Animal Protection > Worldwide Actions > Austria
Is a chimp a person? � Judge sees apes now in a different light

September 27, 2007

Court Won't Declare Chimp a Person

He's now got a human name � Matthew Hiasl Pan � but he's having trouble getting his day in court. Animal rights activists campaigning to get Pan, a 26-year-old chimpanzee, legally declared a person vowed Thursday to take their challenge to Austria's Supreme Court after a lower court threw out their latest appeal.

A provincial judge in the city of Wiener Neustadt dismissed the case earlier this week, ruling that the Vienna-based Association Against Animal Factories had no legal standing to argue on the chimp's behalf.

The association, which worries the shelter caring for the chimp might close, has been pressing to get Pan declared a "person" so a guardian can be appointed to look out for his interests and provide him with a home.

Group president Martin Balluch insists that Pan is "a being with interests" and accuses the Austrian judicial system of monkeying around.

"It is astounding how all the courts try to evade the question of personhood of a chimp as much as they can," Balluch said.

A hearing date for the Supreme Court appeal was not immediately set.

The legal tussle began in February, when the animal shelter where Pan and another chimp, Rosi, have lived for 25 years filed for bankruptcy protection.

Activists want to ensure the apes don't wind up homeless if the shelter closes. Both were captured as babies in Sierra Leone in 1982 and smuggled in a crate to Austria for use in pharmaceutical experiments. Customs officers intercepted the shipment and turned the chimps over to the shelter.
Their upkeep costs about euro4,800 (US$6,800) a month. Donors have offered to help, but there's a catch: Under Austrian law, only a person can receive personal gifts.

Organizers could set up a foundation to collect cash for Pan, whose life expectancy in captivity is about 60 years. But they contend that only personhood will give him the basic rights he needs to ensure he isn't sold to someone outside Austria, where he's now protected by strict animal cruelty laws.

In April, a district court judge rejected a British woman's petition to be declared Pan's legal guardian. That court ruled that the chimp was neither mentally impaired nor in danger, the grounds required for an individual to be appointed a guardian.

In dismissing the Association Against Animal Factories' appeal this week, the provincial court said only a guardian could appeal. That doesn't apply in this case, the group contends, since Pan hasn't gained a guardian.

There is legal precedence in Austria for close friends to represent people who have no immediate family, "so he should be represented by his closest friends, as is the case," said Eberhart Theuer, the group's legal adviser.

"On these grounds we have appealed this decision to the Supreme Court in Vienna," he said.
Until this summer, the chimp was known simply as Hiasl. However, in the latest court documents, he was identified with a little more dignity � if not humanity � as Matthew Hiasl Pan, with the last name derived from "chimpanzee. "

The Association Against Animal Factories points out that it's not trying to get Pan declared a human, but rather a person, which would give him some kind of legal status.

Otherwise, he is legally a thing. And with the genetic makeup of chimpanzees and humans so strikingly similar, it contends, that just can't be.

"The question is: Are chimps things without interests, or persons with interests?" Balluch said.
"A large section of the public does see chimps as beings with interests," he said. "We are looking forward to hear what the high court has to say on this fundamental question."

September 27, 2007

Verdict in trial on legal guardianship for a chimp appealed to High Courts in Austria
Provincial Court in Wr. Neustadt turns down appeal against negative decision of district court, claiming the applicant has no right to appeal

In February 2007, the president of the animal rights group VGT applied for a legal guardian for the chimp Matthew "Hiasl" Pan, his close friend, at the district court of M�dling in Lower Austria. Hiasl had been abducted and brought to Austria illegally, to be used for experiments. He found refuge at the Vienna Animal Sanctuary, where he still is. But when the sanctuary faced financial difficulties, he was threatened with deportation abroad. VGT hoped that a legal guardian should give Hiasl the possibility of being represented in court to fight his deportation legally. The application for legal guardianship was supported by 4 internationally renowned scientific experts and university professors in biology, anthropology and law.

The public took great interest in the case, nationally as much as internationally. Still, in April the district judge refused the application. However, in her verdict, she did not touch the question of personhood for chimps. Only a person can get a legal guardian. Instead, implicitly assuming Hiasl was a person, she argued that he was not mentally handicapped or in great danger, and hence would not need a legal guardian. VGT appealed against this decision to the provincial court in Wr. Neustadt.

Provincial court refused the appeal on the grounds that VGT has no legal standing

Now, the provincial court reached a verdict. It refused the appeal on the grounds that VGT has no legal standing. According to the law, only the legal guardian himself has standing to appeal. VGT's legal adviser Mag. Eberhart Theuer comments: "The court refers to a law that is not applicable here, since it only applies in cases where a legal guardian has been appointed. This is not the case. And further, the High Courts have ruled that in exceptional circumstances, close family members have legal standing for appeal too. In our case, Hiasl has no close family members in Austria, so he should be represented by his closest friends, as is the case with the applicant. On these grounds we have appealed this decision to the High Courts in Vienna."

