Animal welfare as a general principle of international law? What the Animal Protection Index can teach us…

logo_large_1Lots of people are today looking for a way to foster international cooperation to better protect animals  and some dream of a universal text that would be used as an umbrella or a ground norm for all animal protection and welfare. While those texts would surely help the cause of those defending the well-being of animals, it is also important not to focus entirely on the tools to be – the risk being forgetting about the tools that already are.

On that note the new Animal Protection Index, gathering the legislation on animal protection of 50 countries, can prove very useful. As the website reminds: “These countries were selected using statistics published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in their Statistical Yearbook for World and Agriculture 2012, from the countries which are the largest producers of beef, poultry, pork, sheep and goat, milk and eggs”. While the situation of each country is very different (each country was scored very on a scale from A to G) it is also useful to focus on what is common to most of them. And one can be surprised, for example, that out of the 50 states, 48 appear to have animals protection laws that prohibit causing animal suffering (either intentionally of by negligence). At first glance, only Belarus (see report) or Iran (see report) do not. This fact is important not only on the domestic level but on the international one as well.

International law is not only made of the treaty states ratify, but can also be implied from the behavior of states. Including on the domestic level. According to article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice (usually referred to when someone tries to define the sources of international law), international law includes “the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations”. That means that if a behavior is universally considered as unlawful, there is ground to plead that this behavior is not only illegal domestically. It can become illegal internationally.

Even though a more thorough study of animal protection law across the world is needed, it surely seems that the protection of animal welfare is taking the path of being a general principle of international law*.

Vincent Chapaux – January 2015

*For an excellent article supporting the same theory see SYKES, Katie, “”Nations like unto yourselves”: An inquiry into the general Principle of International Law on Animal Welfare”, Canadian yearbook of International Law, Vol. XLIX, Tome XLIX, pp. 3 to 50.


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