Thursday, 5 April 2007 12:00 AM
As judges in Austria face a decision over whether a chimpanzee named Hiasl deserves a legal guardian and should be granted human rights as an ape, Animal Defenders international (ADI) supports experts in the case who argue for him being given 'personhood'.
Jan Creamer, chief executive of ADI, commented: "The case which opened on the 20th February 2007 will have considerable implications if Hiasl is granted a legal guardian. It will be the first time the species barrier will have been crossed for legal 'personhood'. Hiasl's case shows that we as humans need to evaluate the relationship we have with the other primates and recognise that our exploitation and mistreatment of them cannot be justified."
ADI's 'My Mate's A Primate' report was the first campaign of its kind to highlight how close chimpanzees are to humans with personalities and the ability to express emotions such as happiness, compassion, sadness, affection and anger. Their intelligence is borne out by the fact that they have been taught to communicate in human sign language.
Expert statements from primatologists and professors of law in the case argue that chimps can biologically be considered as humans, that they fulfil the necessary conditions for personhood and therefore in the eyes of the law should be considered a person deserving a legal guardian to safeguard their interests.
There is evidence of growing support for apes to be granted rights with the Balearic Parliament having already endorsed the idea and Spain promoting a similar parliamentary initiative to grant rights to great apes on the basis of their intelligence and emotional closeness to humans. New Zealand granted rights to apes in 1999, and the UK government banned experiments on Great Apes in 1997.
Spanish MPs are being urged to back a similar principle, held dear by the international organisation The Great Ape Project - that apes be granted the right to life, freedom and protection from torture.
The European Parliament will be considering a ban on the use of primates, especially, Great Apes, this year. ADI has sponsored a Written Declaration to be launched on World Laboratory Animals Day (24 April), calling for a ban on the use of primates in experiments in the EU.
This follows over 233 signatories to the Berlin Declaration, which in 2005 called for an end to the use of primates in research. 25 leading animal welfare groups had gathered in Berlin for the Congress on Alternatives to animals in research.
Background to chimp Hiasl case
A British woman, Paula Stibbe, has applied to become the legal guardian of 26-year-old chimpanzee Hiasl.
In 1982, baby Hiasl was snatched from the wild in Sierra Leone, West Africa and illegally taken to Vienna, destined for AIDS and hepatitis research at a lab belonging to Immuno. However Hiasl and seven other chimps were seized by customs. He was then raised in a human family until he was 10 years old and later placed in a sanctuary which is now bankrupt. So he may end up in the vivisection laboratory after all.
Dr. Martin Balluch, of Austrian animal rights group VGT (Verein Gegen Tierfabriken),who has worked to bring the case, is now demanding a legal guardian for Hiasl who remains at the sanctuary with a female chimp from the original 1982 shipment. Dr. Balluch told ADI that although the judge has up to six months to reach a decision, he expects a decision to be made within the next few weeks.