JUN 10, 2015 4:44 AM PDT

Court Considers Human Rights for Chimpanzees

Human rights are a hot button issue in every government and in every country on the planet. Even here in the United States, where our system is held up as an example, there are still concerns over the rights of citizens to privacy, free speech and free assembly. In light of riots in half a dozen states over police conduct and officer involved shootings, human rights are clearly at the core of those struggles.
A judge is weighing arguments on the rights of two chimpanzees to be freed from their research lab
So, what about animal rights? Beyond a the normal news stories of endangered species and shrinking habitats, animal rights are not viewed in the same way as human rights. Until now that is.

Lawyers from the organization The Nonhuman Project, headquartered in Florida spent time last month arguing before the New York County Supreme Court in Manhattan over the rights of two chimpanzees currently residing in a research facility on the grounds of Stony Brook University on Long Island. The two chimps, Leo and Hercules, are currently part of a study on human locomotion.

Stephen Wise, the President of the Nonhuman Project is no stranger to the fight for chimp rights. In December 2014 he took on the cases of two chimps owned privately in upstate NY. Tommy, a chimp owned by a family in Gloversville was denied a writ of habeas corpus by an appeals court. According to the judge's ruling, such writs are only granted "to individuals capable of fulfilling social obligations and responsibilities." In the case of another chimp, Kiko, who resides in a Niagra Falls Sanctuary, the Nonhuman Project sued to allow him to be placed in a sanctuary in Florida under the auspices of a rescue group, Save the Chimps. The court ruled that the Florida sanctuary was merely another form of confinement and denied the writ. The Nonhuman Project has appealed both of those decisions. They cite decades of research that show chimps to be intelligent and have emotional and intellectual abilities very similar to that of humans.

In the matter of the two chimps at Stony Brook University, the case was initially dismissed on a legal technicality. Wise filed it again and in April of this year Hercules and Leo were issued a writ of habeas corpus, which means that their captors...or owners depending on how it goes...had to appear in court to justify the legality of keeping the chimps in captivity.

Stony Brook is part of the SUNY system, so attorneys from the state of New York argued that as in the case of Tommy the chimp, Hercules and Leo were also not able to fulfill social responsibilities and thus not entitled to personhood. In court testimony quoted in the New York Times, Christopher Coulston, an assistant state attorney general for the university asserted, "They can't bear the moral responsibility in our society, and the correlative rights and duties do not make sense to chimps. They are just not equipped the same way as human beings to be members of society."

The judge in the case is currently considering the arguments and no timetable has been set for when the decision could be released. Either way, history has been made just by having the writ issued and the matter dealt with by the court system.

Source: YouTube, New York Times, US News and World Report, WBUR, Boston.
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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