Thursday, March 25, 2010

New Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty

On Wednesday, 24 March, both Russia and the United States indicated that after months of delay they are finally about to sign a new nuclear arms reduction treaty in the Czech capital Prague early next month.

The new treaty replaces the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), signed in July 1991 by US President George H. W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, which resulted in the largest bilateral reduction of nuclear weapons in history. START I expired last year. Its successor will require both nations to further reduce their arsenals of deployed strategic warheads by about 25 to 30 percent from present levels.

The breakthrough ends nearly a year of protracted negotiations that went on far longer than originally expected and beyond the deadline of 5 December when START I expired. The two sides got bogged down over issues like data sharing, verifying compliance and limiting missile defense programs.

Under the new treaty the limit on deployed strategic warheads will be lowered from 2200 under the 2002 Moscow Treaty to between 1500 and 1675 for each side. The limit on launch vehicles (bombers and missiles) will be reduced from 1600 to between 500 and 1100. The treaty also establishes a new inspection regime that will be more restrictive than its predecessor in the 1991 treaty.

Arms control proponents consider the reductions in the new treaty to be a modest achievement. However, the present agreement signals an improvement in US-Russian relations and would allow for another round of further strategic arms cuts later this year. Once this treaty is signed, the US government wants to start talks on further reductions in deployed strategic nuclear warheads, possibly down to 1000, as well as elimination of part of the thousands of strategic warheads in storage, and the thousands more tactical nuclear weapons that both nations have. In the near future both governments will be closely followed about the next steps in meeting their common nuclear disarmament goals.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Should animals have their own lawyers in court to protect their rights and dignity?

Animals are treated in an ambivalent way. On the one hand we look at them as adorable animals, which we keep as pets, or which we love and admire from a distance, in a wildlife reserve or behind glass in the zoo. Most pets are loved by their owners - they have a good life. And some fortunate pets even get a lavish treatment.

On the other hand it is normal in our society to regard animals as comsumption products. They are bred in order to be used for consumption - to be transformed into steaks, burgers, sausages, leather couches, bags, beautiful shoes or coats. Most people regard animal testing as useful and indispensable. It helps us to find cures for various diseases.

Unfortunately, there are no international binding laws to safeguard animal welfare. National animal protection laws can be quite stringent in one country but almost absent in another. Awareness of the need and the acceptance of responsibility to safeguard animal welfare and animal rights is not self-evident in this world. Disturbing news reports for example show us the dire circumstances in certain countries in which animals are bred and the cruel and inhumane way in which they are slaughtered in order to be used for consumption.

Because there is a lack of good animal welfare and protection legislation, it is difficult to protect animals from abuse and neglect and to prosecute those who commit the crimes. Many of the animals which are in the hands of humans are treated badly, without respect for their animal dignity.

There is a growing awareness of the need to develop animal welfare and animal protection laws. Switzerland for example takes animal welfare seriously. The Animal Welfare Protection act of 2005 is one of the strictest animal welfare laws and regulations in the world.

According to Swiss law, it is forbidden to keep lone pets such as pigs, guinea pigs, goldfish and other social animals. New dog owners have to take a mandatory course in order to train their dog and to learn how to take good care of them. [1] Swiss law gives very specific information to secure animal welfare. For example, the law stipulates the required water temperature for pet frogs and how much space a gerbil needs. [2]

In the Netherlands there also is a lot of attention for animal welfare and animal rights. The Netherlands is the only country in the world that has a political party for animal rights which has been elected. The political party is active in the Dutch parliament.

On March 7, 2010, the Swiss held a referendum on the question whether Switzerland should introduce a system of state-funded lawyers to represent animals in court which could serve as deterrent against animal abuse and neglect. Even though Switzerland has good animal welfare protection laws, enforcement of the law could be better. Cases of animal abuse often do not make it to court because they are not taken seriously by local authorities.[3] In Switzerland punishment for the neglect or abuse of pets is light. Perpetrators only have to pay a low fine. [4].

