Rights Of Animals

An Overview Of Efforts Of International Non Governmental and Inter Governmnetal Organisations

Man’s association with the animal is very common. With the change of time and historicity, it has been reoriented from time to time. Animals are a hugely important part of human world. They are relied upon for food, used as research models, companions, working animals, for sport and in recreation. The interaction between nature and society holds a conspicuous place for philosophers, natural scientists, sociologists and historians. The field of human-animal relations is fast becoming one of the hot areas of debate. This article shall trace the role played by various non-governmental and inter-governmental bodies to raise awareness about the issues pertaining to the animals in the form of Conventions, Declarations, etc. The maintenance of environmental health has been increasingly becoming an object of international scientific cooperation.

Greater scientific knowledge and awareness have increased understanding of the importance of animal welfare; and this in turn has moved it from a marginal local or national concern to become an important regional and international policy issue. Animal welfare is debated in regional and international policy forums. It is also covered by a fast-growing body of internationally and regionally accepted science-based policies, standards, conventions, treaties, regulations, directives and agreements.

  1. Under aegis of United Nations

A number of Conventions with direct and indirect reference to animal welfare and protection have been formulated under aegis of United Nations.

  • United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES),1963

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of IUCN (The World Conservation Union). The text of the Convention was finally agreed at a meeting of representatives of 80 countries in Washington, D.C., the United States of America, on 3rd  March 1973, and on 1 July 1975, CITES entered in force. It accords varying degrees of protection to more than 35,000 species of animals and plants, whether they are traded as live specimens, fur coats or dried herbs. CITES regulates the trade in more than 35,000 species. There remain millions more that are endangered but not covered by the Convention. Though they are species protected under specific national legislation that are not restricted in international trade.

  • World Heritage Convention,1972

The World Heritage Convention is a Convention under the aegis of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It links together in a single document the concepts of nature conservation and the preservation of cultural properties. It recognizes the way in which people interact with nature, and the fundamental need to preserve the balance between the two. It defines the kind of natural or cultural sites which can be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List. It sets out the duties of States Parties in identifying potential sites and their role in protecting and preserving heritage sites. By signing the Convention, each country pledges to conserve not only the World Heritage sites situated on its territory, but also to protect its national heritage.

  • Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals,1979

Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals was signed at Bonn in 1970. It came into force in 1983, four years after the original treaty. Its membership has grown steadily to include 124 parties. It provides a global platform for the conservation and sustainable use of migratory animals and their habitats. It brings together the States through which migratory animals pass, the Range States, and lays the legal foundation for internationally coordinated conservation measures throughout a migratory range. It complements and co-operates with a number of other international organizations, NGOs and partners in the media as well as in the corporate sector.

The Parties should promote, co-operate in and support research relating to migratory species; shall endeavour to provide immediate protection for migratory species and shall endeavour to conclude Agreements covering the conservation and management of migratory species.

(d)   World Charter for Nature,1982It was adopted on 8th October, 1982. It is divided into four major parts: the Preamble, General Principles, Functions and Implementation. Ecosystems and organisms, as well as the land, marine and atmospheric resources that are utilized by man, shall be managed to achieve and maintain optimum sustainable productivity, but not in such a way as to endanger the integrity of those other ecosystems or species with which they coexist. In the planning and implementation of social and economic development activities, due account shall be taken of the fact that the conservation of nature is an integral part of those activities.

 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD),1992

The Convention on Biological Diversity was signed by 150 government leaders at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. It is dedicated to promoting sustainable development. It recognizes biological diversity about plants, animals and micro organisms and their ecosystems. It was established to protect the world’s biodiversity and covers all species, ecosystems and genetic resources.

(f)    UN Resolutions

In past two three years, two resolutions have been passed recognizing the animal issues.

(i)     CMS (Conservation of Migratory Species Convention Members) Resolution on the Conservation Implications of Cetacean Culture,2014

11th Conference of the Parties to the CMS has adopted a resolution whose objective is to consider the role and dynamics of culturally transmitted behaviours. The resolution was based on the recommendations of a workshop held by CMS’ Scientific Council’s Aquatic Mammals Working Group (a typical procedure within the context of multilateral environmental treaties). The adopted Resolution recognizes how socially complex mammals show evidence of (non-human) culture and lays out a set of requests and/or invitations related to scientific knowledge and data collection. The Parties are strongly encouraged to consider the role and dynamics of culturally transmitted behaviours when determining conservation measures.

