Bring in the Animal Welfare Bill

Sunday Times Editorial

It was only last week we wrote in this space about the culture of torture prevailing in Sri Lanka. Just then, news broke out that there was cruelty to animals taking place as well following the extermination of stray cats and dogs within the premises of the University of Moratuwa.

The incident brought into focus, once again, the rights of animals and the attendant issue – the spread of disease, especially rabies. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and others have an alternative policy in CNVR (Catch-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release) where the need to eliminate stray animals is passé, a thing of the past. What is lacking, however, is the political will by successive Governments to get the necessary legislation into place, and put in place an administrative mechanism throughout the country’s local government councils to tackle these issues. The delay in holding local polls is only adding to the problem.

On the one side, the Government is still finding ways and means to find a solution to the garbage crisis, which is contributing to flies and mosquitoes and street dogs, cats and even elephants in rural areas, eating garbage and dying of polythene poisoning.

On the other, despite this island-nation’s rich animal friendly cultural heritage, from slaughterhouses to livestock farms, laboratories, zoos, homes, streets and even places of religious worship, animals are used and abused. While many nations without such a socio-cultural heritage recognise animals as “sentient beings” with a Right to Life by law and judicial determinations – and even Constitutional status, Sri Lanka lags way behind.The Law Commission drafted an Animal Welfare Bill and it was presented to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2006. Like the Right to Information (RTI) Law, this Bill too got stuck in the legislative pipeline during his tenure even though for the 2600 Buddha Jayanthi he introduced a ’No kill policy’ which had no legal effect.

Vested interests like those in the poultry business argued that poultry was not “animal” and lobbied politicians. In 2015, the new Government brought forth this Bill under its 100-day programme, but it took another year (2016) to get it approved by the Cabinet. Now yet another year (2017) is half gone and the draft Bill is yet to be presented to Parliament. So much for change from the Rajapaksa Administration.

It is the business lobby that is blocking this proposed law – not so much the issue of rabies control which itself is governed by an archaic Rabies Ordinance of 1893 – reflecting an age when animals were considered “chattel” (moveable possessions). Local councils have been given the authority to catch street “chattel” and destroy them – by gassing.

‘Man’s Best Friend’ is used by armies, customs, police and today, stray dogs are referred to as ‘community dogs’ as they are very much part of the community in many ways. But when a Government wants to beautify a city for an international conference, local councils are ordered to take a different approach to these animals. Sri Lanka’s dog population estimated at three million in 2008 has reduced to 2.2 million and while a successful CNVR policy is in force, the number of rabies cases has declined. According to the Public Health Veterinary Department, deaths from dog bites came down to 51 in 2008 to 19 in 2014.

Neighbouring India has made vast strides in animal welfare legislation and effective mechanisms to implement laws. India’s Supreme Court last week allowed only “irretrievably ill or mortally wounded” street dogs to be eliminated but that too in a ‘humane manner” ordering all states and territories to comply with the ruling.

No doubt, the Government has many issues on its plate — but a Government is supposed to govern and enacting modern legislation is a prerequisite of governance. Bring in the Animal Welfare Bill incorporating the 1907 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Law to replace the archaic laws and establish a National Animal Welfare Authority without any further delay.

Enlightened Constitutional-makers can even give these Rights to animals in the new Constitution they are drafting and bring to speed this country with the modern world given its rich heritage on the subject.

The LTTE is not dead – in Europe

A Luxembourg datelined news item ought to have caught the attention of the Government, surely. The item referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) de-listing the rump LTTE as a terrorist organisation.

While the 28-nation European Union (EU) was quick to say on Friday that its ban on the LTTE, first imposed following the assassination of the then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in 2005 continues to be in force, Europe’s highest judicial body kept the Palestinian Hamas group as a terrorist organisation, but not the LTTE.

While the quizzical judgment only illustrates the double-standards prevalent in Europe on terrorism, the Sri Lanka Government’s almost pathetic efforts at challenging this case filed by the LTTE which retained top Dutch lawyers way back in 2010 (after its crushing military defeat), is inexcusable.

The Rajapaksa Government ignored this case till 2012 when it was too late to intervene as a Third Party. The General Council lifted the ban on the LTTE in 2014, and this Government tried to retrieve lost ground and lobbied the EU member states simultaneously with the GSP + trade concessions – lost by the former Government abandoning its ties with Europe. The EU member-states appealed on behalf of Sri Lanka, but the ECJ this week rejected that appeal. Fortunately, the EU member-states have adopted ‘new reasons’ to ban the LTTE, which ban needs to be extended every six months.

It is time the Government realised that the LTTE is not quite dead. In Jaffna, Police reports that it was an “un-rehabilitated LTTE cadre” who shot at a judge last week. Abroad, the Diaspora is still at work retaining lawyers and funding politicians. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has launched a “commercial diplomacy” campaign worldwide. But political appointees heading missions in Europe are at sixes and sevens, and career diplomats have been sidelined from the decision-making process by politicians in Colombo. A circular sent out just this week (on Thursday and after the ECJ order) to Sri Lankan missions abroad has no mention of monitoring LTTE activities abroad. Foreign Governments are preaching reconciliation in Sri Lanka while their judges are de-listing the LTTE as a terrorist organisation. The “new statement of reasons” that keeps the LTTE banned in Europe, if it is to be challenged, should be counter-challenged by Colombo.

Wake up the MFA and the MoD (Ministry of Defence) to these realities.

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