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Buddhists to petition President: ‘Enact Animal Welfare Bill’

by Janaka Perera, The Buddhist Channel, Sept 17, 2010

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- At a meeting held at Dharma Vijaya Foundation, Colombo on Friday September 17, Buddhist societies and animal welfare activists decided to petition President Mahinda Rajapaksa urging him to enact the Animal Welfare Bill prepared by the Law Commission of Sri Lanka without delay.  DVF President Olcott Gunasekera presided.

In signing the document the petitioners hope to convey to the Government that they will no longer accept antiquated legislation i.e. the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, No. 13 of 1907, as the governing legislation to protect animals from the cruelty of human beings.

Following is the petition to be sent to the President:  

“Sri Lanka needs to ensure that those who abuse and ill treat animals are severely charged with an offense which befits the crime; no more allowing heinous crimes to occur towards animals and the abusers get anything more than a penalty of Rs. 100 as the fine. This is a national shame.

This petition is also about recognizing the need for growth in respect to statutory protection for animals. To that end, we also need to enshrine in the Constitution of Sri Lanka a duty to have compassion for living creatures as found in the Constitution of India.

The moral stature of Sri Lanka’s Constitution would be greatly enhanced if it recognizes the claims of other living beings for compassion and appropriate consideration from human beings, and the protection of their legal rights. The philosophy underlying the Constitution must encompass the view that legal rights are not the exclusive preserve of human beings.

There are several countries in the world that have effected change in the area of animal rights protection in national legislation. Countries like Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Holland, Japan Sweden and India all have started to move toward a more enlightened consciousness and have created national laws protecting their animals.

History

The ethical concern for the welfare of animals and the notion of reverence for all forms of life are deeply rooted in the long standing traditional culture of Sri Lanka. Historical rock inscriptions and ancient chronicles, e.g., the Mahawamsa, reveal that extensive state protection was granted to animals and the slaughter of cows was strictly prohibited.

The ethic of Ahimsa (non-violence towards other sentient beings) a cardinal tenet in Buddhism and Hinduism, underpinned public attitudes including state policy pursuant to a moving plea made by Arahant Mahinda to King Devanampiyatissa in their very first encounter at Mihintale about 2300 years ago, in the following words:

"Oh! Great King, the birds of the air and the beasts have an equal right to live and move about in any part of this land as thou.  The land belongs to the peoples and all other beings and thou art only the guardian of it."

Arahant Mahinda’s declaration set the tone for the creation of an Asokan model of benevolent state in Sri Lanka. The social and legal history of Sri Lanka provides innumerable examples of the public attitude to animal life. Our former Kings established some of the worlds' first wild life sanctuaries.  Five of the kings governed the country under the 'Maghata' rule, which banned completely the killing of any animal in the kingdom.  The five kings were 1)  Amanda Gamini (79 - 80 AD), 2) Voharika Tissa (269 - 291 AD) 3) Silakala (524 - 537 AD) 4) Agga Bodhi IV (658 - 674 AD) 5) Kassapa III (717 - 724 AD).

King Silakala (524 - 537 AD) decreed the 'preservation of life for all creatures' throughout the Island. King Kassappa IV (898 -914 AD) granted safety to all creatures on land and water and in doing so observed in all respects the conduct of the ancient kings. King Parakramabahu I had commanded that safety of life be extended to all creatures without exception living on dry land and in the water on the four uposatha days in every month.

Several Kings established Animal Hospitals and one King, namely Buddhadasa (341 AD) became a reputed medical and veterinary surgeon.

Present day

Sri Lanka's track record in the field of animal welfare legislation and the effective enforcement of such legislation since the country's independence in 1948 is unfortunately poor.  It is a national embarrassment to have one of the world's most antiquated pieces of animal welfare legislation on the statute books as the governing legislation.

We the undersigned demand that the Government of Sri Lanka update Sri Lanka's antiquated animal protection laws to ensure that all animals are protected by:

  1. Enacting the Animal Welfare Bill prepared by the Law Commission of Sri Lanka in 2006, without delay,
  2. Introducing a provision similar to Article 51A(g) in the Indian Constitution into the Constitution of Sri Lanka, thereby imposing a Fundamental Duty on every Sri Lankan citizen to have ‘compassion for living creatures’, and
  3. The Chapter dealing with the Directives of State Policy in the Constitution of Sri Lanka should include among its objectives ‘the acceptance of State Responsibility for the protection, and the promotion of the welfare of other living creatures’.”


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