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.