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Brazilian decision recognizes chimpanzee as legal subject

October 6, 2005 • Posted in Related News

In a historic decision on September 28, 2005, a Brazilian judge recognized a chimpanzee, Suíça, as a legal subject in a habeas corpus proceeding seeking her release from a zoo to a sanctuary. Unfortunately, Suíça died in her cage at the Salvador Zoo the day before the decision was issued. 

The decision marks the first time that a nonhuman species has been admitted as a legal subject in a legal action.  The 9th Criminal Court judge, Edmundo Lúcio da Cruz, ruled in favor of the chimpanzee in response to a petition for habeas corpus submitted by petitioners Heron José de Santana and Luciano Rocha Santana, lawyers/law professors. 

Suíça and her chimpanzee companion, Geron, arrived at the Salvador Zoo four years ago.  After Geron died of cancer in May 2005, 23-year-old Suíça began to display unusual behavior and appeared to suffer from depression.  The petition sought Suíça’s release from the zoo to a sanctuary. 

Judge Cruz, who has served on the bench for 24 years, believes that his decision will garner the attention of the legal community and may change the manner in which this issue is discussed.  Cruz stated that:

It is well known that the penal right to due process is not static, but rather subject to constant change, where new decisions must be adapted to modern times.  I believe that with the death of Suíça, this subject will endure in continuous debates, principally in law school courses.

Petitioner Santana celebrated the decision and stated:

The ruling is historic, there has never been a case in which an animal has been admitted to a legal action.  I think that the justice system has established an important precedent for the protection of animals.

 

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