Swiss government says animal rights do not belong in the constitution

Man's best friend is unlikely to gain constitutional rights Keystone Archive

The Swiss government has advised voters to reject two initiatives aimed at enshrining the rights of animals in the constitution. The justice minister, Ruth Metzler, said a constitutional amendment was not the appropriate way to protect animals.

The two initiatives, supported by vets and animal rights activists, called for a constitutional amendment recognising that animals are not objects, and for an improved legal status for animals.

Both initiatives received well over the 100,000 signatures required to force a nationwide vote.

At the moment there are both federal and cantonal laws protecting animals in Switzerland, but it is widely recognised that they do not go far enough.

"We do not disagree with the principles of these two initiatives," said Ruth Metzler. "Animals are not objects; a dog is not a chair and a chair is not a dog. About that there is no argument whatsoever."

"But," she continued, "the government does not think the best way to improve the situation is through a change to the constitution. We can achieve the same goals more quickly by simply drafting new legislation which can be passed by parliament."

Because of this, the government has advised Swiss voters to reject both initiatives, but has not proposed - as it often does in such cases - a counter initiative.

Instead, the cabinet ministers have thrown their support behind draft legislation recognising that animals are living beings with the capacity to feel pain. If the Swiss parliament approves the legislation, a new law could be ready by the summer of next year.

Supporters of the two initiatives could still insist that their proposals go before Swiss voters, but the government believes it is more likely that the initiatives will be withdrawn, once animal rights activists are convinced that the proposed new legislation will be effective.

By Imogen Foulkes

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