19 September, 2020

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The Long Overdue Animal Welfare Bill

By Samya Senaratne

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.

References

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 [2007] 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.

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Latest comments

  • 2
    1

    Dear Samya Senaratne,
    .
    You’re an admirably kind-hearted young woman.
    .
    However, your intelligent organisation of this article makes it clear that you are not soft in the head. All too many Sri Lankans rouse a great deal of emotion, and write absolute rubbish.
    .
    I would like to see Nature flourishing in all its diversity for many millenia to come. If that is to happen we homo-sapiens will have to forego the sophisticated life-styles and the creature comforts that most of us (but especially Gota, our much-loved President, and the 225 in Parliament), crave more than all else.
    .
    Whenever we talk about animal welfare, multiple ironies are implicit.
    .
    In 1859, a certain Charles Darwin published a book entitled “On the Origin of Species” in which he said that:
    .
    “Nature is red in tooth and claw.”
    .
    Hold it, I’d better do what is foreign to Donald Trump: “fact check.”
    .
    It looks as though the phrase appeared in a poem published in 1850.
    .
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Memoriam_A.H.H.
    .
    Who was the poet? That most sentimental of Victorians, Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
    .
    Don’t be deterred Samya! You’ve made a promising start, with sound scholarship, to a bewitchingly complex subject.

    • 3
      0

      Dear Mr SM,

      Do we need to talk more about srilanken average ?

      Please watch the video below.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3W12mf1qf0

      This guy is telling it as no other – Gawaya has lot more to do with sinhalaya’s attitudes.

      I instantly reminded our PASQUAL…- just tell me, what do you make of this video ?

  • 2
    5

    One cow is slaughted and about 200 survive , Fish struggling about half and hour about 200 life is needed to feed 200 hundread people , boasting the practice of life values, Prevention of Cruelty in this two killing fish life is taken away more than the cow taken for food.determine the number of cow saved
    aganst fis.

  • 3
    2

    Dear Samya

    A wonderful and timely writings and beautifully referenced to know our administrative history too with regard law and order and code and conducts and ethics etc. Super.

    I used to be a member of CIWF (Compassion in World Farming) an organisation in the UK has contributed to awareness of animal welfare in the farming g sector and have been instrumental in driving legislative changes to many farming methodologies including the cage sizes/export methodologies son cruel even for the animals send to EU by road etc.

    Do you think we need to form organisations like this or do we have locally grown pressure groups we can all participate etc please.

    Please give us a summary of what we got locally we could contribute under or we could form an umbrella organisation such as “Global Eco Warriors for Sri Lanka”. This could address and educate the masses and the elected the good practices around the world, gaps that exists in the world wide practices we will develop further so animal welfare is further enhanced and customised to SL cultures and heritage/sea, land & air pollution issues/farming methodologies in animal husbandry/waste and water management/SUSTAINABILITY issues/infectious diseases issues all could be tasked to various SL expat organisations to come up with study work that could be given to the respective departments pls??

    • 1
      0

      Dear Thiagarajah Venugopal,
      .
      I’ve just given you a “like”, and I’m wondering whether I’m the guy who gave you the first like as well!
      .
      The comment by “RBH59” is a bit difficult to understand, but let me try paraphrasing:
      .
      “All living things are equally sacred, although less worthy than humans; by killing one bull you could provide certain nutrients to 200 people. To provide similar nutrition to 200 people we would have to slay 200 fish. Therefore, more sensible to kill the single bull.”
      .
      So, you see, few people like it when we talk in down to earth fashion.
      .
      I don’t know who “leelagemalli” is, but he is a guy who approves of me. On this subject, I feel that Rajan Hoole is the only other guy who appreciates my point of view – but he doesn’t lay much store by those scores. This is actually true! He didn’t even realise that there were these ratings until I pointed them out to him, years back.
      .
      So, the author, Samya Senaratne and the two of us, are the realists – disapproved by most. After all, so few have commented on this good article.

