Ecuador Votes To Recognize The Legal Rights Of Animals In The Constitution & Requires New Legislation To Be Drafted To Protect Them

For the first time, the Constitutional Court of Ecuador has recognized the legal rights of nonhuman animals. The ruling not only elevates the legal status of nonhuman animals under Ecuador’s constitutional rights of nature but also requires that new legislation be drafted to protect the rights of animals.

The court’s ruling was the result of a habeas corpus action filed by Ana Beatriz Burbano Proaño on behalf of Estrellita, a woolly monkey who had lived in her home for 18 years. Environmental authorities had forcibly seized the monkey on the grounds that possessing a “wild animal” is prohibited by Ecuadorian law. Estrellita sadly died within a month of being relocated to a zoo.

Ecuador was the first country to include a rights of nature provision in its national Constitution. When the case came before Ecuador’s Constitutional Court, the judges elected to consider several issues, including: the scope of the country’s rights of nature provision; whether animals qualify as the subject of rights; and whether Estrellita’s rights were violated.

The Court found by a vote of seven to two that the scope of the rights of nature includes animals and thus animals are the subject of rights. The Court also indicated that habeas corpus could be an appropriate action for animals and that they may possess rights that derive from other sources in addition to the Constitution.

“This verdict raises animal rights to the level of the constitution, the highest law of Ecuador,” said leading Ecuadorian environmental lawyer Hugo Echeverría, who brought the case to the attention of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP). While rights of nature were enshrined in the constitution, it was not clear prior to this decision whether individual animals could benefit from the rights of nature and have rights. Thankfully, the Court has stated that animals are subject to have rights protected by the rights of nature.

The court’s detailed ruling directly refers to the joint amicus curiae supporting Estrellita’s case submitted by Professor Kristen Stilt and Research Fellow Macarena Montes of the Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School (ALPP), and attorneys Steven M. Wise and Kevin Schneider of the Nonhuman Rights Project, assisted by students Marianné Núñez Núñez and Raquel Cerezo Martínez, both of whom interned with NhRP through the Autonomous University of Barcelona’s Master’s Program in Animal Law and Society. The decision is available in both the original Spanish and English translation.

The Court accepted the brief’s arguments that challenged the traditional view that only ecosystems and species are protected by the rights of nature, not individuals.

“This decision is a huge step forward in the global struggle for nonhuman rights,” said Steven M. Wise, President of the Nonhuman Rights Project. “We hope and expect that fundamental legal change for nonhuman animals in the United States isn’t far behind.”

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