Interview with World Animal Justice

May 24, 2024Lu Shegay, Dr. Sabine Brels

Please welcome Dr. Sabine Brels, the Founder & Director of World Animal Justice (WAJ).

World Animal Justice (WAJ) is a non-profit organization working to end animal crimes & defend animal rights. WAJ aims to provide an international platform to international criminal-animal law researchers, academics, and advocates and is engaged in developing new law proposals and tools to share knowledge and comparative analysis. It is one of the few European animal organizations that joined the Alliance for Animal Law of Asia, an international campaign initiated by the Institute of Animal Law of Asia. Through this interview, we would like to introduce our members to the public and our audience. We are excited to learn more about the World Animal Justice (WAJ)!

"Black sea turtle swimming near a shallow coral reef" by Jeremy Bishop from Pexels

Part I: Introduction

IALA: Sabine, could you please tell us more about your organization? Your organization aims at making crimes against animality recognized and ultimately forbidden in international law by analogy with the international crimes against humanity, what was the major drive for you to found this organization? What specifically does your work include?

Sabine: World Animal Justice (WAJ) is an international NGO founded with the mission to combat animal crimes and defend animal rights on a global scale. Our organization recognizes the urgent need to address the widespread exploitation and (ab)uses of all animals (farm, companion, stray, wild, captive, lab animals or used for work, sports, or entertainment). Our ultimate goal is to see crimes against animality recognized and forbidden under international law.

Indeed, crimes against are a global issue happening worldwide. To date, no international instrument exists to globally protect animals as sentient individuals. The time has come to fill this gap towards a new Global Animal Protection. The major drive for founding World Animal Justice is the recognition of the inherent value and rights of animals and the acknowledgment of the interconnectedness of human-animal-environmental protections.

WAJ stands that animals deserve legal protection from all forms of criminal acts.

Worldwide, animals are victims of massive unnecessary and avoidable crimes, as long as reliable alternatives exist to save billions of animal beings from immense suffering. The law should urgently protect their rights on a global scale to stop these crimes from being endlessly perpetrated in such an inhumane way for sentient and conscious victims.

Therefore, WAJ stands that the fundamental interests of animals to live, to be free, and to be well-treated should become legally enshrined rights and upheld in international law.

Our work includes several key components:

Secondly, WAJ collaborates with other organizations around the world to share knowledge, exchange ideas, and coordinate efforts to advance animal protection globally. Our partnership with the Alliance for Animal Law of Asia (AALA) exemplifies our commitment to international cooperation and solidarity in our common fight against animal crimes.

IALA: Your work and the goals of the organization sound impressive. Achieving the recognition of animals as victims of crimes against animality sounds challenging. Rome Statute in its Article 7 specifically indicates the acts against the civilian population and refers to only male and female gender. Based on that, how far do you think animal advocacy is from reaching the point of recognizing animals as crime victims in international law? 

Sabine: Indeed, ‘crimes against animality’ can be defined by analogy with the ‘crimes against humanity’ defined under Art. 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In this sense, ‘crimes against animality’ would include:

We need to further explore the potential of the ICC to recognize the crimes against animality in the future, which remain uncertain. For now, its mandate is indeed limited to humans only, but the ICC prosecutor Khan had recently proposed a consultation on extending its scope to crimes against the environment. Therefore, in the future, it may not be impossible for animals to become considered a new kind of victim under international criminal law (at least to a certain extent), under this Court or more probably another new Court that will be able to judge more specifically the ‘crimes against animality’ and the ‘Zoocide’ (by analogy with the ‘genocide’ for humans and the ‘ecocide’ for the environment meaning the destruction of animal species and populations). These are two possible and prospective ways that are being explored by the current WAJ expert group work.

IALA: What animal law issues does your organization address and what regions does it cover? Do you focus on France, some parts of the country, or also some other European regions?

