IHC chief justice’s landmark verdict in Kaavan case echoes in dissenting note of NY top court’s judge

Islamabad local bodies' elections
Zubair Qureshi

A woman judge of New York’s top court while hearing a petition filed by the animals’ rights group Nonhuman Rights Project has quoted the Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah’s judgment in her dissenting note saying, Happy had the legal right of living a wildlife and was protected under the law.

The petitioners were seeking liberty for a female Asian elephant Happy in The Bronx Zoo but they lost their plea by 5-2 majority decision.

Justice Athar Minallah in his landmark judgment had held that Kaavan, a male Asian elephant who was chained in Islamabad’s Marghazar Zoo for decades, could no longer be kept in captivity and directed the Pakistan government (Ministry of Climate Change) to send the animal to a safe place, a sanctuary for the Asian animals in Cambodia.

The New York court’s decision was written by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and four other judges Michael Garcia, Madeline Singas, Anthony Cannataro and Shirley Troutman concurred with DiFiore while Judge Rowan Wilson wrote a dissenting opinion, to which Judge Jenny Rivera partially concurred in a separate dissenting opinion.

Referring to Justice Athar Minallah’s judgment dated May 21, 2019, Jenny Rivera held “When the majority answers “No, animals cannot have rights,” I worry for that animal, but I worry even more greatly about how that answer denies and denigrates the human capacity for understanding, empathy and compassion.”

In her note of dissent, she quoted the following lines of Justice Minallah’s historic judgment, “An animal is undoubtedly a sentient being. It has emotions and can feel pain or joy. By nature, each species has its own natural habitat. They require distinct facilities and environments for their behavioral, social and physiological needs. This is how they have been created. To separate an elephant from the herd and keep it in isolation is not what has been contemplated by nature. Like humans, animals also have natural rights which ought to be recognized. It is a right of each animal, a living being, to live in an environment that meets the latter’s behavioral and physiological needs.”

Asian elephants as “extremely sociable, forming groups of six to seven related females that are led by the oldest female, the matriarch,” who “spend up to 19 hours a day feeding . . . while wandering around an area that can cover up to 125 square miles.”

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