Buddhist monks' party tables Animal Welfare Bill

By Janaka Perera, Asian Tribune, Nov 3, 2007

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- A 100 years after the British enacted animal welfare laws (The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance No.13 of 1907), a new draft legislation to protect animal rights made its way to the Parliament today (Nov.2) in the form of a private member's motion, largely due to the reluctance of the two major political parties to spearhead such a move.

Their reluctance is attributed to the low priority extended to animals in Sri Lanka’s political agenda. The archaic character of the existing laws led a number of animal welfare organizations to plead for a more effective legal framework to protect animals.

Consequently the Buddhist monks' party (Jathika Hela Urumaya) took up the issue and piloted the new Bill. JHU Parliamentarian the Venerable Athureliye Ratana told the Asian Tribune that it is a revolutionary bill that deals with aspects that were hitherto not covered by existing laws.

Animal Rights activists have questioned the attitude of the current law, which has developed a legal fiction to enable inanimate or non-living entities such as companies to be treated a `person' in a court of law. But the same law has not used the legal fact of visible and fully alive animals to be used to grant recognition as animals as `persons' in legal proceedings.

The new Draft Animal Welfare Bill provides for the most ennobling step in ensuring that legal rights are not the exclusive preserve of human beings. The Law Commission handed over the draft bill to President Mahinda Rajapaksa last year. Although it does not call for a ban on slaughter of animals for food, the bill proposes stiff penalties for those found guilty of cruelty to animals.

The primary objectives of the draft legislation are -

(a) Establishment of a separate National Animal Welfare Authority

(b) Redefining the term `animal' to include all animals, including strays

(c) Inclusion of the clause `Duty of Care,' which places legal a legal obligation on persons in charge of animals to see to the welfare of animals in their care

(d) The appointment of animal welfare inspectors empowering them to take relevant action when necessary

(e) Increase the maximum penalty for cruelty to animals to a Rupees hundred thousand maximum fine or three years in prison or both such fine and imprisonment

(f) To introduce a statute to regulate the use of animals for scientific research

(g) The right of any adult person (apart from the animal's owner) to intervene in court proceedings in the best interest of the animal, since under the present laws animals are treated as inanimate objects and

(h) Banning home slaughter and permitting it only under supervised conditions in duly licensed slaughter houses.

The new Bill is considered as a move to reconnect Sri Lanka to her ancient heritage of animal welfare.