Skip to content
News, Stories

Islamabad High Court: Human beings have a duty to protect nonhuman animal rights

By Lauren Choplin

After issuing a decision celebrated around the world that “without any hesitation” affirmed the rights of elephants and other nonhuman animals, the Islamabad High Court in Pakistan continues to pay close attention to and express support for the NhRP’s nonhuman rights cases, especially our litigation to #FreeHappy from the Bronx Zoo to a sanctuary.

Chief Justice Athar Minhallah’s May 2020 decision specifically ordered the release to sanctuary of an elephant named Kaavan who, like Happy, has been held in solitary confinement for years despite the harm this is known to cause elephants.

Today, Justice Minhallah issued his eagerly awaited court order as to where Kaavan should go. We were pleased to see not only that Justice Minhallah accepted the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board’s recommendation to release Kaavan to Lek Chailert’s 25,000-acre elephant sanctuary in Cambodia (as Free the Wild was urging the Court to do with the NhRP’s support); he also chose to comment further on the urgent need for nonhuman rights, commended the amicus curiae brief Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe submitted in support of Happy’s case, and highlighted elected officials’ positive responses to the decision:

This Court records its profound appreciation for the empathy, compassion and care displayed by the Federal Government and the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Imran Khan, in particular. They have not only recognized and affirmed the jurisprudence explained by this Court in the Judgment but have simultaneously acknowledged that animal species have inherent rights and that humans have a fiduciary duty to jealously guard and protect those rights so as to save its own specie[s] on this planet from becoming extinct. It is heartening because the Prime Minister of Pakistan and his Government, by endorsing the Judgment and giving effect to its jurisprudence, have enabled the State of Pakistan to take a lead amongst the comity of nations in the context of recognition of the principle that the right place and home for wild animals is their respective natural habitat and not the four walls or confined boundaries of a zoo, even under the best of circumstances and in the most well managed zoological gardens. It is a solemn affirmation of the principle that animal species are sentient and thus cannot be subjected to pain and suffering due to captivity in the environment of a zoo, unless it is absolutely necessary and is in the interest of the animal species. The jurisprudence of this Court has also caught the attention of jurists outside Pakistan. Professor Laurence H. Tribe, renowned scholar and faculty of Harvard Law School, has referred to the Judgment in his amicus brief submitted before the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, United States of America. The matter relates to the filing of an appeal by the Nonhuman Rights Project on behalf of ‘Happy’, an elephant held in captivity in the Bronx Zoo.

You can read the court order in its entirety here.

While the decisions of Islamabad High Court obviously don’t have a direct bearing on our US litigation, Justice Minhallah has lit a beacon in support of the fight for nonhuman rights that has the potential to be seen and followed by courts around the world. His decision also shows that nonhuman rights are not to be feared, but rather, embraced and celebrated as the only just and sustainable way forward—for human and nonhuman beings alike.

Sign up to receive the latest updates on our mission

Find out about opportunities to get involved, breaking news in our cases and campaigns, and more.