Group Sues to Provide Legal Rights for Non-Humans
An animal rights organization has filed suit to free a chimpanzee being held in a New York trailer park, claiming non-humans deserve some of the same legal rights as people.
The Nonhuman Rights Project filed its writ of habeas corpus with the New York Supreme Court, with a chimp named Tommy as the focus of the unusual legal case.
Habeas corpus has been used frequently to help free people from unlawful imprisonment, but this time it’s being employed to assist a primate.
Steven M. Wise, the project’s leader, argues that captive chimps shouldn’t be enslaved, just as humans shouldn’t.
“This petition asks this court to issue a writ recognizing that Tommy is not a legal thing to be possessed by respondents, but rather is a cognitively complex autonomous legal person with the fundamental legal right not to be imprisoned,” the group’s court filing states.
Legal observers have acknowledged that Wise has undertaken a serious legal strategy—one that has never been previously attempted in the United States.
The plaintiffs want the court to remove Tommy from the Circle L Trailer Sales in Gloversville—where the chimp “is being held captive in a cage in a shed at a used-trailer lot,” according to the litigation—and place him in a sanctuary.
Patrick C. Lavery, owner of Circle L, told The New York Times that Tommy resides in a
large cage “with tons of toys.” He also told the newspaper that he rescued the chimp from a bad home, and had been trying to find a sanctuary for him.
The Nonhuman Rights Project intends to file other lawsuits to free three more chimps in New York. Two of the primates are reportedly owned by the New Iberia Research Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, but are housed at Stony Brook University for a study of locomotion. The fourth is owned by Carmen Presti of Niagara Falls, who runs the Primate Sanctuary.
Wise is requesting that all four chimps be moved to one of eight sanctuaries in the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance.
To Learn More:
Rights Group Is Seeking Status of ‘Legal Person’ for Captive Chimpanzee (by James Gorman, New York Times)
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