Basel to vote on giving monkeys civil rights

Basel to vote on giving monkeys civil rights

A new popular initiative in Basel aims to give monkeys and other primates basic civil rights, becoming the first Swiss Canton to do so. After a heated debate that split political parties, the motion was rejected. However, the issue is now due to become a referendum in Canton Basel Stadt in February 2022.

Vote focuses on animal welfare in Swiss cantons

The “Primate Initiative,” also known as “Fundamental rights for Primates,” aims to give monkeys civil rights within government institutions. The group hopes to establish “a limited fundamental right to life and physical and mental integrity for non-human primates.” This would mean monkeys would be given added protection against mistreatment and their use in scientific experimentation.

The group chose the Canton of Basel Stadt as it has a zoo within its boundaries, and is home to several international companies that have done scientific research on primates in the past. They argue that today’s animal welfare laws do not take the fundamental interests of non-human primates into consideration.

Initiative caused heated debate in Basel's Grand Council

The new initiative was discussed in Basel's Grand Council, where a heated debate took place amongst all political parties. Opponents of the vote argue that the idea blurs the line between humans and animals and “crosses a red line” when it comes to legality. Grand Council member Daniel Albietz said, “The removal of the boundary between human and animal rights should be rejected for very fundamental reasons.” 

Albietz went on to say that he did not understand why primates should be “legally better off” than other animal species. Other opponents noted that the initiative, which only targets cantonal institutions, cannot keep its own promises, as currently, no cantonal organisation keeps primates.

Primate Initiative to become a referendum in February 2022

In support of the bill, a spokesperson from the Green Party of Switzerland said the “granting of basic rights for primates is a moral and ethical matter.” Campaigners said Basel could take a pioneering role in giving rights to non-human animals, and give them greater protection against being tested and “exploited.”

The initiative was rejected by the Grand Council by 55 votes to 25. The Council had originally dismissed the vote as legally invalid in 2018, but was forced to bring the initiative back after a Federal Supreme Court decision in 2020. Now, the prospect of giving monkeys civil rights will be on the referendum ballot in February 2022.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Jan studied in York and Sheffield in the UK, obtaining a master's in broadcast journalism and a bachelor's in history. He has worked as a radio DJ, TV presenter, and...

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