Greek Activists Call For Constitutional Protection For Animal Rights

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On December 5th 2018, Panhellenic Animal Welfare and Environmental Federation (PFPO) sent a letter to Mr. Nikos Paraskevopoulos, Chairperson of the Greek Parliamentary Committee, calling for a revision to the Greek Constitution to achieve constitutional protection for animal rights. The text of the letter is included, in full, below. 

Honorable chairperson,

Our federation is an animal welfare coalition containing the majority of the animal welfare organizations in Greece. We would like to address you about constitutional animal protection, which had already been achieved in many European countries.

This proposed constitutional revision is based on the view that other animals deserve the same ethical consideration as humans. It also relates to the position that it is morally unacceptable to treat any living being like an object. 

According to article 24 of Greece’s Constitution, both the natural environment and biodiversity are protected by the state, and the state should take appropriate environment protection measures so that endangered animal species are protected (Council of State 2731/1997). The case law of the Council of State provides that conservation of biodiversity is an integral part of environmental protection.

Biodiversity protection, in particular the protection of fauna, is extremely important for the existence of life on earth. The inclusion of fauna protection in the protective provisions of the Constitution is indeed crucial. The extinction of any animal or plant species has unforeseeable long-term and short-term effects on ecosystem conservation. 

In several countries, for various reasons, animal protection has been enshrined in the Constitution. In Greece, it could be the same, even if only because our Constitution is anthropocentric, and protecting animal species preserves ecosystems in a way that benefits humans. 

Constitutional animal protection in other countries

In 1950, India was the first country to provide protection to cows on the basis of their intrinsic value. In 2008, the state of Florida provided Constitutional protection for female pigs. In particular, methods that are considered cruel were banned, especially during pregnancy.

The Constitution in Germany states, “The State protects the natural bases of life and animals exercising legislative function, in the framework of the Constitutional order and exercising executive and judicial function under the conditions defined by law.” It should be emphasized that the aforementioned ordinance was amended after years of struggle, on July 26th, 2002, with the addition of the phrase “and the animals.”

In the treaty for establishing of the European Constitution (Official Newspaper of European Union, 16th of December, 2004) in Part III, Policies and Functioning of the European Union, the following is stated: “In European Union policy shaping and implementation to the agriculture, fisheries, logistics, internal market, research and technological development and space, the European Union and its member states take into consideration the requirements of animal welfare as sentient beings, complying both with legislative or administrative ordinances and customs of member states relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”

The Committee of Institutions and Constitutional Revision of the Luxembourg Parliament voted to include in their Constitution the following phrase: “the State provides protection for animal welfare.” The addition of this phrase was decided after a proposal to the Council of State.

In the Constitution of Switzerland, there are several ordinances on animal protection, such as article 104, which states that the Confederation “through financial incentives strongly supports forms of exploitation with respect to environment and animals which are compatible with nature.”

According to article 225 of the Constitution of Brazil, administrative authorities are obliged to protect animals on the terms prescribed by law. Practices which endanger their biological functions and cause animal species extinction or cause cruelty to animals are forbidden. In addition, the Constitution of Buenos Aires establishes respect for life and animal protection, stating that the state must protect animal health and avoid cruel treatment of animals.

Different reasons and needs made it essential that ordinances on animal protection were included in the Constitutions of each one of the aforementioned countries. In Switzerland, there was perceived danger to animals because of developments in genetic science. In Germany, animal protection law was previously insufficient and it had not been adequately enforced whenever it was in conflict with religious worphip or scientific and artistic freedom.

Conclusions: our proposal

In Greece, it is imperative that animal protection is enshrined in the Constitution. For several reasons that will be explained below, it is now the time for a historic change. All over the country, every day, numerous incidents of animal abuse and crimes towards animals take place. Some of them are deliberate and some are a result of a lack of empathy for animals. Citizens, officials and police officers do not comply with existing animal legislation because they are often not able to understand the importance of specific legislative provisions, penalties and administrative fines. Quite often, administrative fines are not appropriately imposed by police officers, as they consider animal legislation to be of little importance compared to other laws.

Even if additional animal protection laws are introduced in our country, they will never be implemented with the same rigor as other categories of laws. It is imperative that a stricter legal basis exists, so that the principle of equality is ensured. If animal protection is included in Article 24 of the Constitution, it will be taken into account in the development and planning of the state’s activity in a variety of sectors, such as agriculture, fisheries, logistics, internal market, research and technological development.

It is vital that protection and respect for life in all its forms be institutionally guaranteed. In this way, lower-ranking laws which are related to animal protection will be better interpreted and implemented.

More than 30.000 Greeks have already signed our proposal:

“The state is obliged to take all appropriate measures for protection and respect of life in all its forms. In particular, the state takes care of all animal species’ welfare, living conditions, transportation and import. Whenever necessary, prohibitions and restrictions should be imposed, especially on issues related to animal experiments and interventions and animal killing. The state is also responsible for wildlife protection and conservation of endangered species.”

Alternatively, and taking into consideration other countries’ Constitutions and the Fundamental Law of Bonn, the phrase could be as follows: “The State is obliged to take all appropriate measures on protection and respect of life in all its aspects, as it is defined by law.”

We hope that the proposal of our country’s animal welfare movement will be accepted, even though the level of empathy for animals is lower in Greece than other European countries. We thank you kindly and we are looking forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

The Panhellenic Animal Welfare and Environmental Federation (66 Associations) and the Panhellenic Coordination Committee of 145 Animal Welfare Societies 


Featured image: the Greek Parliament House in Athens, Greece. Image credit Abraham Puthoor, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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The Panhellenic Animal Welfare and Environmental Federation was established in 2010, and is the largest animal welfare organization in Greece. Their mission is to protect and uphold the rights of animals through protest and legal actions. Click to see author's profile.

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