(ii) UN Resolution Against Illegal Trade in Wildlife,2015

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted its first-ever resolution on wildlife trafficking. The Resolution calls upon countries to prevent, combat and eradicate the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products through action on both supply and demand sides, including strengthened legislation, enforcement and criminal justice responses

Table 1: India’s Position and Key UN’s Conventions & Resolutions related to animals

S.No.  Convention under aegis of UN Date of Ratification/Signature  by India
1. United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES),1963 Signed in July 1976 and Ratified in October 1976
2. World Heritage Convention,1972 Ratified in 1977
3. United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES),1963 Ratified in November 1983
4. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD),1992 Signed in June 1992 and Ratified in February 1994

(Source – Compiled by Researchers)

Table 1 above shows that India has signed various Conventions and Treaties dealing with the animals. They are United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES),1963; World Heritage Convention,1972; Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals,1979 and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD),1992. Thus, India is a party to the key multilateral agreements and recognises the interdependencies among, and transboundary character of, several environmental problems.

  1. Under European Union

European Union has been an enormous force in carrying forward animal welfare advances throughout Europe. In Europe, animal welfare has been the subject of national legislation and regional agreements for more than a generation, largely due to more exposure to and discomfort with the treatment of animals in industrialized farms and slaughterhouses.

  • Conventions

On a regional level, the Council of Europe’ five conventions are of principal interest – the European Convention for the Protection of Animals During International Transport 1968; European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes 1978, the European Convention for the Protection of Vertebrate Animals Used for Experimental and Other Scientific Purposes 1986, the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals 1987 , and the European Convention for the Protection of Animals for Slaughter 1988.

  • Protocol to the European Union Treaty (The Amsterdam Treaty) ,1997

The European Union introduced a Protocol to its founding Treaty (1957) in 1997, requiring European institutions to take account of animal welfare when considering legislation in the areas of research, transport, agriculture and the internal market. The Community and the Member States shall pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage. It introduced a clear legal obligation for the Community institutions (Commission, Parliament and Council) to pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals. It did not, however, extend the competence of the Community to include animal welfare per se within its remit.

  1. Universal Declaration on Animal Rights, 1977

International League for Animal Rights and Affiliated National Leagues on the occasion of the Third International Meeting on the Rights of Animals (London,21-23 September, 1977) adopted The Declaration on the Rights of Animals.

It was solemnly proclaimed on October 15, 1978, at United Nation’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO )House in Paris.

  1. Earth Charter, 2000

In 1994, Maurice Strong (Secretary-General of the Rio Summit) and Mikhail Gorbachev, working through organizations they each founded (Earth Council and Green Cross International respectively), launched an initiative (with the support from the Dutch Government) to develop an Earth Charter as a civil society initiative. After numerous drafts and after considering the input of people from all regions of the world, the Earth Charter Commission came to consensus on the Earth Charter in March, 2000, at a meeting held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The Earth Charter was later formally launched in ceremonies at The Peace Palace in The Hague. It seeks to inspire in all people a new sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the well-being of the whole human family, the greater community of life, and future generations.

  1. International Guiding Principles for Biomedical Research Involving Animals,1985 (revised in 2012)

These are issued by Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences (CIOMS) and the International Council for Laboratory Animal Science (ICLAS). The use of animals for scientific and/or educational purposes is a privilege that carries with it moral obligations and responsibilities for institutions and individuals to ensure the welfare of these animals to the greatest extent possible. While implementation of these Principles may vary from country to country according to cultural, economic, religious, and social factors, a system of animal use oversight that verifies commitment to the Principles should be implemented in each country. This system should include a mechanism for authorization (such as licensing or registering of institutions, scientist, and/or projects) and oversight which may be assessed at the institutional, regional, and/or national level.

6. The Assisi Declarations on Nature,1986

In 1986, HRH Prince Philip (the Duke of Edinburgh), then President of the WWF International invited leaders of five of the major religions of the world – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism. They met to discuss how their faiths could help save the natural world. The meeting took place in Assisi in Italy, (it was the birth place of ‘St Francis’, the Catholic saint of ecology). From this meeting, arose key statements by the five faiths/religions outlining their own distinctive traditions and approach to the care for nature.

