Monday, December 10, 2007

Happy Human Rights Day!

Um, do you greet people with a "Happy" on Human Rights Day? Or should I provide a long diatribe on the importance of preserving basic human rights world-wide. How about I just give a link to the news here, which is all about the more than 2000 Tamils who have been picked up in Colombo because of fear. They have released more than a 1000 and somehow that is supposed to make it o.k. I realize those attacks a week back were a little too close to home, but still, not every Tamil should be considered a suspect (not to mention that one of the attackers was a suicide bomber -- where do go for blame when your attacker kills herself too?).

Completely off topic, or maybe not, I received an e-mail today from a reader in Sri Lanka that asked if I'm calling Sri Lankans primates? This person seemed offended. First, I don't recall making this statement, but if you remember reading it please let me know. Second, all humans are primates. It doesn't matter what country you call home, you are a primate. There is no debate over this, it is a fact. The debate is over whether humans should be considered great apes. If you base this totally on the characteristics that make something a great ape, humans indeed fit this criteria. There is not enough of a difference between us and the other great apes to warrant our own category. Creationists don't like this idea and thus, as it really isn't that important, many people ignore the facts and omit humans when discussing the great apes (for general reference the non-human great apes are bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans; gibbons and siamangs are lesser apes). But humans are always in the primate classification. Sorry if this offends you, though I'm not really sure why it would.

[Editor's Note: The Sri Lankan in question was not offended, just curious. Oops. Anyway, good little bit of education there for those who care to learn.]


Offended Sri Lankan said...

Hi Jessica,

yes, i was just curious about the whole primate thing of yours...that's what really made me read your blog in the first place..
well, since you are lot into primates and apes the following article might interest you;

Spain May Grant Human Rights to Apes
From the desk of Jos Verhulst on Thu, 2006-04-27 20:32

The Spanish newspaper El Mundo (25 April) reports that Spain’s governing Socialists are submitting a bill to grant human rights to four species of animals. The species are chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang-utans: the so-called ‘great apes’ or ‘pongids’ (grandes simios in Spanish).

The purpose of the bill is to ensure that Spain adheres to the international Great Ape Project, granting the animals the right to life, freedom and not being tortured. The GAP motto is: “Equality beyond humanity”. Its declaration says: “We demand the extension of the community of equals to include all great apes: human beings, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang-utans.”

Great apes share 99 per cent of their genetic material with humans. Champions of their rights say they have an emotional and cultural life, intelligence and moral qualities reminiscent of those of humans. Francisco Garrido, a Green representative who belongs to the Socialist group in parliament, submitted the bill on 25 April. Garrido claims the Spanish Socialists are acting as ambassadors, as defenders and as the voice of the great apes. He hopes that Spain will become the first European country to grant them fundamental human rights.

The Spanish Socialists have been criticized for their initiative, which is the outcome of a purely materialistic view of human nature. Pamplona archbishop Fernando Sebastian called the proposal “ridiculous.” Amnesty International representative Delia Padron said she was “surprised” by moves to recognize the “human rights” of apes when many humans still lacked those rights.

Following the criticism Cristina Narbona, the Spanish minister for the Environment, denied that the great apes “will be granted human rights.” According to the minister the bill only aims to protect the natural habitat of the animals and avoid their ill-treatment and use in various circus activities. In the argumentation of the bill, however, one can find references to “the evolutionary and genetic similarities between humans and great apes.” Surely these are irrelevant if the bill only deals with habitat and animal protection.

What is more, these references make the philosophical foundation for the proposed bill somewhat shaky. Two problems arise: (a) the exclusion of, for instance, dolphins or jackdaws merely because they are biologically less related to humans seems to smack of “speciesism’, and (b) how does one determine the degree of relatedness to humans that is necessary for an animal to acquire human rights, i.e. why are these rights granted to great apes but not to lesser apes?

The Socialist Party does not grant the so-called ‘lesser apes’ (gibbons [Hylobates] and siamangs [Hylobates sundactylus]) the same rights, but even the more advanced ‘new world anthropoids’ [Platyrrhines] are excluded. The latter, however, include the ‘capucine monkey.’ Observations confirm that this species uses tools, something which one would expect to appeal to a workers’ party. Perhaps that omission will be rectified after the initial breakthrough of granting human rights to the great apes has been achieved.

Jessica L. said...

I firmly believe that apes should be granted so-called "human rights." Apes should not be used to entertain us -- they are too intelligent for that (and sensitive: most apes used in movies end up dying from the process of abuse to get them to work). I find Padron's statement short-sighted. If we wait until all humans are granted human rights before working on it for apes, well, we'll be waiting a long time. Also, apes can't talk (this is not due to intelligence, it is due to their lack of a voice box) so we have to fight for them.

All that said, if the bill really does only deal with habitat protection and outlawing use of apes in circuses, etc., it is extremely stupid to call it a human rights bill. It will not be passed (since we are talking about a fairly catholic state that does not recognize evolution). The law could be passed if they stopped trying to make it sound bigger than it is.

Nilusha said...

Really sweet of you to be so.. concerned about those apes Jessica..If there were 10 people like you out will definitely be a better place to live in....