    • 1
      0

      PART TWO
      .
      Even you, Venugopal,
      may not like being bracketed with me.
      .
      What of Dr Rajan Hoole? He hadn’t seen my SECOND and THIRD PARTS when he commented. He is absolutely sincere and committed. He really doesn’t think himself worthier of respect than his cat. Or may be we could turn it around and say that he respects his cat as much as himself?
      .
      He’s told me that he won’t add comments to this. That is perfectly all right. He’s told us this:
      .
      ”I have no answers to many questions.”
      .
      On that reading, what has so far been said is sufficient. Pondering all that we will not take a confrontational line towards anybody except the hypocritical politicians.
      .
      His comment has deservedly been liked by many (including me). However, some of those who liked it may be those who are sensitive and sentimental, and abhor any killing. Among them may be those who eat “only a little Maldive Fish”, and unfertilised eggs.
      .
      Rajan is sensitive, but also very honest.
      .
      Samya
      may be hoping that more views will be expressed – after all that is why she wrote the article
      !

  • 9
    0

    Dear Samya Senaratne,
    You have worked hard and I might sound a querulous old man. I support your efforts and any move to improve the lot of animals. Such calls may fall on deaf ears in a country seasoned in the brutality of man towards man. Invoking Buddhism in such a cause would sound absurd in a country where Buddhist monks brutally threaten minorities they hate for ideological reasons. Government power is built on such portended cruelty. The lack of condemnation shows that communal violence is overlooked as normal. Going to Parliament too seems a licence for excess rather than restraint.
    Meanwhile I do not see an end to cruelty against animals in this country. I don’t mean to belittle your efforts or your concerns. Fifty years ago I would have been happy with the idea of being kind to animals. I have found myself becoming more radical with age. I have been a vegan for 46 years. Being nice is not enough. I regard animals as equals. I cannot see why my happiness or satisfaction matters more than that of dogs or cats I live with or encounter daily. They are brothers and sisters. Yet I have no answers to many questions.

    • 1
      0

      Dear Rajan,
      .
      PART ONE

      .
      Thanks for a very clear and honest elucidation of your thinking. You “have no answers to many questions”, and you characterise yourself as “a querulous old man.” I admire you for thinking of animals as your equals, and I know that you are sincere in stating that.
      .
      The problem is that there’d be chaos if every human in this “over-populated world” turned vegan. Being a vegan is a pretty expensive undertaking. How much does “Vitamin B12 obtained from vegetarian sources” cost?
      .
      To be fair by you, you focus, with great commitment, on how many humans treat other homo sapiens worse than they treat any animal.
      .
      Consider what “Eagle Eye” says of you here:
      .
      https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/a-president-for-all-situations-but-sinharaja-forest-needs-more-than-roadside-decisions/
      .
      Quoting him, ” ‘Para’ Demalu [like you, Rajan] who launched the terrorist campaign against Sinhalayo” . . . should pay reparation.” He only just stops short of saying that Sinhalayo have every right to slaughter animals like you. It is directed personally at you – why? Because you are a Tamil. So, what he has done is to strip you of all humanness, and turned you into an animal who may be slaughtered at will.

      • 3
        0

        On the contrary being a vegan is very cheap. B12, if you need it, can be obtained cheap either in tablet form or by periodic injections.

    • 1
      0

      PART TWO
      .
      This is the problem
      with half the guys who are so adamant that cattle slaughter be stopped in this land of the Buddha (although we will import beef for those who want it!). Saadhu, Saadhu!
      .
      I know that you understand the contradictions – you’ve almost stated them in your first paragraph. Perhaps I can say what you cannot bring yourself to spell out in explicit terms.
      .
      My statement that the world is now overpopulated is unlikely to be challenged by anybody; but over-populated by whom? By humans, and by those animals that are hangers on us – dogs, cats, crows, rats and cockroaches. I know you are very fond of your dogs and your cats – but you have not turned them into vegans, after all.
      .
      I think that Rajan (and also Samya) will understand the truth of what I’m saying. In terms of “Economics” (which Dr W.A. Wijewardena, another good man, will say explains all activities in the Universe) what is advocated by vegans makes no sense. Going beyond that, I know that Rajan will admit that there is a problem with our consuming even plants, since they too have life.

    • 1
      0

      PART THREE
      .

      Ultimately, all this should be left to a good but pragmatic man like Dr Wijewardena (a born Buddhist!) to resolve. Let’s try to be kind to animals the way Rajan (a born Christian) was fifty years ago, and then decide that we are more equal than animals.
      .
      I’m definitely for the culling of stray dogs (tender-hearted Rajan will call them “street-dogs”).
      .
      So, let’s just allow our “selfish genes” to run the world, and be hypocrites enough to say that we are not killing animals, the supermarkets “manufacture’ the meat. I practice that hypocrisy; seeing the shambles in a “wet-market” is unbearable to me.
      .
      Does that make me more virtuous than the butcher?
      .

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