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NhRP Addresses Highest Court in Colombia in Chucho Bear Rights Case

By Lauren Choplin

On August 8, 2019, NhRP President Steven M. Wise, at the invitation of the Constitutional Court of Colombia, addressed a panel of nine judges during a hearing to determine whether a spectacled bear named Chucho is a legal person with the fundamental right to liberty protected by the writ of habeas corpus. In 2017, Chucho’s attorney, Luis Domingo Gómez Maldonado, a law professor at the Universidad Manuela Beltrán, filed an NhRP-inspired habeas corpus petition on the bear’s behalf after learning that the Corporación Autónoma Regional de Caldas (Corpocaldas) had used its authority as the entity responsible for environmental management in the region to transfer him from the Río Blanco Nature Reserve to the Barranquilla City Zoo. In so doing, Luis argues, Corpocaldas had deprived Chucho of his right to liberty, severely compromising his physical and emotional well-being.

In a first for Colombian animal law jurisprudence, Judge Luis Armando Tolosa Villabona agreed, granting the writ in July of 2017 and ordering Chucho transferred to a habitat with “full and dignified conditions in semi-captivity,” most likely La Planada Nature Reserve, where other spectacled bears live in the cloud forests of the Andes’ western slope. “If fictitious legal entities [such as corporations] are subjects of rights,” he wrote, “for what reason should those who are alive or are ‘sentient beings’ not be so?” Click here to read Judge Villabona’s ruling in its original Spanish or here to read an English translation by NhRP supporter Javier Salcedo.

A month later, a panel of the Colombian Supreme Court reversed the ruling, writing that “the writ of habeas corpus is inappropriate in the present case, because it was designed for persons, rational animals, not for nonhuman or irrational animals, and the foundations of such a decision [i.e.  granting a writ of habeas corpus to Chucho] are incompatible with the purpose for which the writ was created.”

Luis then appealed Chucho’s case to the Colombian Constitutional Court, which ordering a hearing. As Steve says in his video message, the question before the Court is “whether even the most fundamental interests of a species, like Chucho’s, should ever, under any circumstances, count. If it is possible that under any circumstances their fundamental interests should count, then they should be designated as persons, for this then gives them the capacity for legal rights to protect their most fundamental interests.”

Watch the video here:

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