Why we work on fundamental rights for primates

This website is an archive. For Sentience Politics’s political initiatives in the German-speaking area, visit sentience-politics.org. For effective animal advocacy research, visit the separate organization sentienceinstitute.org.

Sentience Politics selects and prioritizes campaigns based on their potential impact, i.e. the number of individuals affected. One of our ongoing campaigns concerns fundamental rights for primates, which may seem ineffective at first glance. After all, the number of non-human primates is almost negligible compared to the number of animals suffering on factory farms – so why did we just launch a popular initiative on fundamental rights for primates?

First off, this initiative will set a precedent. Granting fundamental rights to the first non-human individuals gives us a “foot in the door” for extending rights to other animals, including chickens, pigs, and cows. Of course, a right to life and bodily integrity for them implies a plant-based diet.

Second, popular initiatives can create a lot of media attention, even if the demand ultimately gets rejected. Demanding rights for non-human primates has the potential to spark societal and academic debate about anti-speciesism – but in contrast to discussions about plant-based diets, this debate largely takes place outside the context of people’s everyday food choices (which often leads to rationalizations of meat consumption). For the average citizen, it is much easier to support fundamental rights for primates than to change dietary habits. Moreover, the underlying philosophical case may also be more appealing to current and future decision-makers than the usual debate on veganism.

Third, the number of sentient beings who exist right now are vastly outnumbered by those who will come to exist in the future. We want to help as many non-human animals as we can in the long term, not just now. That’s why we need to change not only the current eating behaviour of our society, but also the underlying speciesist attitudes.

Demanding fundamental rights for non-human primates questions the barrier between humans and non-human animals. The legal protections only benefit a small number of individuals at this point, but they may be critical in shaping how future generations view non-human animals. Human history shows that achieving fundamental rights was crucial for overcoming racism and sexism. As people get accustomed to or grow up with new laws, their attitudes are shaped in the direction indicated by the laws. In this way, achieving fundamental rights for primates can be a milestone for overcoming speciesism, and will in turn help the trillions of beings who will come to exist in the future.


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