PROGRESSIVE APPROACH FROM LIVING THINGS TO BEINGS: SOUTH KOREA’S PROPOSED AMENDMENT FOR ANIMALS
About the Author:
Shelal Lodhi Rajput
Shelal Lodhi Rajput is currently pursuing BBA LL. B (Hons.) from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. He has a deep interest in the subject of constitutional, environmental, human rights and public aspects of the law. Also, he loves to decode the contemporary political and socio-legal developments across the world and its evaluation on legal parameters in consonance with Human Rights. Further, he is eager to learn new skills and exploring the corporate subjects of law in the coming years of his law school.
Let me start by quoting a famous saying by Mahatma Gandhi that goes, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated” Just imagine this, that a family member beats another member and causes his or her death. Is there any way for justice? Ofcourse, we have the whole system to address the issue, ranging from the catena of procedural and substantive laws to court for giving justice to the victim(s). On the same side, just imagine that a pet animal left for dead after being brutally tortured by its owner. Now the question arose, is there any way to punish that owner or is there any way to pursue justice for that pet animal or for other animals.
The irony of human civilization lies here, as sadly the answer to the aforementioned question is NO in most of the countries because animals do not have a meaningful legal right. Animals in most of the countries are legal things and not beings. Animals deprived of meaningful legal rights as most laws considered animals as a property, entity or a thing but not a being.[i] They are treated in the same way as the objects or property. If we etymologically understand the meaning of the word “objects”[ii] it signifies that animals are devoid of the entity as living beings in most of the countries till now.
The Problem: Legal things & not beings
By and large most laws consider animals as property and objects.[iii]Not very different from your i-Phone or Mac or from your table and chair they can be sold and bought, they can be bred and killed or they can be just treated in the way you like them as they are the object in the eyes of law. Despite coming ahead of the Sumerian age and from the Babylonian time we still need to evolve into true sapiens (if taking into consideration the aspect as how we treat animals) as rightly mentioned by Youval Noah Harai in his book Sapiens. Thankfully a true civilised development is brought on table by South Korea to change the current position of animals in the country.
Unraveling the progressive step: South Korea’s proposed amendment
South Korea wants to change the status of animals from mere property[iv] and it plans to amend its civil code to grant a legal status to animals to consider them living beings instead of legal things or objects.[v] The step is for safeguarding the abuse and abandonment of animals in South Korea. These developments and the push for the amendment comes as the number of animals abuse cases increased to 914 in, the year 2019 from 69 in the year 2010.[vi]
Many of the abusers were punished under the country’s Animal Protection law (i.e., Animal Protection Act (2017). According to South Korea’s animal protection law, anybody who abuses or is cruel to animals faces up to three years in prison or a fine of 30 million won ($25,494).[vii] But there were no significant penalties or punishments due to the current legal standing of animals as object in the South Korea.
Therefore, it is proposed by South Korean Parliamentarians to pass the amendment in this very month to grant the animals the right to protection and not being treated as mere object rather they have also respect for their life’s.[viii] It will grant more options to courts and judges while determining sentences or punishments or penalties to animal abusers. The amendment will also pave the way for granting the life insurance packages insurance packages for the animals. And, to make it obligatory to rescue and report road kill.
Choung Jae Min of Justice Ministry of South Korea said “Once the civil act animals that used to defined as property are not objects the fundamental evaluation and perception will change in the legal world when attempts are made to injure or kill the animal the declaration would be reflected when the judges determined the punishment and prosecutors demanded sentences” The proposed amendment is supported by the people of South Korea with a great majority and they hope that proposed amendment needs to get implemented at the earliest.[ix]
Will South Korea be the first country to adopt such a law, the answer is NO. As Parliament of France had already amended the French Civil Code in 2015. The Parliament gives effect to the amendment to change the classification of non-human animals as ‘living being gifted sentience’ from ‘movable property’.[x] It means the ability of experiencing things however the change is limited in its scope. Bolivia also recognises the animals on same lines as they have a right to be recognised as living beings under The Law of Mother Earth.[xi]
In light of this latest socio-legal developments there are some tricky and controversial questions that pops up as how we can make a intelligible differentia or a reasonable distinction as on which animals the welfare laws are applicable and on which they are not, what about the commercial breeding of animals, why some images of animals behind the cage triggers the unrest while the slaughters of other animals are not, why we are treating them indifferently when they are of the same tribe ( i.e., animals).
The answer to aforesaid questions is completely subjective and it might have multiple answers or rather than conflicts in those answers but the one word that can sum it up is “psyche”. The ‘emotional prejudice’ is the true answer as it has drawn a line on the aspect of how we can differentiate the applicability of welfare laws on animals.
We suffer from “moral schizophrenia” when it comes to our moral and legal duties to animals or nonhuman creatures. We assert that animals have morally important interests in not suffering and that inflicting “unnecessary” suffering on animals is ethically evil. Because our moral schizophrenia is linked to the position of animals as property, animal suffering will be viewed as necessary whenever it helps human property owners.
We can no longer consider animals as human resources if we truly care about animal welfare. This does not imply that we must provide animals the same rights as human, or that we cannot prioritize human interests above animal interests in times of actual conflict. Rather, we must acknowledge that animals have just one must right: not to be exploited as property or not to be treated as a mere object or property.[xii]
[i]Wise, Steven M. Rattling the cage: Toward legal rights for animals. Hachette+ ORM, 2014.
[ii]a material thing that can be seen and touched.
[iii]Animals’ Legal Status (2021). Available at: https://aldf.org/issue/animals-legal-status/ (Accessed: 7 September 2021).
[iv]Civil Code, art. 98.
[v]Post, T. (2021) South Korea to grant legal status to animals to tackle abuse, abandonment, The Jakarta Post. Available at: https://www.thejakartapost.com/paper/2021/08/20/south-korea-to-grant-legal-status-to-animals-to-tackle-abuse-abandonment.html (Accessed: 8 September 2021).
[vi]News, W. et al. (2021) To tackle abuse, abandonment, South Korea to grant legal status to animals, Asianet News Network Pvt Ltd. Available at: https://newsable.asianetnews.com/world/south-korea-to-grant-legal-status-to-animals-gcw-qy2r4w (Accessed: 8 September 2021).
[vii]Cha, S. and Park, M. (2021) S.Korea to grant legal status to animals to tackle abuse, abandonment, Reuters. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/skorea-grant-legal-status-animals-tackle-abuse-abandonment-2021-08-19/ (Accessed: 8 September 2021).
[viii]Korea | World Animal Protection (2021). Available at: https://api.worldanimalprotection.org/country/korea#:~:text=The%20stated%20purpose%20of%20the%20Animal%20Protection%20Act%20(2017)%20is,to%20protect%20and%20manage%20animals (Accessed: 8 September 2021).
[ix]Cha, S. and Park, M. (2021) S.Korea to grant legal status to animals to tackle abuse, abandonment, Reuters. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/skorea-grant-legal-status-animals-tackle-abuse-abandonment-2021-08-19/ (Accessed: 8 September 2021).
[x]What France’s New Animal Rights Law Actually Means For Animals (2021). Available at: https://www.thedodo.com/animal-sentience-france-975901210.html (Accessed: 8 September 2021).
[xi]Bolivia enshrines natural world’s rights with equal status for Mother Earth (2011). Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/apr/10/bolivia-enshrines-natural-worlds-rights (Accessed: 8 September 2021).
[xii]Richard A. Epstein, “Animals as Objects, or Subjects, of Rights” ( John M. Olin Program in Law and Economics Working Paper No. 171, 2002).