Main arguments for
the Primate Initiative

Icon für We do not inhabit this planet alone

We do not inhabit this planet alone

The initiative is not only an opportunity for the roughly 150 primates living within the canton’s borders but also for Basel to become a flagship canton and generally for animal and environmental policy in other regions of Switzerland and around the world. Expanding the concept of rights will 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.

Icon für Primates are intelligent and sensitive

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 beings, that we can understand quite well thanks to their similarity to us humans, their intrinsic value and interests are neglected and subordinated to ours as such.

Icon für Rights instead of protection

Rights instead of protection

The Swiss Civil Code stipulates in “Property Law” under Art. 641a that animals are no 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. use, 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”. In the last 10 years, for example, some 929 stressful research projects have been carried out on primates in Basel – more than 100 of which had the highest or second-highest degree of severity.

With the adoption of the initiative, the rights to life and integrity would be enshrined in the catalogue of fundamental rights (paragraph 11). This will effectively put a halt to the systematic neglect of the most fundamental interests of primates. 

Icon für It's up to us!

It's up to us!

Non-human primates live in a legal system created by us humans. By their very nature, they do not exist in Basel; they cannot take their own interests into account here. Only we humans have the ability and the freedom to provide our non-human conspecifics with basic rights so that they no longer remain inferior 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! Now it is up to us to take our responsibility and grant rights to our non-human conspecifics.

What the initiative does NOT demand:

  • Primates should get basic rights to life and to physical as well as mental integrity. They shall NOT get human rights. So they will not be able to vote, marry or receive welfare.
  • With the acceptance of the initiative the zoo will NOT be abolished. Even with the indirect effect on private individuals, primates may still be kept, provided their fundamental rights are guaranteed.
  • Biomedical research is also NOT made impossible by the initiative. The bill only requires 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 be directly affected.
  • After adoption of the initiative, non-human primates will NOT be 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.