By 1995, the Alliance of Religions and Conservation was formed. The five initial faiths issued more detailed statements and six other significant world faiths (Daoism, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, and Zoroastrianism) had also made their statements about the environment. By drawing on holy books, sacred sites, traditional farming, education networks, media, and the assets of the religions, assist and enable the religions of the world to respond to the environmental challenges of the Twenty-First Century.

  1. Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare ,2003

In March 2003, the Government of the Philippines hosted an intergovernmental conference in Manila that agreed the principles of a Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare. The proposed Declaration was agreed by the 22 government delegations that attended the conference. It was proclaimed in Paris on 15th October, 1978 at the UNESCO headquarters. It recognises that “animals are living, sentient beings and therefore deserve due consideration and respect.” Its principles declare that animal welfare “shall be a common objective for all nations” and that “all appropriate steps shall be taken by nations to prevent cruelty to animals and to reduce their suffering.”

The Declaration was simply agreed, by animal rights groups. This short Declaration primarily states that countries should acknowledge that animal welfare is an important public policy issue and more needs to be done for the benefit of animals around the world. While a number of countries have acknowledged support of the document, it is not yet a formally accepted Declaration. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations recognised UDAW in 2009, integrating animal welfare into its poverty alleviation, disaster relief and livestock development programmes.

  1. Resolution XXVI of World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), 2004

It established a permanent working group on animal welfare, with a significant programme. The February 2004 conference confirmed OIE’s international leadership role in animal welfare; Work on developing guidelines for priority topics is underway and Active involvement of all member states will be essential to the success of this initiative. Chapter 7.1.2 of the Guidelines of OIE recognizes “five internationally recognized freedoms for animals” – freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition, freedom from fear and distress; freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.

9. Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth, 2010

World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth at Bolivia (April 22,2010) called on the General Assembly of the United Nation to adopt it, as a common standard of achievement for all people and all nations of the world. Every human being is responsible for respecting and living in harmony with Mother Earth.

Table 2- International Instruments on protection of animals and environment

S.No. Instrument Place of adoption Objective
1. International Standards of OIE (World Organisation for Animal) as follows –

Terrestrial Animal Health Code , 1968 ;

Aquatic Animal Health Code,  1995 ;

The Manual of Diagnostic Tests and Vaccines for Terrestrial Animals , 1989 ;

The Manual of Diagnostic Tests for Aquatic Animals,1995



To provide a harmonised approach to disease diagnosis by describing internationally agreed laboratory diagnostic techniques;

 They are regularly updated as new scientific information comes to light, following its established transparent and democratic procedures.


2. Universal Declaration on Animal Rights, 1977 London

(Great Britain)

It  is designed to help humanity restore its harmonious relationship with the universe
3. International Guiding Principles for Biomedical Research Involving Animals,1985 To provide useful criteria to which academic, governmental and industrial bodies may refer in framing their own codes of practice or legislation regarding the use of laboratory animals for scientific purposes
4. Assisi Declarations on Nature,1986 Assisi (Italy) To present  multi-faith declarations on nature
5. Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare ,2003 (UDAW)

(Conceived in 2000)



To acknowledge the importance of the sentience of animals and human responsibilities towards them; to encourage and enable national governments to  introduce and improve animal protection legislation and initiatives.
6. Earth Charter (also referred to as a Declaration of Interdependence), 2000 Hague


To encourage a search for common ground in the midst of diversity and to embrace a global ethic that is shared by an ever-growing number of people throughout the world.

Principle 15 calls to treat all living beings with respect and consideration.

7. Draft Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth, 2010 Cochabamba


To reflect the vision of indigenous peoples of many parts of the world and to promote fundamental shift in decision-making about the utilization of natural resources
8. Draft Declaration on Animal Welfare,2011


  To develop the earlier draft arising from the Manila conference on animal welfare (2003) and the Costa Rica draft (2005) which incorporated suggestions made by the Steering Committee.

(Source – Compiled by Researchers)

UN, European Union, and various international animal protection societies/organisations have been playing an active role for animal protection. Their efforts echo the need for a stronger international framework addressing the issue. There is need of United Nations endorsed instrument on animal rights in particular. Animals should be the subject not just the object of rights. It is hoped to promote debate among the policy makers for preventing the extinction of animal lives for the benefit of future human generations and ensuring the well-being of all animals. Thus, a far more just and humane society is expected with respect for animal rights.


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