Cecilia, a chimpanzee in Argentina, has become the first non-human person in the world freed from illegal imprisonment by the granting of a writ of habeas corpus. On April 5, 2017 Cecilia arrived at the Sanctuary of Large Apes in Sorocaba, Brazil. She was transported from the zoo in Mendoza, Argentina were a judge ruled she had been illegally imprisoned for 20 years.
Chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, and humans are hominid primates, and they are the four members of the Hominidae family known as “great apes.”
In 2012 a zoologist at the Buenos Aires Zoo considered sending Sandra, a 28-year-old orangutan, to a sanctuary. Sandra was born in Germany, but she had been in the Buenos Aires Zoo for about 20 years. No action was taken to relocate Sandra.
In November 2013 lawyers for Argentina’s Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA) filed a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Sandra. The petition asserted she was a non-human person who should be freed and sent to a sanctuary because she was “suffering an unwarranted confinement.” The AFADA lawyers argued Sandra was not an object, and deserved the basic rights of a non-human person because she was intelligent, aware of the passage of time, and self-aware enough to understand and be negatively affected by her confinement.
Sandra’s petition was denied, and her lawyer’s appealed.
On December 18, 2014 the appeal court judges unanimously granted Sandra’s writ of habeas corpus. The court’s ruling yjsy Sandra was wrongfully imprisoned was based on their historic decision she was a non-human person who had the right to life, liberty and freedom from harm. It was the first time a non-human was granted those legal rights previously reserved for “human persons.”
However, after the ruling Sandra remained at the zoo, so she wasn’t freed from her confinement.
The 99.4% genetic identity chimpanzees share with humans is more than other hominids, and they are very social, rational, and emotional beings. Their proximity with man is so close that a chimpanzee could be a blood donor to humans and vice versa.
Cecilia had been confined for about 20 years at the zoo in Mendoza, Argentina, where she was born, when her two chimpanzee companions died: Charly in July 2014; and Xuxa in January 2015. During those two decades Cecilia and her companions had been confined to an approximately 60′ square concrete cage with steel bars that was not exposed to sunlight.
In June 2015 AFADA filed a writ of habeas corpus on Cecilia’s behalf that alleged, “Cecilia has been illegally and arbitrarily deprived from her freedom of movement and a decent life by the authorities of the zoo of Ciudad de Mendoza, Argentina.” The petition asserted that because of the conditions of Cecilia’s incarceration and the death of her companions, “her health, physical, and emotional state is extremely deteriorated and worsens each day with an evident risk of death.”
Furthermore, the petition asserted Cecilia “is treated as a slave, unfairly and illegally deprived of her liberty of movement, like many other non humans. Cecilia has not committed any crime in order to be enduring an unnecessary suffering of this nature in an extreme confinement situation that is nothing more than a sine die illegal and unjustified confinement of a sentient being, who is not a thing and should not be treated as one, and without an order for such confinement from a competent authority, a judge.” Consequently, it is “the duty of the State to urgently order to free this non human person, who is not a thing, therefore cannot be subjected to the legal status of property that anyone has the power to dispose of.”
The petition requested that the court order “the liberation of Cecilia the chimpanzee, who has been illegally and arbitrarily deprived from her liberty of movement at the Mendoza Zoo and her immediate transfer and final relocation to the Chimpanzee Sanctuary of Sorocaba located on the Estado de Sao Paulo, Brazil…”
On November 3, 2016 Judge Maria Alejandra Mauritius granted Celilia’s petition. Judge Mauritius’ ruling stated:
“Since neither the procedure regulation of the province, nor any national law specifically contemplates a procedure to evaluate the situation of animals in captivity in zoos or any captivity situation contrary to the basic needs and natural habitat of the animal in question, I consider that the habeas corpus action is the applicable procedure, adjusting the interpretation and decision to the specific situation of an animal deprived of his essential rights while these are represented by the essential needs and conditions of the existence of the animal in whose favor the action is presented.
Under these circumstances, the habeas corpus action, in the present case, has to adjust strictly to preserve Cecilia’s right to live in an environment and conditions appropriate for her species.”
I.- GRANT THE HABEAS CORPUS ACTION presented by Dr. Pablo Buompadre, President of the Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights, A.F.A.D.A., represented by attorney Dr. Santiago Rauek.
II.- Declare chimpanzee Cecilia, who lives in the Province of Mendoza zoo, a non-human legal person.
III.- Order the transfer of chimpanzee Cecilia to the Sorocaba Sanctuary in the Republic of Brazil, which must be done before the start of fall, as agreed by the parties.” (Presented By A.F.A.D.A About The Chimpanzee “Cecilia”- Non Human Individual, File No. P-72.254/15 (Tercer Juzgado de Garantías, Judicial Power, Mendoza), November 3, 2016.)
There was much opposition in Mendoza to the ruling, including the filing of a legal action that sought to prevent execution of the judgment by alleging: “Cecilia was a property of the Province of Mendoza, which would be forbidden to dispose of her.” In early March 2017 Judge Mauritius’ reiterated her ruling and issued a deadline of 30 days for the legal documents of Cecilia’s donation to the sanctuary to be finalized, so that her transfer to Brazil could begin.
After a 48-hour trip, Cecilia arrived at her new home in the Sanctuary of Large Apes in Sorocaba, Brazil on April 5, 2017. The sanctuary shelters about 50 chimpanzees along with other animals, all from a circus or zoo. Sorocaba is about 60 miles west of São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city.
A week after Cecilia arrived, the owner of the sanctuary, Cuban Pedro Alejandro Ynterian, told a reporter with Agencia EFE, “She’s still very distrustful. She has a great ability to adapt and she really wants to, but she’s still really afraid of returning to the hell where she was living. When she hears an engine or some truck, she hides because she thinks they’re going to take her back.”
Click here to read Judge Mauritius’ 33-page ruling in, Presented By A.F.A.D.A About The Chimpanzee “Cecilia”- Non Human Individual, File No. P-72.254/15 (Tercer Juzgado de Garantías, Judicial Power, Mendoza), November 3, 2016.
The website for the Sanctuary of Large Apes in Sorocaba, Brazil (Santuário de Grandes Primatas) is at: www.projetogap.org.br.
There have been several unsuccessful court cases in the U.S. that sought to have animals granted legal rights comparable to those granted in Argentina.