The Rights of Apes – and Humans

MELBOURNE – On June 25, in a historic vote, the Spanish parliament’s Commission for the Environment, Agriculture, and Fisheries declared its support for The Great Ape Project, a proposal to grant rights to life, liberty, and protection from torture to our closest nonhuman relatives: chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans. Other countries, such as New Zealand and the United Kingdom, have taken steps to protect great apes from harmful experimentation, but no national parliament has declared that any animal could be a person with rights.

The resolution, which the full parliament is expected to adopt, directs the Spanish government to promote a similar European Union-wide declaration. It also calls on the government to adopt, within a year, legislation to prohibit potentially harmful experiments on great apes that are not in their interests.

Keeping great apes in captivity will be allowed for purposes of conservation only, and then under optimal conditions for the apes. Moreover, it recommends that Spain take steps in international forums and organizations to ensure that great apes are protected from maltreatment, slavery, torture, being killed, and being made extinct.

Paola Cavalieri and I founded The Great Ape Project in 1993 to break down the barriers between human and nonhuman animals. Researchers like Jane Goodall, Diane Fossey, and Birute Galdikas have shown that great apes are thinking, self-aware beings, with rich emotional lives, and thereby prepared the ground for extending basic rights to them.