AN OPEN LETTER TO THE NEWLY ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE BAR ASSOCIATION OF SRI LANKA
Posted on April 5th, 2017
Senaka Weeraratna (Chapter Leader, Dharma Voices for Animals, Colombo, Sri Lanka Chapter)
April 05, 2017
Mr. U.R.L. de Silva
President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka
No. 153, Mihindu Mawatha, Colombo 12
Dear Mr. U.R.L. de Silva
Let me begin by congratulating you on your election last month as the new President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka. It represents a fulfillment of a life long career dedicated to the advancement of the Bar Association (BASL). I take this opportunity to wish you continuing success in your new role to elevate the standards of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka in many areas in step with the high standards we find in several other countries.
I am writing to you in my capacity as an Attorney-at – Law and Chapter Leader of the Dharma Voices for Animals (Colombo, Sri Lanka Chapter).
As you are probably aware legislative reform in respect to Animal Welfare in Sri Lanka is slow and sluggish. This appears to be deliberate. Instead of evolving on this front we have regressed. It is a blot on the conscience of our nation and also the legal profession to allow a toothless statute, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, No. 13 of 1907, which imposes as maximum penalty, a fine of Rs. 100 even for the most heinous crime committed on an animal, to remain as the primary legislation on animal protection, on the statute book.
The present laws against animal cruelty (Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ord., 1907) are outdated, obsolete, ineffective and poorly enforced. The Animal Welfare Bill originally drafted by the Law Commission (2006) is intended to replace this archaic law. Its provisions provide an effective deterrent, through adequate penalties and punishments for violations of the legislation. But there is no political will among lawmakers to make this happen to the great detriment of the interests of animals. This is a great shame and national embarrassment.
Several countries have elevated the rights of animals to that of constitutional rights to protect their dignity and honour. Unfortunately Sri Lanka again lags behind on this score despite having a splendid pre-colonial history of a heightened animal friendly cultural heritage.
As a modern day legal profession we must proceed to recognize that animals by and large experience suffering and pleasure in a way that is not biologically distinguishable from that of humans; that discrimination and ill treatment of animals on an arbitrary basis of difference —like species—is a violation of equity, natural justice and the rule of law.
Therefore, I would like to propose that the Bar Association of Sri Lanka:
1) establish as a first step an Animal Law Committee charged with a mission to address all issues concerning the intersection of animals and the law to create a paradigm shift resulting in a just world for all living beings. The status of animals in our legal system and in our society must get mainstream public attention such that the Rule of Law extends to not only humans but animals as well, ideally speaking,
2) Oversee and take a pro active interest in animal welfare issues e.g. due process protection, fair compensation when an animal is destroyed or injured, standards of care and accountability for animals deployed in industry and agriculture, phasing out of animal prisons (deceptively called Zoos) within a short period, giving expanding definitions to the notions of what constitutes ‘cruelty to animals’ and ensuring that the interests of wild animals e.g. wild elephants, are taken best care of in contexts of competing interests of wild animals and human beings for dwindling resources, are some of the challenges that lie ahead for both the legal profession and animal lovers. Current laws limit the legal options available to those who are seeking to protect captive animals, stray animals and wildlife. This must be changed.
3) As the new President of the Bar Association you must accept the challenge to lobby the Govt. of Sri Lanka together with animal rights activists, to enact the Animal Welfare Bill without any further delay as the first step towards securing the legislative protection of animals.
You must encourage young lawyers in particular to give their time and effort for animal advocacy work both within and outside the courtroom. BASL must strive to make sure that animals have adequate legal representation and advocacy where it matters.
These endeavours may sound far fetched and absurd but if one were to look closely at the Animal Rights scene in USA and many other western countries, you will see that these practices are well entrenched in those legal cultures.
Sri Lanka must strive not only for economic advancement but also accept the moral challenge to be in step with legislative reform rapidly taking place in the developed world to bring animals within the fold of sentient beings worthy of extending respect and dignity, and legal and constitutional protection.
As far as possible equity demands that we bring animals within the ambit of Justice and Rule of Law.
We must not leave this burden to the next generation(s) of lawyers.
(Chapter Leader, Dharma Voices for Animals, Colombo, Sri Lanka Chapter)