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Islamabad High Court Recognizes the Rights of Nonhuman Animals

By Lauren Choplin

Today we issued the following press release regarding a decision in support of nonhuman rights issued by the Islamabad High Court in Pakistan:

Islamabad High Court Recognizes the Rights of Nonhuman Animals

Justice Athar Minallah: “Do … animals have legal rights? The answer to this question, without any hesitation, is in the affirmative.”

May 21, 2020—The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) applauds a decision issued today by the Islamabad High Court in Pakistan that “without any hesitation” affirms the rights of nonhuman animals and specifically orders the release to sanctuary of an Asian elephant named Kaavan held in solitary confinement at the Marghazar Zoo.

Chief Justice Athar Minallah’s decision, which came about as a result of three petitions filed on behalf of diverse species, begins with a reflection on how the COVID-19 crisis has presented “an opportunity for humans to introspect and relate to the pain and distress suffered by other living beings” caused by “the arrogance” of humans.

The NhRP sees this decision, which favorably references the NhRP’s litigation, as a tremendous sign of progress in the global fight for nonhuman animal rights, which the NhRP initiated in the US in 2013.

“Justice Minallah’s careful consideration of nonhuman animal rights alongside human rights and environmental protection is the only fitting judicial response to the existential crises faced by animals all over the world,” the NhRP’s Executive Director Kevin Schneider said. “The bold step forward he has taken on behalf of oppressed nonhuman beings like Kaavan is laudable, as is the persistence of Kaavan’s advocates who’ve fought so tirelessly for him. We look forward to bringing this decision to the attention of the New York and Connecticut courts as we urge them to recognize our elephant clients’ Happy and Minnie’s right to liberty.”

In the decision, Judge Minallah refers to the NhRP’s client Happy as an “inmate” at the Bronx Zoo and writes that “zoos do not serve any purpose except to display their living inmates as exhibits to visitors.”

He also cites to Justice Alison Y. Tuitt’s February 2020 decision in Happy’s case in which she found that Happy “is more than just a legal thing, or property. She is an intelligent, autonomous being who should be treated with respect and dignity, and who may be entitled to liberty.” The Islamabad High Court is the second court outside the US to have cited to Tuitt’s decision in the four months since it was issued and the latest to cite to New York Court of Appeals Judge Eugene Fahey’s rejection of chimpanzees’ legal “thinghood” in the NhRP’s chimpanzee rights cases.

The NhRP is at work on an appeal of Justice Tuitt’s decision, which did not recognize Happy as a legal person with the right to liberty because Justice Tuitt felt bound by a prior decision in the NhRP’s cases. The NhRP is also seeking appeal in the Connecticut Supreme Court, arguing that the courts there have thus far unjustly refused to engage with the issues raised by Minnie’s elephant rights case.

“For countless nonhuman animals, a lifetime of imprisonment, loneliness, and loss is all they’ll ever know,” NhRP President Steven M. Wise said. “At a time when the interconnectedness of human and nonhuman well-being has never been more apparent, we are thrilled for Kaavan and grateful to Justice Minallah for standing up for the rights of nonhuman animals—not only for the sake of the animals themselves, but also to uphold the values and principles of justice that protect us all.”

To read Justice Minallah’s decision, visit this page. To read Justice Alison Y. Tuitt’s decision, visit this page. To read Judge Eugene Fahey’s opinion, visit this page.


About the Nonhuman Rights Project
The Nonhuman Rights Project is the only civil rights organization in the United States working through litigation, legislation, and education to secure fundamental rights for nonhuman animals.

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