By Samya Senaratne –
As the world celebrates the World Animal Day on the 4th of October, it is apt to take a look at how we treat our animals here at home. In general, all global religions teach humans to view cruelty, causing pain, suffering and murder as immoral and reprehensible acts. But even with our minds improved by such moral teachings, we still see circus animals, hunting parties and zoos purely as forms of entertainment. This is the irony born out of being unable to accept and embrace that animals are also sentient beings as well as non-human persons with their own dignity and rights, who feel the same suffering, pain and agony that a human person would feel.
This is especially tragic, given that Sri Lanka, a predominantly Buddhist country boasting the practice of Buddhist values of compassion for over 2500 years, seems to have lost touch with the very first of the five basic moral precepts ingrained in the Buddhist psyche; “to abstain from onslaught on all living beings.” (Pali: Pāṇātipātā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi)
From a Culture of Compassion to a Culture of Insensitivity
Few recent incidents which came into the limelight, due to the sheer cruelty and pain inflicted on animals were the brutal slaying of a leopard by a mob in Kilinochchi, an eagle being skinned alive by two individuals in Galle as a pastime and the slaughter of hundreds of goats and fowls as a religious sacrifice at the Sri Bhadrakali Amman Kovil in Munneswaram. In these instances, fuelled by the wide public condemnation of such acts on social media platforms and by civil society groups, the conviction of these perpetrators were ensured under the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO) No 2 of 1937 for killing endangered species, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance No 13 of 1907 and the Butchers Ordinance No 9 of 1893, respectively (along with a Supreme Court ruling that fundamental freedom of religion is subject to morality, ethics, and democratic rights and so forth).
Further, as recently reported, two prominent State Universities suffered open criticism and condemnation, for authorizing brutally seizing and killing stray dogs in their premises, as a measure for rabies eradication and population control. This was so despite a Presidential “No Kill Policy” pledged for in 2006, prohibiting killing and instead proposing sterilization as the humane option. But most such incidents very rarely make it to mainstream media. The cries of many thousands of animal victims of cruelty, abandonment and slaughter go unheard and uncared for.
In addition to this, the appalling conditions and common unethical practices in livestock farms, malicious and cruel killings in slaughterhouses, zoos, pet shops and commercial animal breeders in Sri Lanka often go undocumented and unregulated, due to the absence of a strong legal framework to protect these voiceless victims.
Prevailing Law on Animal Welfare and the Lacunae
Current law addressing cruelty to animals is embodied in the colonial statute of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance No 13 of 1907, enacted well over a century ago and amended last in 1955 and consequently, inadequate to address escalating issues. The said Ordinance, enacted at a time where animals were considered as mere chattel or property, provides very weak protection to animals, listing a very limited number of acts of cruelty (only acts of cruelty, starvation, mutilation, killing with cruelty and use of animals unfit for labour). Even this limited protection is afforded to only domestic/ captured animals under the narrow definition of ‘animal’, in its interpretation clause.
Also, the successful enforcement of the said Ordinance is incapacitated by the absence of a responsible Authority, vested with the necessary powers of enforcement. Thus, there is a need for a statutory watchdog over human-animal interactions. Moreover, the penal sanctions for offences above mentioned under the Ordinance are outdated and amount to a meagre amount of Rs.100 (extending to Rs.200 for subsequent offences in mutilation, starvation) and a 3 month prison term (extending to 6 months in cases of killing animals with cruelty). Such sanctions have not been adjusted to increasing inflation (as is the case in most laws pertaining to the environment) and are not armed with the power to quell the increasing incidents of animal cruelty.
Most notably, the current law is silent on the sale and transporting of animals, sport-hunting, livestock and cosmetic testing and other experimentations on animals, and especially the duty of care required of pet owners, thereby miserably failing to effectively curb ill treatment of animals and falls short in promoting responsible ownership and genuine care towards one’s pets. Perhaps this will not be so if animals could vote. But as only humans can further the animals’ cause, lobbying for the expedient enactment of the draft Animal Welfare Bill becomes an act of utmost importance, bearing in mind that animals nor the environment are granted justiciable rights under the Constitution of Sri Lanka.
The Progress of the Draft Animal Welfare Bill So Far
Many civil society organizations like the Animal Welfare Coalition have been lobbying for a reform of the laws governing animal cruelty. Finally, as the result of such agitations an initial version of the Animal Welfare Bill was drafted in 2006 by the Law Commission, with the inputs of relevant stakeholders. The Bill was presented to Parliament in October, 2010 by Venerable Athuruliye Rathana Thera as a Private Member Bill, but was caught in the tumult of dissolution of Parliament.
Thereafter, almost a decade in the making, a draft bill was open for public comments under the Ministry of Rural Economic Affairs in 2015. (Now styled as the ‘Ministry of Fisheries & Aquatic Resources Development and Rural Economic Affairs’) Following the public consultation, the Cabinet approval to go ahead was received on January 13, 2016, after which the Bill was passed on to the legal draftsman for relevant changes to be incorporated and the formulation of a final draft. As of now, the draft has been sent to the relevant Ministry for their final observations, following which the finalising of the draft will take place once agreed to by both the Ministry and the Draftsman’s department. However, the Animal Welfare Bill is yet to be placed in the Order Paper of the Parliament and a long way from becoming solid law.
The Way Forward to being on par with International Standards
In the international sphere, the Treaty of Lisbon, 2007 of the European Union mainstreamed the concept of ‘animals as sentient beings’, deserving due dignity and due recognition of their rights. The ‘five freedoms’ standard for animal welfare; namely, the Freedom from hunger and thirst, Freedom from discomfort, Freedom from pain, injury and disease, Freedom to express normal behavior and Freedom from fear and distress, was set by the international community in the proposed draft of the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare (UDAW).
Striving to be on par with such standards, the proposed Animal Welfare Bill seeks to enhance the welfare of animals by repealing the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance 1907, establishing the National Animal Welfare Authority as the responsible regulatory body and a proper watch-dog with teeth, enhancing penal sanctions on offences against animals and extending protection by creating new offences which address the issues so far overlooked by law. Further changes to be anticipated through this Bill is imposing duty of care on pet owners and laying down minimum standards of care to be observed all processes dealing with or utilizing animals.
Therefore, there is an urgent need for political will and attention in enacting this progressive Bill as well as an active interest and dedication of relevant government authorities in expediting the administrative procedure up to the tabling of the Bill in Parliament. The enactment of this Bill has to be pushed for, surpassing vested interests, bearing in mind that as one more day is wasted in apathy and inaction, more cruelty and suffering is silently endured by its voiceless victims.
1. Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance, No 2 of 1937.
2. Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, No 13 of 1907.
3. Butchers Ordinance, No 9 of 1893.
4. Kanagaratnam v Sri Bodhiraja Foundation and Others, S.C. Spl. L.A. No. 258/2013 decided on 03. 09. 2014. (The case regarding ritual animal sacrifices at the Sri Bhadrakali Amman Kovil in Muneswaram)
5. V. Wijenanayake, Enacting the Animal Welfare Bill of Sri Lanka, April 10, 2017.
6. L. Perera, ‘Animal cruelty laws need immediate reform’, The Sunday Times, August 12, 2018.
7. Treaty of Lisbon amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community  OJ C306/01
8. A. Jayasuriya, Need For Immediate Enactment Of The Animal Welfare Bill, February 7, 2018.
9. Draft Animal Welfare Bill-Animal Welfare Coalition.
10. L. Wijesiri, ‘Redefining the term ‘Animal Welfare’”, Daily News, August 12, 2018.