November 30, 2021

Animals may get their own lawyers in Switzerland

But what about children?

the lawyer and a potential client
Should animals residing in Switzerland have the right to be represented
by a lawyer? Voters will have their say in a national referendum on March 7. Animals
in the canton of Zurich have had an “animal advocate” who represents abused
animals in court since 2007. If successful, every canton will be forced to
appoint one.

The
government is opposed. It feels that existing animal welfare laws are
sufficient to protect animals from abuse. Farmers and animal breeders fear
being buried under red tape. A group called No to the Useless Animal Lawyers’
Initiative says, “Animal rights advocates are useless to animals. They can’t
prevent animal abuse because they only get involved after it has been
perpetrated.”

Zurich’s
animal advocate, Antoine Goetschel, a 50-year-old vegetarian, is enthusiastic
about the initiative. “Humans accused of animal
cruelty can hire a lawyer or get one assigned, but animals cannot,” he told
London’s Sunday Times. “Which is
where I come in.”

In Zurich he helps to enforce a 2008 national law which
protects the rights of goldfish, canaries and guinea pigs, amongst other
animals. Goldfish, for instance are regarded as “social animals” which should
always have a companion. The Swiss take this seriously. Goetschel told the
Times of a recent case in which police entered a home to investigate possible domestic
violence. They noticed that the couple’s canary was living in a cage all by
itself, so animal abuse was added to spouse abuse in the list of charges.

The
proposal is a controversial one. Clara
Balestra
, of a child protection group, the Sarah Oberson Foundation, points
out that the advocate will be independent both from
the government and the animal’s owner and defend only the interests of the
animal. Swiss children are not protected this well, she complains: “The groups
[which] enjoy the best advocacy of their rights are the ones with most
influence on decision-makers. So, we face a strange case where animal rights
advocates seem to be stronger (better organized? better funded? better represented?)
than child advocates.” ~ London
Sunday Times, Jan 31

Michael Cook
animal rights
human dignity
Switzerland