At first a majority of the Swiss people was in favor of the appointment of state-funded lawyers. Eventually, only 29.5 % was in favor and 70.5 % voted against the proposal. The Swiss have decided that animal protection laws are good enough and that Switzerland does not need lawyers to defend animal rights and protection of the welfare of animals. [5]

Antoine Goetschel from Zurich is the only state-funded attorney in Switzerland who defends the rights of animals (mostly dogs, cats, guinea pigs, cows, horses and sheep) in court. As a state-funded public prosecutor he represents an average of 150 to 200 abused, maltreated or malnourished animals a year. [6]

He is of the opinion that it is the essence of justice to appoint lawyers to those beings that cannot speak for themselves nor for their rights. The abusers of animals hire lawyers to defend themselves in court but the abused animals have no means of defending themselves. "Why shouldn't someone speak for the animal as well?" [7]

Goetschel thinks that we must be careful - that we should not discriminate when animal rights are concerned: "There is a danger that we only try to protect the animals we think are cute," he says. "I must strip myself of emotion. How would you choose to prosecute the person who cut the head off a cat with a knife versus the person who didn't give any food and water to their cat for two weeks causing it to die? Which cat suffered more? Suffering and dignity should be what guide you, not emotions." [8]

Goetschel says that it is not solely about the individual animal. The fight against the principle of abuse of animals is more important to him: "Snails and fleas are used in lab experiments; they should have some form of representation. It's the principle of their use that is important to me rather than the individual animals themselves. I believe that we increase our own dignity when we increase the dignity of others."[9]

The awareness of the need for better animal welfare and animal protection has grown and since the twentieth century considerable efforts have been made to improve the conditions of animals. But there are no universal standards and in some countries animals are simply much better off than in other countries. There is no binding universal yardstick, no general set of principles or rules and no universally applicable and enforceable international legislation with which national legislations need to comply.

In the seventies of the twentieth century, an effort has been made by the International League of Animal Rights to create a universal declaration of animal rights. The Declaration was proclaimed in Paris on 15 October 1978 at the UNESCO headquarters. The text was revised by the International League of Animal Rights in 1989, submitted to the UNESCO Director General in 1990 and made public that same year. Moreover, this document is not legally binding.

Another initiative is the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare (UDAW). This non-binding agreement consisting of basic principles is meant as an inter-governmental agreement. It has been created in order to recognise that animals are sentient, to respect their welfare needs and bring an end to animal cruelty. [10]

For ages philosophers have questioned the status of animals. Centuries ago influential thinkers already brought up issues such as cruel treatment of animals, animal welfare and the unnecessary suffering of animals kept by men. In the 18th century there was a renewed interest in animal welfare and animal ethics. The philosophers J.J. Rousseau and J. Bentham for example, were champions of the improvement of animal welfare.

Important questions in the field of animal ethics are: do animals have moral status? Do they have intrinsic value? Are animals sentient beings? Can they suffer? Do they have rights? Should they have rights? And if so, what is the legal basis for animal rights? There are many perspectives concerning animal rights, such as the utilitarian vision of Peter Singer and the rights based vision of Tom Regan.

Many philosophers and other intellectuals have given their opinion on animal ethics and animal rights. The animal rights question is not an easy one. There are many aspects which need to be taken into consideration. E.g.: do little animals such as lice and millipedes have the same rights as horses or whales? Should we draw a line? Do our moral obligations begin and end at the boundary of our own species? Should we acknowledge the rights of invertebrates as well as vertebrates or only vertebrates, or just mammals?

The general opinion regarding the question whether animals have rights is that animals do not have moral status. Animals do not have an intrinsic value. According to most people, animals are no bearers of legal rights. In order to have rights, a moral status is needed. Human beings have obligations toward each other - to treat each other with respect and to respect each others rights. Mentally disabled persons and very small children or embryo's also have rights even though they are not moral agents. But there are also persons, such as Peter Singer, Tom Regan and Antoine Goetschel, who believe that animals do have rights and that human beings need to make sure that these are safeguarded.

The fact that animal rights are not generally acknowledged (there are many different points of view regarding the question whether animals have rights) makes it even more difficult to create a good set of basic universal principles for the protection of the welfare of animals. It is even harder for people, the public opinion and the international legal conscience to fully recognise the importance of these principles and the need to accept them and use them as a blueprint for legally binding international and domestic legislations.

It seems really ridiculous to defend the rights of one earthworm or a single beautiful butterfly in court. But it seems completely sensible to accept and to take responsibility for the wellbeing of other living beings. Animals should not be treated disrespectfully, disregarding the fact whether it concerns a small insect or a larger animal such as a hedgehog, a whale or an elephant. We should treat animals and nature - life in general - with dignity and respect.