Sabine: World Animal Justice has a global scope and our ultimate goals are to fill the gaps of animal protection in international law, to enshrine fundamental animal rights, and to prohibit the worst and most massively perpetrated worldwide animal crimes. This ‘top-down’ approach needs to be led in parallel with a ‘bottom-up’ approach if we want these goals to have a chance to succeed. Why? Because international law instruments are made and adopted by sovereign States and regional organizations. Even if animal NGOs can make textual proposals that are well-written and can sound convincing, the States are writing the text they chose to be legally binding for them. That is why, the texts adopted are most of the time much less ambitious than the initial proposal. Even more at the international level where many countries and diverging interests are present, legal texts used to be watered-down.

Therefore, we know that asking to recognize and prohibit animal crimes in international law is a long-term goal, and we need to urgently act to legally protect animals more locally without waiting for the international community to act efficiently to save animals worldwide as if it would be a magic-stick saving them all from their terrible fate.

That is why, we are acting at the country level in the shorter term, most notably in supporting animal law advocacy of national NGOs campaigning against some cruel acts against animals that remain to be legally forbidden and prosecuted under criminal laws.

We are also considering the regional level as a mid-term goal, for instance in asking regional organizations like the European Union or the Council of Europe to adopt new legislation against widely caused and harmful criminal acts towards animals.

IALA: What are the challenges and difficulties you have ever faced during your animal advocacy work?

Sabine: From my 15 years of legal and advocacy work for animals in various NGOs (Global Animal Law, World Federation for Animals,  Eurogroup for Animals, Compassion in World Farming International, Confederation Defense of Animals, and now World Animal Justice), I could identify some major challenges and difficulties working against animal protection in general and especially for strengthening it significantly.

The challenges I could observe are the following:

The difficulties encountered, which are the main obstacles raised by opponents, are:

These lobbies are usually well-united and organized making it sometimes difficult to have a sufficient counter-power for animal protection initiatives to be successful. And sometimes, we can have great promises from the government that never see the light. It happens when politicians first want to satisfy their citizens' demands, but they finally end up satisfying the more powerful industries. Unfortunately for animals who still pay a heavy price for that: “money (still) rules the world” system.

This should also lead to a change, such as the anthropocentric-legal model which is still the dominant paradigm. This old and deleterious system for all the living beings on this planet showed its tremendous limits. This is the time to create a new just, sustainable, equitable, and fair-for-all legal system that also takes animal ethics into account. Otherwise, animals will still remain the missing piece of the global puzzle. But we cannot protect humans and our environment well enough without protecting animals too. Why? Because we are all interconnected in the web of life. And because (in)humane  adverse actions towards animals (domestic and wild, terrestrial or aquatic, etc.) have a repercussion on nature and our humanity.

As Plato said, our world would probably be better if ruled by ‘kings philosophers’.

IALA: Do you have anything to share about the plans of World Animal Justice that it intends to accomplish during 2024?

Sabine: This year World Animal Justice has just launched two main projects: the WAJ Experts Webinar Series and the Asia-Pacific Animal Law Overview (APALO).

The format includes presentations and Q&A sessions, with replay videos available. The target audience includes animal lawyers, policymakers, advocates, law enforcement officials, educators, NGOs, and everyone interested in animal law. The series aims to empower individuals and organizations to combat animal crimes and strengthen animal protection laws, therefore, aiming for animal justice worldwide.

With the contribution of knowledgeable animal lawyers and national specialists in the Asia-Pacific countries, led by Lu Shegay (IALA Director) for Central Asia and Dulki Seethawaka (WAJ Expert) for Southern Asia, this APALO project aims to create a comprehensive database of anti-cruelty laws, as well as specific obligations and prohibitions concerning animals in the Asian countries, including Australia and New-Zealand for the Pacific region. It addresses the challenges of accessing, understanding, and comparing diverse legal frameworks concerning the legal protection of animals. As an expected result, it would allow us to deduce a map of what is forbidden -or allowed- to do against animals and where in these countries.

Concretely for instance: this map can clearly show the countries that have anti-cruelty laws and specific bans on dog meat, bear farms, shark finning, etc., and where they are still allowed in the countries of the Asia-Pacific region.

