Notwithstanding Their Intelligence, Chimps Do Not Get Human Rights, NY Court Decides With A Rather Sensible Argument

A New York Court has decided that chimpanzees can’t be extended the same “human rights” people are entitled to.

In one of the first cases of its kind, chimps have been denied “legal personhood” by the appeals court of New York. The court justified its decision, saying our closest evolutionary neighbors are incapable of bearing the responsibilities that come with having legal rights, reported the Guardian.

The case involving Tommy, a 26-year-old chimp who lives alone in a shed in upstate New York, had made headlines a couple of months ago. Tommy had been living alone in what his lawyer Steven Wise described as a “dark, dank shed” in upstate New York. Wise, representing the Nonhuman Rights Project, which he helped found in 2007, was seeking a ruling that Tommy had been unlawfully imprisoned by his owner, Patrick Lavery. Wise argued that the chimp should be released to a sanctuary in Florida.

Though the one-of-a-kind legal procedure which sought to extend human rights to animals received widespread media attention, the appeals court merely upheld the previous ruling of denying human rights to chimps, reported BBC News. Despite Wise successfully demonstrating how Tommy was living autonomously, the court contended that it was not possible for a chimp to understand the social contract that binds humans together.

Presiding Justice Karen Peters noted in the ruling, “Needless to say, unlike human beings, chimpanzees cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions.”

While Wise’s appeal on behalf of Tommy to be treated as a legal citizen has been turned down, the case has made a small headway in the protection of the species. Peters categorically mentioned that while chimps could not be granted legal rights, Wise could certainly lobby the state legislature to create new protections for chimps and other intelligent animals.

While Wise didn’t have luck in persuading the appeals court, he couldn’t get another court to rule in favor of another chimp, Kiko. The deaf chimp was being held in a cement cage at his owner’s home in Niagara Falls. Nonetheless, Wise is hopeful about a third case he has filed on behalf of two other chimps that live at a state university on Long Island.

Sharing 99 percent of genes, chimps are our closest evolutionary relative. However, the one percent that separates us has allowed the New York court to deny these primates a right to live a decent life of freedom and choice.

Was the court right in denying the rights? Would a ruling in favor of the chimps have opened up the Pandora’s box for confusing and long-drawn litigation of animal/human rights?

[Image Credit | Seyllou / AFP / Getty Images]