Switzerland has some of the toughest animal rights laws in the world, but Sunday voters overwhelmingly said No to a new law that would have appointed free lawyers to represent animals in abuse cases. The decision was a major setback for animal welfare organizations.
Zurich is the only city in Switzerland that has a court appointed animal rights lawyer. The new law would have added 25 more public defenders for animals – to cover other parts of the country. Antoine Goetschel, the Zurich lawyer, told Swiss reporters that publicity surrounding one of his latest cases might have been what caused the proposal to fail. Nearly 71 percent of the voters rejected it.
“Many voters might have been a bit fed up with the topic,” said Mr. Goetschel.
The case concerned a fisherman named Patrick Giger who was accused of torturing a pike he caught. He bragged about taking a full 10 minutes to reel in the fish and was brought up on criminal charges for causing excessive suffering to the animal. The case attracted more than 6,000 fans on Facebook – in memory of the pike.
Many individuals viewed the case as an example of animal rights legislation going to the extreme. Goetschel lost the case and believes this may have led to an aversion for voters to approve more laws protecting animals.
Goetschel commented on his decision to prosecute Giger this way, “If we put a hook in the mouth of a puppy and did the same thing for 10 minutes, what would our reaction be? With farm animals there is a strict, legally enforceable time limit between capture and death, so why not with fishing?”
Switzerland has a very thorough 160–page animal protection law. It governs everything from how much space owners must give their gerbils, to the water temperature for frogs. It outlines that social animals such as pigs and birds must have companions and that horses and cows get regular exercise. It even requires guardians of dogs to take a training course on how to care for their pets. And of course the law also forbids cruelty and abuse.
Government officials and groups representing farmers were among those opposed to the new law. The farming lobby argued “farm animals are already closely monitored by state vets.”
And the Swiss government urged voters to reject the proposal stating “the money should go to extra veterinary resources to uncover animal abuse.”
Jakob Buechler, a lawmaker for the Christian People’s Party said, “The Swiss people have clearly said our animal protection laws are so good we don’t need animal lawyers.”
Antoine Goetschel strongly disagrees. He told reporters that public defenders in other parts of the country are “often unsure about animal rights and shy away from pursuing cases even if there is clear evidence of abuse.” Goetschel represents 150 – 200 cases of animal abuse each year in Zurich. Neighboring areas only have a handful of cases that ever make it to court.
Swiss Animal Protection, which is the group behind the law said that “officials rarely prosecute animal welfare infractions and that the average fine was just 439 Swiss francs ($409).”
It makes little sense to have a powerful and thorough law that never gets enforced. Maybe the Swiss will reconsider the concept of public defenders for animals and set an example for the rest of the world.
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