occasion.
Article 27(14) of the current Constitution of Sri Lanka under chapter 6 which gives out Directive Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Duties provide that “The State shall protect,preserve and improve the environment for the benefit of the community”. However, in Article 29 it is stated that these Principles of State Policy and Fundamental Duties are not justiciable under any court or tribunal of law thus creating problems in implementation.
"There is a need for constitutional protection of animal welfare and it being recognised by The Report on Public Representations on Constitutional Reform is welcome news for all those who are concerned with animal welfare in Sri Lanka. It is a welcome step, and a hope that the long due Animal Welfare Bill of Sri Lanka will be on its way for enactment by the Parliament in the near future."
That being said the draft Animal Welfare Bill is in the process of being presented to the parliament with the objective of replacing the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance of 1907, and to recognise duty of care for persons in charge of animals to treat the animals humanely, to prevent cruelty to animals and to secure the protection and welfare of animals, to establish a National Animal Welfare Authority and Regulations and Codes of Practice and to raise awareness on animal welfare. “The present law in Sri Lanka does not provide for the protection of animals against cruelty inflicted on them. They are archaic, and are not sufficient deterrents to prevent those who indulge in inhumane treatment towards animals to not act in that manner,” said Attorney-at-Law, Vositha Wijenayake, the Convener of Animal Welfare Coalition of Sri Lanka.
Recommendations for Constitutional Reform
The Report on Public Representations on Constitutional Reform which was recently presented to the Prime Minister in May 2016 has discussed the inclusion of Animal Rights in the constitution. It states that the representations have brought forward the argument on the basis that there is a need to include animal rights as a Constitutional provision and brings forward several examples from Constitutions of countries such as New Zealand, France and Austria which have recognised animals as sentient beings. The representations have also pointed out the gap in implementation when it comes to protecting animal rights.
“In many countries animals are treated as sentient beings, and are provided protection through their Constitutions. It is a great step forward to see that the recommendations made for constitutional reform have taken into consideration the need to provide protection, humane and compassionate treatment for animals,” said Ms. Wijenayake.
The Public Representation Committee on Constitutional Reform has recommended a clause enshrining justiciable protection for animals preventing cruelty and promoting their welfare to be considered for inclusion in the Bill of Rights. The Committee has further stated that this should ensure humane and compassionate treatment of animals.
These recommendations are a welcome addition to the report and are in line with countries, which have afforded protection for animal rights and examples of such countries are given below
Animal Friendly Constitutions
• New Zealand
The New Zealand Parliament unanimously passed the Animal Welfare Amendment Act (No. 2) 2015, which included an amendment to the long title of the principal legislation, the Animal Welfare Act 1999, in order to specifically recognise animals as sentient. This legislation requires owners of animals, and persons in charge of animals, to attend properly to the welfare of those animals.
In 2015 France officially recognised animals as ‘living, sentient beings. This is significant due to the fact that prior to 2015, the law which came from several hundred years ago still referred to members of the animal kingdom as ‘moveables’ which gave animals the same rights as tables and chairs.
In the Austrian constitution Article 1 of the principal animal welfare legislation in Austria, the Austrian Animal Welfare Act 2004, states that the aim of the Act is the protection of the life and welfare of animals in the light of the particular responsibility that mankind bears to animals as fellow creatures of mankind, suggesting some equivalence between humans and animals, and therefore implicitly recognising the concept of sentience.
Upon its introduction, the Animal Welfare Act 2004 represented some of the world’s toughest animal protection legislation and was introduced with the unanimous support of the main political parties in Austria. The government is committed to protecting animal welfare and dissemination of this aim through society is promoted by the fact that each state is required to appoint an animal welfare Ombudsman.
In India animal protection objectives were included in the Indian constitution from its adoption in 1950. In particular, Article 48, which dealt with agriculture, included a prohibition on the slaughter of cows, calves and other milk and draught animals. Section 11 (1) (a) to (o) of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 prescribes and enumerates different forms of cruelty to animals. In 1974, further provisions were introduced including Article 51A, which made it a duty of every citizen of India “(g) to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures”. India being our closest neighbour has developed this awareness and compassion towards animal rights due to the fact that its first leaders Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru both loved and respected nature. However India recognises the fact that there is room for improvement in its animal welfare.
There is a need for Constitutional protection of animal welfare and it being recognised by The Report on Public Representations on Constitutional Reform is welcome news for all those who are concerned with animal welfare in Sri Lanka. It is a welcome step, and a hope that the long due Animal Welfare Bill of Sri Lanka will be on its way for enactment.