Newspaper articles

Other documents related to animal welfare and animal rights

Relevant Peace Palace Library Keywords


[1] See Swiss ask whether animals need lawyers. An article from BBC News.

[2] See Swiss say no to animal lawyers. An article from The Independent.

[3] As quoted from The hoof, the whole hoof...Swiss to vote on legal rights for animals. An article from The Independent.

[4] See
Switzerland rejects move to provide lawyers for animals. An article from BBC News.

[5] See Swiss say no to animal lawyers. An article from The Independent.

[6] As quoted from
Switzerland rejects move to provide lawyers for animals. An article from BBC News.

[7] As quoted from Swiss ask whether animals need lawyers. An article from BBC News.

[8] As quoted from
The lawyer who defends animals. An article from The Guardian.

[9] Op.cit.

[10] See Provisional draft of a universal declaration on animal welfare from the Universal Declaration of Animal Welfare (UDAW) website.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Falkland Islands Conflict

Tensions between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands came to a boiling point when the UK announced plans to begin offshore oil drilling near the remote islands in February of this year.
The history of the Falkland Islands is a complicated one. The British established a settlement there from 1766 to 1774 after which it was abandoned. Subsequently, the Falkland Islands became part of Argentinian territory until the British seized the islands by force in 1883.
In March of 1982, General Galtieri, head of the military junta in Argentina decided to invade the Falkland Islands, but the UK was able to reclaim them after 74 days of war. However, after the war, Argentina maintained a sovereignty claim over the Islands which it calls Islas Malvinas. Since the dispute was never resolved, British oil explorations in the Falklands basin caused a great deal of controversy in Argentina as well as in the international community.

The government of Argentina formally objected to British drilling plans by adopting a decree determining that all ships travelling through Argentine territorial waters must seek a government permit to do so. British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband stated that his country’s oil exploration is ‘completely in accordance with international law’. According to the Argentinian Deputy Foreign Minister, Victorio Taccetti, ‘the UK sought to unilaterally and illegitimately exploit natural reserves that belong to Argentina’. Geologists have estimated that there are up to 60 billion of barrels of oil in the seabed near the Falklands Islands.

As the issue escalated, Argentina decided to take the dispute to the United Nations General Assembly where it hopes to garner support for its claim to sovereignty over the Islands. So far, a total of 32 Latin-American as well as Caribbean nations have issued a statement endorsing Argentina’s demands. As UN diplomats anticipate that Argentina will be able to get a resolution passed by simple majority vote, it should be noted that resolutions are not legally binding. If Argentina insists on pushing this matter even further, it will ultimately need to be litigated by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. Aside from the issue of sovereignty, legal experts expect Argentina to address the seabed issue as well.

This dispute raises a number of questions based on international law. Under international law, Argentina is entitled to limit access by ships to and from its ports. Even though Argentina has extended its rights to ships passing through its territorial waters, article 17 of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea states that ships have a right to innocent passage. This causes the Argentinian decree requiring ships to seek government permits for passage to be problematic.
Under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, coastal states may explore and exploit natural resources of their continental shelf for up to 200 nautical miles from shore. It is also possible for States to extend that outer limit up to 350 nautical miles from the baseline of the territorial sea. The areas that are claimed by the UK and Argentina are overlapping which will automatically bring up the issue of sovereignty. In general, any dispute under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea must be brought to the Commission on the Limits to the Continental Shelf but the Commission is not authorized to address issues regarding sovereignty of states.
A Falkland Island Government Legislative Assembly Member Ian Hansen stated that ‘as long as there is a sovereignty dispute, there can be no further discussion on continental shelf issues’. From a legal standpoint the issue of oil drilling in the Falkland Basin won’t be easily resolved and will probably result in a very long legal procedure in case one of the parties decides to take the matter to the ICJ . It is therefore very likely that both nations will seek diplomatic as well as economic solutions to settle their claims.

Relevant Sources/ Articles:

The Falkland Conflict Twenty Years on; Lessons for the Future, by S.Badsey, R. Havers, M. Grove.London, Cass 2005 [1]

Newspaper Articles
Merco Press
Times Online
The Independant
Mail Online