Importantly, APALO seeks to facilitate legislative reforms and advocacy initiatives and enhance animal protection efforts in the region by providing easier access to legal information. The target audience includes legal professionals, policymakers, animal advocates, educational institutions, and the general public that is curious to know the current laws in force.

"Close-Up Shot of Gorillas Walking on the Grass" by Klub Boks from Pexels

Part II: French Animal Law Issues

IALA: What do you think are the most important and pressing animal law issues that exist in France? In many countries around the world, regulations concerning animals may exist but lack enforcement. What is the situation in France, and how do you think animal protection can be improved?

Sabine: There are many issues regarding animal protection and its legal aspects in France.

In line with WAJ work, major issues concerning animal crimes are present in France:

Since 2021 in France, the maximum penalties for aggravated cruelty that led to the death of the animal is now 5 years in prison and a EUR 75 000 fine. But even in the most horrible and sordid cases, the maximum sentence that could have been pronounced in a very rare and mediatic case is up to 24 months in prison, most of the time with probation periods and sentence adjustments. However, it could be decided by judges a lifetime ban on keeping an animal for repeat offenders concerning cruelty, intentional killing of animals without reason, or sexual acts of violence like zoophilia.

IALA: What is the attitude of the government and the public towards the legal protection of animals, animal law movements, animal welfare, and animal rights activism in France? What is the biggest and most important campaign now happening in the country or a specific city that is aimed at elevating animals’ status and/or rights?

Sabine: To date, animal protection is neither a priority nor considered an important subject of social justice by the current policy and decision-makers in France. However, there is a growing movement for animal advocacy in France. Increasing opinion polls evidence the pressing demand from French citizens to better protect animals. 

There was great hope with regards to the European Commission which made great promises to all EU citizens in 2021 to end the cage age for farmed animals by 2027, which would have considerably improved the lives of 300 million animals in the EU, with a total review of the animal welfare regulations to a new protective codification of EU animal welfare law. But this promise was not kept. There is a current lawsuit against the European Commission as it disrespected the democratic European citizens' initiative process in not providing the awaited answer for improving animal protection. In this aim, European citizens should mobilize to reverse the current state of play at the upcoming elections of new EU parliament representatives in June 2024. If enough pro-animals MEPs are elected, some hope remains for the previous commitment taken by the EU Commission for the animals to be finally respected.

"Silhouette Photography Of Horse" by Bas Masseus from Pexels

Part III: International Cooperation

IALA: What animal law issues do you think European and Asian countries might have in common? How can both regions cooperate in the animal advocacy work?

Sabine: The question of international cooperation is very important, and it can change the current status quo of animal protection at international level.

Europe and Asia are major markets and international providers of animal products, either domestic or wild animals, with all the massive animal crimes and suffering involved for money's sake. As money is the issue, can it turn out to bring solutions?

In this respect, we can think, for example, of bilateral trade agreements with animal welfare conditions to be respected. For instance, a progressive trade agreement would consider that the long transportation of live animals is totally prohibited.

At least a first step can be to impose very strict conditions for the welfare of animals to be respected at a much higher level than it is today to avoid the current endless transportation nightmare by trucks or boats until their slaughter hell.

Interestingly, this type of provision may be validated by the World Trade Organization which has already recognized the importance of animal welfare as a possible moral exemption under GATT Art. XX(a)) in the frame of the seals case. This case (against Canada and Norway) followed the EU prohibition to import seal products resulting from cruel seal hunting, going against the EU public’s opinion.

IALA: What goals would you like to achieve through the Alliance for Animal Law of Asia? In which ways do you think World Animal Justice could help the animal advocacy field within the Alliance for Animal Law of Asia?

Sabine: Together with the Institute of Animal Law of Asia and the members of the Alliance for Animal Law of Asia, World Animal Justice (WAJ) aims to contribute to advancing common animal protection law goals.

First of all, WAJ can contribute to common goals with animal law expertise, providing a special focus on its international, comparative, and criminal animal law.

Secondly, WAJ can facilitate the exchange of expert knowledge and best practices among the Alliance members through workshops and seminars. By sharing insights from its global network of animal law professionals and advocates, WAJ can play a role in supporting IALA efforts to empower the Alliance members with the tools and resources needed to advance their advocacy efforts through international legal expertise.

