Main arguments for
the Primate Initiative
Primates are intelligent and sensitive
There is no question today that non-human primates, just like us humans, are highly sentient creatures. They are genetically very similar to us, have a highly developed central nervous system and a distinct social behaviour. They respond to the discomfort of others with empathy. Like human primates, they learn through cognitive processes of observation and imitation. They maintain a culture and make use of tools. Some primates have been shown to possess an autobiographical self that allows them to both reflect back on the past as well as to plan ahead into the future. They communicate through vocalisations, but also nonverbally in the form of hugs, touches, gestures and facial expressions. They also possess an object permanence – the ability to understand that something exists even when it is not in sight. Despite their complex nature, that we can understand quite well thanks to their similarity to us humans, their intrinsic value and interests are neglected and subordinated to ours.
We do not inhabit this planet alone
The initiative was not only an opportunity for the roughly 150 primates living within the canton’s borders but also for Basel to become a flagship canton for animal and environmental policy in other regions of Switzerland and around the world. Expanding the concept of rights would create greater awareness among the population that we do not inhabit this planet alone, but in constant exchange and coexistence with other living beings. The way we define our legal relationship with animals and nature has a direct impact on how we care for the planet.
Rights instead of protection
The Swiss Civil Code stipulates in “Property Law” under Art. 641a that animals are not things. However, animal protection law grossly ignores this principle when it determines, in the sense of a “law of use”, when and how we may “use” primates, i.e., injure and kill them. This so-called “protection” of non-human primates is insufficient because it completely disregards the fundamental interest in life. The primates’ interest in being physically and mentally unharmed often has to concede to our “purposes”.
With the adoption of the initiative, the rights to life and integrity would have been enshrined in the catalogue of fundamental rights (paragraph 11). This would have effectively put a halt to the systematic neglect of the most fundamental interests of primates.
It's up to us!
Non-human primates live in a legal system created by us humans. Basel is not their natural habitat; and they are unable to defend their own interests there. Only we humans have the ability and the liberty to provide our non-human relatives with basic rights so that they no longer remain subordinated to human interests.
As history has shown, our legal system is constantly evolving – shaped by thoughts of justice and a sense of responsibility on the part of people who dare to question the status quo. Today we know that all primates have a basic need to live and to remain physically and mentally unharmed! It is up to us to take our responsibility and grant rights to our non-human relatives.
What the initiative did not demand:
- Primates would have recieved basic rights to life and to physical as well as mental integrity. They would NOT have recieved human rights. Thus there was never any question of them being able to vote, marry or receive welfare.
- Had the initiative been successful the zoo would NOT have been abolished. Even with the indirect effect on private individuals, primates could still have been kept, provided their fundamental rights were guaranteed.
- Biomedical research would NOT have been made impossible by the initiative. The bill only required that the rights to life and to the integrity of non-human primates be respected in research conducted by cantonal bodies. Private companies would not have been directly affected.
- After adoption of the initiative, non-human primates would NOT have been able to “do whatever they want”. As is true for human fundamental rights, the fundamental rights of non-human primates are subject to certain recognized limitations. Thus, a restriction of fundamental rights is possible if it does not violate the core content, if there is a legal basis or if it is justified by a public interest or the protection of fundamental rights of third parties and if it is proportionate.