On February 13, as millions of people in the U.S. prepared for and watched the Super Bowl, voters in Switzerland rejected two significant animal rights initiatives. As reported (here and here) by SWI swissinfo.ch — the international unit of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation — the proposed measures included a country-wide ban on animal testing and a measure that would have given non-primate humans certain rights in the canton of Basel-Stadt.
Animal testing. The testing ban would have prohibited experimentation on animals and humans and would have prohibited the import of any new products developed using such testing. According to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office, 44% of the population participated in the vote but, of the votes cast, only 20.9% voted in favor of the ban. The outcome likely had to do with a recognition that an unqualified ban on all animal testing would have had a negative effect on scientific and medical research. In addition, Switzerland has one of the most restrictive (and protective) laws concerning the utilization of animals in research. Chapter 2, Section 6, Article 17 of the Swiss Animal Welfare Act provides that:
“Animal experiments which inflict pain, suffering or harm on animals, induce anxiety in them, substantially impair their general well being or which may disregard their dignity in any other way must be limited to the indispensable minimum. ” [Emphasis added.]
Non-human primate rights. The Basel-Stadt measure would have amended section 11 of the canton’s constitution, entitled “guarantees of fundamental rights,” to provide “the right of non-human primates to life and to physical and mental integrity.” According to a case comment by lawyers who advised the proponents of this measure, the initiative was the subject of lawsuit in which the Swiss Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the measure could be put to a popular vote because it only applied to the canton’s governmental bodies as opposed to private citizens. Ironically, all primates in Basel-Stadt are held by private parties instead of government bodies, so the measure, even if passed, would have been symbolic with no actual effect. Even as a symbolic gesture, however, the voters voted it down.
The proponents of the Basel-Stadt non-primate measure compared the litigation surrounding it to “the work of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), which has been filing habeas corpus writs for non-human animals in the United States.” However, as we have reported, the Non-Human Rights Project has been uniformly unsuccessful in getting any U.S. court to grant a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of an animal, although NhRP has tried to do so on behalf of chimpanzees and elephants. Furthermore, the Swiss Supreme Court’s decision did not break any new ground on the issue of animal “personhood.” It merely recognized the point (as did the U.S. habeas cases) that granting animals rights, if it is to be done, should be accomplished through legislative or voter initiatives as opposed to a judicial decree. This is because in Switzerland, as in the U.S., animals have no natural rights and can have no legal rights unless the legislature says so.