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Argentine Appeals Court Rules Orangutan Has Right to Habeas Corpus

By Michael Mountain

What this means for chimpanzee cases in New York State

December 22, 2014: An Argentine appellate court has ruled that an orangutan named Sandra, who is on display at the Buenos Aires Zoo, is entitled to the right to habeas corpus.

In a 2-to-1 decision the court stated that the decision rests on a dynamic interpretation of Argentine’s habeas corpus statute.

The decision makes clear that nonhuman animals can bear rights and one of these rights is habeas corpus.

This decision sets a new precedent. And while it does not directly determine how judges may rule in a court in the United States, it certainly constitutes "persuasive authority" in how judges view similar cases.

How this will affect chimpanzee cases in New York

  • In Tommy’s case, an intermediate appellate court recently refused to grant Tommy a writ of habeas corpus, in part because a court had never done so before.
    Now a court has indeed so ruled.
  • The court in Tommy’s case also argued that a plaintiff has to be able to bear duties and responsibilities in order to be granted a right of any kind.
    The decision of the Argentine court has no mention of animals needing to have the capacity for duties in order to have rights.

The Nonhuman Rights Project will be bringing this ruling to the attention of the New York courts since we are currently seeking permission to appeal Tommy’s case to New York’s highest court and are also awaiting a decision from the intermediate appellate court in Kiko’s case.

"We intend to bring the Argentine case to the attention of the New York appellate courts immediately as we believe it will assist the courts in reaching a similar conclusion for our chimpanzee plaintiffs," said Steven M. Wise, President of the Nonhuman Rights Project.

The decision has important implications in that, for the first time, a court has ruled that a cognitively complex, autonomous, nonhuman animal – in this case an orangutan who, like our chimpanzee plaintiffs, is a great ape – has a right to habeas corpus.

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