The Spanish newspaper El Mundo (25 April) reports that Spain’s governing Socialists are submitting a bill to grant human rights to four species of animals. The species are chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang-utans: the so-called ‘great apes’ or ‘pongids’ (grandes simios in Spanish).
The purpose of the bill is to ensure that Spain adheres to the international Great Ape Project, granting the animals the right to life, freedom and not being tortured. The GAP motto is: “Equality beyond humanity”. Its declaration says: “We demand the extension of the community of equals to include all great apes: human beings, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang-utans.”
Great apes share 99 per cent of their genetic material with humans. Champions of their rights say they have an emotional and cultural life, intelligence and moral qualities reminiscent of those of humans. Francisco Garrido, a Green representative who belongs to the Socialist group in parliament, submitted the bill on 25 April. Garrido claims the Spanish Socialists are acting as ambassadors, as defenders and as the voice of the great apes. He hopes that Spain will become the first European country to grant them fundamental human rights.
The Spanish Socialists have been criticized for their initiative, which is the outcome of a purely materialistic view of human nature. Pamplona archbishop Fernando Sebastian called the proposal “ridiculous.” Amnesty International representative Delia Padron said she was “surprised” by moves to recognize the “human rights” of apes when many humans still lacked those rights.
Following the criticism Cristina Narbona, the Spanish minister for the Environment, denied that the great apes “will be granted human rights.” According to the minister the bill only aims to protect the natural habitat of the animals and avoid their ill-treatment and use in various circus activities. In the argumentation of the bill, however, one can find references to “the evolutionary and genetic similarities between humans and great apes.” Surely these are irrelevant if the bill only deals with habitat and animal protection.
What is more, these references make the philosophical foundation for the proposed bill somewhat shaky. Two problems arise: (a) the exclusion of, for instance, dolphins or jackdaws merely because they are biologically less related to humans seems to smack of “speciesism’, and (b) how does one determine the degree of relatedness to humans that is necessary for an animal to acquire human rights, i.e. why are these rights granted to great apes but not to lesser apes?
The Socialist Party does not grant the so-called ‘lesser apes’ (gibbons [Hylobates] and siamangs [Hylobates sundactylus]) the same rights, but even the more advanced ‘new world anthropoids’ [Platyrrhines] are excluded. The latter, however, include the ‘capucine monkey.’ Observations confirm that this species uses tools, something which one would expect to appeal to a workers’ party. Perhaps that omission will be rectified after the initial breakthrough of granting human rights to the great apes has been achieved.