The applicant in this case, DDr. Martin Balluch, is surprised: "It is astounding how all the courts try to evade the question of personhood of a chimp as much as they can. After all, chimps share 99,5% of genes with us humans, and all our experts support our scientifically well founded case. The question is: are chimps things without interests, or persons with interests. Companies are persons too before the law, because they indeed have interests on their own. A large section of the public does see chimps as beings with interests. Even the world's greatest expert on chimps, Jane Goodall, supported publicly our case when she visited Vienna in July 2007. We are looking forward to hear what the High Courts have to say on this fundamental question."

DDr. Martin Balluch Tel.: +43 676 7203954, Office: Tel.: +43 1 9291498,
Email: [email protected]
Legal adviser Mag. Eberhart Theuer Tel. : +43 676 9741300
VGT - VEREIN GEGEN TIERFABRIKEN, Waidhausenstr. 13/1, A-1140 Wien
ZVR: 837615029, DVR: 2110031
Tel +43 1 929 14 98, Fax +43 1 929 14 982, [email protected]

The trial on the question of legal guardianship for chimp Hiasl will continue on appeal in the provincial court in Wr. Neustadt

In the beginning of February 2007, the application to grant the chimp Hiasl a legal guardian has been submitted to the district court in Mödling, Lower Austria. Hiasl had been abducted from the jungle in Sierra Leone, West Africa, in 1982 and illegally brought to Austria to be vivisected on. The aim of the trial now is to have Hiasl recognized as a person before the law so that a legal guardian can officially represent his interests. This trial raised a tremendous amount of public interest internationally: From the USA and Europe to China, Japan and New Zealand, media reported on the case. BBC World showed a feature on the trial on TV throughout a whole day. The applicant for the legal guardian, DDr. Martin Balluch, comments: "This amount of media interest proves that the time has come to debate the status of great apes in human society seriously. Chimps share 99,4% of their genes with humans. They obviously aren�t things, although this is what the law seems to suggest worldwide. But if chimps are not things, they can only be persons, as there is nothing in between."

The judge residing on the case, Dr. Barbara Bart, demanded at first that Hiasl�s identity be proven with a passport. But through witness statements of people knowing Hiasl very well, his identity could be proven to the court�s satisfaction without a passport. At the end of last week, the judge issued another ruling that said, she will not continue the case since Hiasl cannot be seen as mentally handicapped and since there is no emergency that would merit a legal guardian. Both are necessary conditions for a legal guardian to be appointed according to Austrian law.

The lawyer supporting the application for guardianship, Mag. Eberhart Theuer, will appeal this decision: "Hiasl has been traumatized because of his abduction in early childhood and because of having to live locked up for most of his life. He would also not be capable anymore to survive in the African jungle. And the bankruptcy of the sanctuary looking after him has indeed created an emergency, since he might have to be sold abroad leading to unforeseeable risks to his wellbeing and life. Judge Dr. Bart herself said that a prime example for a person to be appointed a legal guardian is a traumatised refugee, who is threatened with deportation and who is not able to represent his interests in court. But exactly that is Hiasl�s situation. If the judge is unwilling to continue the case in her court, we will appeal to the provincial court in Wr. Neustadt."

Judge sees apes now in a different light

DDr. Balluch, who has legal standing for the application, comments: �Yesterday, there was a hearing with the judge in court that lasted 90 minutes in a very friendly atmosphere. She actually never doubted that Hiasl has to be considered a person. She even said that she sees apes now in a different light and could not be entertained by them in a zoo anymore for example. But her primary concern is that if she was to appoint a legal guardian for a chimp, she fears that this would put humans with legal guardians on a par with animals. Already two of her clients have expressed this worry. While this concern must be taken seriously, we cannot refuse to help just because of such feelings. Neither a human nor a chimp needing a legal guardian should be considered a lesser being, both are individuals in their own rights, with their own personality and their own way of being, equal to other humans, only that they need support to live in this kind of society."

And further: �The question whether a chimp is a person or not is of prime importance. As a person, Hiasl could not be owned by anyone, but, on the contrary, he could have his own money and property and take his future in his own hands. No law protects him at the moment to be sold abroad. Only donations of well meaning people support his life right now. As a person he could sue those responsible for his situation and possibly claim damages and a decent pension to secure his livelihood in the future. Society is ready for such a dramatic change in the way we see our next of kin, the chimps."

Contact: DDr. Martin Balluch, Tel. +43 676 7203954, Email: martin.b[email protected]
Lawyer: Mag. Eberhart Theuer, Tel. +43 676 9741300, Email: [email protected] de

VGT - VEREIN GEGEN TIERFABRIKEN, Waidhausenstr. 13/1, A-1140 Wien
ZVR: 837615029, DVR: 2110031
Tel +43 1 929 14 98, Fax +43 1 929 14 982, [email protected]

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