Swiss Region Might Give ‘Fundamental Constitutional Rights’ To Monkeys

by : Cameron Frew on :
Swiss Region Might Give 'Fundamental Constitutional Rights' To MonkeysPexels/20th Television

A Swiss region is set to vote on giving monkeys ‘fundamental constitutional rights’. 

Back in 2016, an animal rights activist group known as Sentience Politics launched a proposal for the constitution in northern half-canton of Basel City to include ‘fundamental rights to life for non-human primates’.


While the collective struggled to gain any traction on the requested amendment for some time, recent developments have seen the issue leap to the fore of public discussion in Switzerland.

Gorilla family at Bristol ZooPA Images

Sentience Politics maintain that primates have a right to life, just as humans do, as they have a physical and mental integrity not necessarily possessed by all animals. They’re ‘highly complex beings,’ they said, ‘possessing an intrinsic, essential interest in living a life of bodily and mental integrity.’

As per The Local, the group explained: ‘Non-human primates need to be protected by fundamental rights which guarantee that their essential interests are respected.’


Fortunately, due to the laws of Switzerland’s direct democracy, giving the country’s residents far more power in federal decision-making, campaigners managed to secure the 100,000 signatures required to put the issue to a public popular vote in the region.

As per the Swiss tourism website, ‘the popular initiative gives citizens the right to propose an amendment or addition to the constitution. It acts to drive or launch a political debate on a specific issue.’

Bristol Zoo Gardens baby gorillaPA Images

It adds: ‘The authorities sometimes respond to an initiative with a direct counter-proposal in the hope that a majority of the people and the cantons support that instead.’


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While cantonal and city governments have largely been opposed to the amendment, citing concerns it could violate federal law, others have been more supportive. In addition to a court in Basel rejecting a complaint against Sentience Politics, Switzerland’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of the campaign moving forward.

New arrival of two chimpanzees at Osnabrück ZooPA Images

In a statement, the court said: 

In principle, cantons can go further than the protections guaranteed by the federal constitution. The initiative does not ask that federal rights accorded to humans be extended to animals, but is asking for the introduction of specific rights for non-human primates.

While unusual, this does not in itself contradict the superior law, especially since the fundamental distinction between animal rights and fundamental human rights is not brought into question.


While the activists have said they’re ‘thrilled at this historic decision’, there’s no word on when such a vote will actually take place in Basel.

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Cameron Frew

After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BJTC-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He's now left his Scottish homelands and taken up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.

Topics: News, Animal Rights, Animals, Gorillas, Monkeys, Now, Switzerland


The Local and 1 other
  1. The Local

    Basel to vote on granting monkeys 'fundamental constitutional rights'

  2. Discover Switzerland

    Direct Democracy