Last but not least, WAJ can collaborate with the Alliance members to develop evidence-based policy recommendations and advocacy campaigns aimed at promoting legislative and regulatory reforms that benefit animals in the Asian region, notably through the APALO project. By leveraging its expertise in legal analysis and advocacy, WAJ can help the Alliance members identify strategic opportunities for legislative change and mobilize public support for their advocacy initiatives.

To sum up, through its partnership with the Alliance for Animal Law of Asia, World Animal Justice can help to share expertise, knowledge, and best practices to support the advancement of animal protection in the region through international and comparative animal law in support of IALA's key work in Asia.

IALA: Are you seeking any global participation in developing animal law through your organization and participation in the Alliance? Do you collaborate or intend to collaborate with other countries/regions to improve the law of the protection of animals in general?

Sabine: As the goals of World Animal Justice are global ones, global participation is essential. That is why WAJ seeks to contribute to animal law advances by collaborating with IALA and being part of the Alliance. We do recognize the importance of collaboration with experts and organizations from various countries and regions to advance WAJ goals that are shared by many animal protection organizations to better protect animals and ultimately stop the massive crimes that happen every day against millions of our fellow sentient beings.

As part of this commitment, WAJ is actively developing its network with experts and organizations in other regions of the world to exchange knowledge, share best practices, and collaborate on initiatives aimed at improving the protection of animals in the law. As our ultimate aim is to protect animal rights and prohibit animal crimes worldwide, our collaboration with other countries and regions is essential in achieving this goal. We believe that by working together on a global scale, we can create meaningful change and ensure that animals are afforded the legal protections they deserve.

IALA: Do you have any experience or suggestions to share with our members on how to advocate for animals more effectively?

Sabine: This is a great question and we need to actually share valuable experience and suggestions with our networks on how to advocate for animals more effectively. One crucial aspect is recognizing the power of unity among animal defenders globally. By coming together as a united front, members can amplify their voices for the voiceless and exert greater influence on policymakers, industries, and the public. Collaborating with like-minded organizations and individuals from around the world strengthens advocacy efforts and creates opportunities for sharing resources, knowledge, and best practices.

Additionally, WAJ encourages members to leverage various advocacy tools and tactics, such as grassroots organizing, public awareness campaigns, and legal advocacy to advance the cause of animals. A well-organized and convincing lobbying is key to having an animal-friendly counter-power to the very powerful and influential animal-unfriendly lobbying predominant power. 

By working together and drawing upon the collective strength of the global animal protection community, we can all make significant strides to better protect animal lives.

IALA: What else would you like to tell the audience of the Institute of Animal Law of Asia (IALA)?

Sabine: Animals have the fundamental interests to live, to be free and to be well-treated. These fundamental interests should be protected to become legal rights. This is our collective duty and responsibility to protect animals and save them from any form of human-induced avoidable harm, suffering, and distress for them to live a good life.

All forms of animal crimes should be stopped now and forever.

This is the role of the law to protect animals who are the vulnerable victims. Worldwide, a growing number of people directly beg for this change to happen.

The pro-animal revolution is on the way and we are all, animal defenders, part of it.

Union is strength. Let’s make the 21st century the one that saw this favorable turn for animals. Also for us to continue to be truly considered as humane beings.

WAJ is dedicated to creating a World of Animal Justice where animal rights are legally protected and where crimes against animals belong to the past. We believe that, by working together and advocating for this fundamental change to happen towards a new legal system encompassing animal protection, our united movement for animal justice can add some cornerstones to the building that will finally lead us, with time and determination, to a more just and respectful world for all animals.

IALA: Thank you very much for taking the time for this interview. We enjoyed talking with you and discussing animal law issues that we can solve together at the Institute of Animal Law of Asia (IALA) and World Animal Justice within the Alliance for Animal Law of Asia.

Learn more about World Animal Justice:

LinkedIn: World Animal Justice

Stay tuned for more interviews with other members of the Alliance for Animal Law of Asia!

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