New York Lawsuit Arguing Chimpanzees Have Human Rights

Steve Wise and The Nonhuman Rights Project’s filing of a habeas corpus petition in Fulton County, New York -- the first of its kind seeking legal rights to non-humans -- has stirred a new life of sorts into an otherwise news-numbed media, and raising some perhaps some “ready-for-their-time” questions despite the lack of more strict precedent …..

An NPR article this morning says “the lawsuit uses a cornerstone of the legal system to seek this change. The Nonhuman Rights Project filed a writ of habeas corpus, which historically compels a judge to call upon a person's captor to explain why he has a right to hold the person captive – ‘More specifically,’ Michael Mountain writes in a Nonhuman Rights Project blog post,  ‘our suits are based on a case that was fought in England in 1772, when an American slave, James Somerset, who had been taken to London by his owner, escaped, was recaptured and was being held in chains on a ship that was about to set sail for the slave markets of Jamaica.  Somerset's godparents filed a writ of habeas corpus on Somerset's behalf in order to challenge Somerset's classification as a legal thing. The case went before the Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench, Lord Mansfield, and, in what became one of the most important trials in Anglo-American history, Lord Mansfield ruled that Somerset was not a piece of property, but instead a legal person, and he set him free.’

While “the motion argues chimps are being treated by the law as slaves,” the article says, “it also argues that the law right now already gives legal personhood to nonhumans in many instances: domestic animals, for example, who are the beneficiaries of trusts and, of course, extending some human legal rights to corporations, and argues, leading scientists say that ‘... Chimpanzees possess such complex cognitive abilities as autonomy, self-determination, self-consciousness, awareness of past, anticipation for the future and the ability to make choices; display complex emotions such as empathy; and construct diverse cultures. The possession of these characteristics is sufficient to establish common law personhood and the consequential fundamental right to bodily liberty.’”

The Nonhuman Rights Project asks the chimp be freed as a pet sent instead to a sanctuary where he can be properly taken care of.

Project’s 91-page Memorandum of Law in Support of Order to Show Cause and Writ of Habeas Corpus and Order Granting the Immediate Release