Constitutional Recognition of Non-Human Animals in Chile
By Andres Kogan Valderrama
HAVANA TIMES – If approved on September 4th, the new constitution could allow for a gigantic change in the level of rights in Chile. Likewise, in what refers to the approval of new laws and the implementation of future public policies. Perhaps one of the most innovative and revolutionary issues in the constitutional draft is what is related to the incorporation of non-human animals to the new fundamental charter.
Hence, recognizing non-human animals for the first time in a constitutional text will not only be unprecedented in Chile, but will also put the country at the forefront internationally in this matter.
There are about fifty coutries that incorporate non-human animals in their constitutions and laws. These include the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Switzerland, Portugal, India, New Zealand, Austria, Luxembourg, Colombia, Costa Rica and the European Union, whereby declaring them as feeling beings and typifying animal abuse as a crime. However, the constitutional norm put forth in Chile goes much further.
I point this out, since revising the constitutional norm, by proposing that animals are subjects of law, can open a new radically different scenario for non-human animals in the near future, as can be read: “Animals are subjects of special protection. The State will protect them, recognizing their feelings and the right to live a life free from abuse. The State and its agencies will promote an education based on empathy and respect for animals.”
In other words, that they stop being seen as objects, either for their exploitation, domination or for their protection, in the best of cases. It leaves open the possibility of seeing them as individuals, which can completely change our relationship and coexistence as humans with the rest of the animals, after many centuries of speciesism in the world, where an extreme ontological and hierarchical division was built between us and other beings.
For the same reason, to conceive of non-human animals as subjects of law, as has also been pointed out by the Toulon Declaration of 2019, is to place them in a legal status very different from how they have been historically. As the philosopher Jorge Reichmann has said, they have been treated as beasts, irrational beings, without a soul and totally inferior to us.
It could be said that a simple legal norm is not capable by itself of confronting a culture of species domination, thousands of years old, that has placed human beings above other species, and that with modernity and capitalist industrialization, it has turned other animals into mere commodities for human experimentation, production and consumption.
However, other systems of domination of humans against humans (sexism, classism, racism) and of humans against nature (anthropocentrism), are still very strong, and for that reason we are going to keep fighting against forms that only generate discrimination, violence, war and that put at risk basic conditions for the reproduction of life.
We must never forget the struggle that different movements (feminists, Afro-descendants, indigenous peoples, environmentalists, sexual dissidents) have historically waged against injustices that seemed impossible to reverse in many places, but very important advances have been made, in what refers to rights and recognition.
Faced with this, what’s happening in Chile is a tremendous advance, not only for the animal rights movement and for the country, but also for the rest of the world, which should be very grateful for a constituent process from the global south, which has incorporated issues, that in previous years nobody would have believed possible that they were even discussed.
That is why it is essential to mention all the animal organizations involved, such as the Lawyers for Animals Foundation, the Vegetarian Today Foundation, the Animal Law and Defense Foundation, among many others, and constituent assembly members such as Camila Zarate, Barbara Sepulveda, who were key in influencing other constituents so that this norm was approved in plenary.
In the case of Barbara Sepulveda, the discussion she had to give is quite remarkable, not only with conservative sectors, which continue to see rodeo, greyhound racing, sport hunting, as traditional and intrinsic forms of Chilean culture, which should be maintained, but also with other sectors (ecologists and native peoples), who did not understand conceiving non-human animals as subjects of law.
Thanks to all that struggle that took place, the Constitutional Convention finally opted for the recognition of non-human animals in the draft, as it has also done with nature, with indigenous peoples, with women and with other subjects of law. that the State of Chile has historically denied.
Some, from a discourse of rejection, will say that this norm is maximalist and of fundamentalist urban identity groups, who want to impose their centralist and pro-animal vision on the rest of society, especially rural sectors. They omit that Chile, despite already having some animal protection laws, is very much in debt compared to many countries in the world, which have stopped conceiving non-human animals as personal property or things.
Likewise, those who seek to ridicule this norm, saying that if the new constitution is approved, barbecues will be prohibited, are not understanding that what will be sought with the new legislation, is to move towards a society that takes charge of animal abuse, both in large cities and in the countryside, through new demands on the production system, as well as from a strong role of educational policies focused on empathy and animal welfare.
To conclude, this recognition of non-human animals in the new constitution of Chile, as subjects of law, may perhaps be the first step to conceive ourselves again as animals, mammals, and primates, which is what we have always been, but that certain discourses of power have made us believe that we are not.