Worldwide media about granting personhood and rights to Sandra Orangutan who currently languishes in the Buenos Aires Zoo needs closer scrutiny. Here, attorney Steven Wise, who heads the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), provides a very important clarification of the court's decision.
The Nonhuman Rights Project has been following the December 18, 2014 appellate court ruling concerning Sandra the orangutan. The initial media reports were expansive and contained numerous exciting quotations from the judges' decision. The NhRP downloaded the brief decision from the court website and engaged a highly-respected interpreter to translate it into English. Upon reviewing the translation, we immediately noticed that none of the quotations reported by the media were actually in the decision, and that the court did not appear to have issued a writ of habeas corpus, or ordered Sandra to a sanctuary. The key phrase: "... it is necessary to recognize the animal as a subject of rights, because non-human beings (animals) are entitled to rights, and therefore their protection is required by the corresponding jurisprudence" is not followed by citations to cases or statutes, but to two treatises. No examples of rights to which a nonhuman animal is entitled are given and there is no statement that either orangutans in general, or Sandra in particular, are entitled to any rights, including habeas corpus. The decision seems to indicate that a prosecutor is now involved. The NhRP is highly sensitive to the difficulties involved in interpreting a judicial decision not rendered in English in a Civil Law jurisdiction. Therefore, at this time, we cannot say what, if anything, the decision means for Sandra, for nonhuman animals in Argentina, or for the appellate cases the NhRP is currently litigating in the state of New York. We have been communicating with Spanish-speaking lawyers in Europe, North America, and South America about the decision's meaning and most claim to be as puzzled as are we. We will all have to watch and see. -- Steven M. Wise, Esq.