By Gazala Anver
Sri Lanka has laws in place to prevent cruelty towards animals. Few people pay attention to this however, and animal cruelty continues.
Whether it is an animal neglected, left in a cage amidst its own feces, or whether it is a big corporation minting money out of a pathetic situation, no one really seems aware that it is punishable by law to ill-treat any animal. The laws however, at most seem to be ineffective and are left unimplemented.
Currently, there is a writ application in the Court of Appeal, where petitioners have called for a change. According to Executive Director of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, Jeevan Thiagarajah, the purpose of this appeal is to “make animals the subject of rights and not objects of sympathy when it suits us.” Since 1907, the laws have been periodically amended, and on occasion enabling legislation forgotten, he said. “But most importantly, rights and duties obliged by law are largely ignored,” he said.
In an email interview, Thiagarajah elaborated on the current animal rights situation in Sri Lanka.
Q: Where does Sri Lanka currently stand in terms of animal rights?
A: The laws in Sri Lanka make it an offence to cruelly beat, ill-treat, abuse, torture, cause unnecessary pain or suffering to any animal. If an animal is subjected to unnecessary pain or suffering; if any animal is found suffering by reason of starvation, mutilation, if animals are used in any work or labour which could cause disease, infirmity, wounds or sores,the punishment includes fines or imprisonment or both.
Similarly, the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance prohibits any person in a Strict Natural Reserve, National Park, Nature Reserve or Jungle Corridor, Refuge, Marine Reserve or Buffer Zone to hunt, shoot, kill, take possession dead or alive of any animal. They are forbidden to destroy any eggs of birds, reptiles, or nests of any birds.They are prohibited from interfering with the breeding places of any animals or birds; tap, burn or in any way damage or destroy plants, take, collect, or remove any plant, without facing several penalties.
These include fines or imprisonment for a term no less than two years and not exceeding five; or the penalties could include both fine and imprisonment.
Any person who in any area outside a Natural Reserve or Sanctuary is guilty of similar offences including being in possession of animals parts, or attempts to sell birds, will also be guilty of an offence and on conviction, be liable to a fine or imprisonment for a term no less than two years. Likewise game hunting is prohibited from vehicles. Not included under this Act are domestic animals or any tropical aquarium fish.
Q: There are laws in place to protect the rights of animals in Sri Lanka; to date however people are either oblivious of them or knowingly flout them. What role do you think strictly implementing these laws would play? What could have been prevented if these laws were strongly enforced from the very beginning?
A: We could have been more humane to species whose right to life is determined by humans. At another level we would have been a more caring society. This would have prevented the extreme animals turning hostile against people such as elephants and dogs. Acts of impunity which are committed by human beings and which are morally and ethically wrong in terms of culture, belief systems and religion are the cause of the degradation of animal rights in the country.
Q: There is talk of a ‘Steering Committee’ to prevent cruelty towards animals in Sri Lanka: do you think this committee will make a change?
A: Yes. It is an explicit recognition by an Appellate Court of the rights of animals and our laws and obligations of duty bearers and citizens alike. These are still early days. The Committee is yet to meet. We have duty bearers of the state mandated by law to protect animals and citizens groups with an interest in the welfare of animals. Together, they could do a lot.
Q:You also mentioned that lawyers and the judiciary themselves are not sensitive to this issue.
A: I imagine not all lawyers are insensitive to animals. However all lawyers are duty bound to abide by the strict letter of the law whatever their level of sensitivity. The interim measure in the Court of Appeal which led to the Steering Committee is largely unknown to most members of the Judiciary. However, the measure is born out of the existing law.
Q: Apart from enforcing the law, what else do you think could be done to promote animal rights?
A: For example we have to appreciate that animals have life, like us, they cannot speak, argue, go buy items for themselves, many are captive in our hands or chased after by us, treated as the lowest form of life, become creatures for our pleasure to use and discard. We need to pick up on these threads and do better.
Q: Despite there being numerous animal rights groups in Sri Lanka, are they effective when it comes to promoting these rights? If not, what is the biggest obstacle with regard to this?
A: There is greater consciousness. Many newspapers devote regular space. But behind closed doors, walls, cages and in the wild there is much unknown, unreported, unnoticed abuse, acts of grievous harm, killings and insensitivity being committed and those need to stop.
The legal regimes in Sri Lanka for the protection of animals are the Cruelty to Animals Ordinance No. 13 of 1907 as amended by Ordinance in -1912, 1917, 1919, 1921, 1927, 1930, 1945 and Amendment Act No. 22 of 1955; the Animals Act No.29 of 1958 as amended in 1968,1988, 2009 and the Regulations framed in Gazettes 1962,1965, 2000 and 2009; the Butchers Ordinance No. 9 of 1893 as amended in 1976, 1981, 2008 and Regulations framed under the Local Authorities (Standard By-Laws) Act; Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance as amended in 1937,1942,1944,1945,1949,1964,1970,1993 and 2009.
In addition, according to the Local Authorities (Standard By-Laws) Act No. 06 of 1952 and in IGP circular No2024/2007 of 30 October 2007 functions and responsibilities of the police response to violations of the Animals Act, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance and the Butchers Ordinance, are laid out.