Leaders of Pacific Islands grant whales & dolphins ‘personhood’ status 

News Excerpt: 

Indigenous leaders of the Pacific Islands of New Zealand, Tonga, Tahiti, and the Cook Islands have signed an international treaty granting cetaceans like whales, dolphins, and porpoises legal personhood. 

More about the news: 

  • The treaty signed allows large marine animals the right to freedom, life, and movement, freedom of natural behavior, and freedom to live in a healthy environment. 
  • These animals are protected not only for their high cognition and complex thinking but also for their importance to ecosystems. Such efforts focus mainly on animals of high intelligence and the “self-aware” ones.
  • The island nations are not the first to make legal changes to give more rights to animals. 
    • Many countries like Pakistan, the US, Spain, Germany, and Argentina have given rights to animals, and 
    • Some like Switzerland, have done that by amending their Constitutions. 
  • Cetacean rights are becoming more commonly discussed in international courts in the face of more findings, with sea parks and dolphinariums raising these animals in captivity to perform tricks.
  • Panama, meanwhile, has granted legal rights to sea turtles. 
  • Ecuador was the first country in the world to bestow legal rights to nature, followed by Bolivia, Uganda, Panama, and others. 
  • Pittsburgh has recognized the rights of nature. 
  • Some courts have even granted rights to environmental entities —water bodies in most cases. 
    • The Magpie River in Canada, 
    • the Atrato River in Colombia, 
    • the Whanganui River in New Zealand, 
    • Spain’s saltwater lagoon Mar Menor, and 
    • The Klamath River in the US has rights, which range from the right to exist as an ecosystem to the right to regenerate or evolve naturally.

In India's Context:

India was among the first countries to declare dolphins and whales as “non-human persons” in 2013.

  • In India, the declaration supplements protections accorded to cetaceans under the Wild Life (Protection) Act of 1972. 
  • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change recognizes cetaceans as having high levels of intelligence and complexity of life, prohibiting their shows in water parks, dolphinariums, or aquariums since the 2013 declaration.
    • Project Dolphin was announced in 2020 to boost marine and freshwater river dolphin populations. 
    • Last year, the Ganges river dolphin was declared India’s official aquatic animal.

Different states have attempted to provide these rights to different animals: 

  • The Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) has been pressuring courts to give personhood status to elephants, among the most intelligent animals on the planet.
  • The Uttarakhand High Court noted in 2018 that “the entire animal kingdom, including avian and aquatic, are declared as legal entities having a distinct persona with corresponding rights, duties, and liabilities of a living person”
  • In 2019, the Haryana High Court ruled that animals in India are entitled to the “fundamental right to freedom” under Article 21 of the Constitution. 

Personhood for plants, water bodies, and nature:

  • In 2017, the Uttarakhand High Court recognized rivers as legal, living persons with human rights.
  • The High Court also appointed officials as legal custodians to protect the rivers. However, the Supreme Court later overturned this ruling.
  • The Uttarakhand High Court has also recognized Himalayan glaciers, lakes, and forests in the state as legal persons. 
  • In 2020, the Punjab and Haryana High Court bestowed personhood on the Sukhna Lake — a key reservoir in the Himalayas.
    • In 2022, the Madras High Court ruled that nature and the environment have rights, obligating the government to act as their guardian using its parens' patriae jurisdiction.
  • It is the right to call upon the government to act as a guardian for those who cannot care for themselves. 
  • While the above judgments are binding at the state level, there’s no countrywide legal personhood law for animals, plants, water bodies, or nature. 

About FIAPO: 

  • The Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations is India’s apex animal rights organization. 
  • Vision: Recognition and respect for animal rights in society.
  • Long Term Goals 
    • To end the use of animals in food and clothing.
    • To foster a positive human-companion-animal relationship (in streets and homes).
    • To end the use of animals in experimentation.
    • To end the use of working animals, animals in entertainment, and animal sacrifice.
    • To improve the framework of animal protection in the country.

Book A Free Counseling Session