2013 – The Year of the Nonhuman Person

Happy New Year, readers! Like you, I am hoping for a year of progress for all nonhuman animals. It will be momentous for at least one reason: This year, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) will go to court to establish legal personhood for someone of another species – an elephant, dolphin or whale, chimpanzee or other great ape. And Kimmela continues to work closely with the NhRP to provide the scientific evidence and expertise crucial to their legal arguments that will bring one of these individuals to “legal life,” as NhRP President Steve Wise describes it.

Only after you’re recognized by the courts as being a “legal person” can you have the capacity to possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty. So let’s take a look at what it would mean for a nonhuman animal to be recognized as a person, and at what we mean by the right to bodily integrity and bodily liberty.

These fundamental rights are immunities against the most basic forms of harm. They include the freedom to live in one’s natural environment and not be captured and/or confined; the right to not be used, manipulated or experimented upon; and, of course, the right to not be killed. Asusbrechunres .

These very fundamental rights would protect first one and then many elephants, dolphins, and great apes (at least in this country) from being exploited and harmed in zoos and circuses, in military exercises, in laboratories, and, of course, in fisheries and slaughters.

Only after you’re recognized by the courts as being a “legal person” can you have the capacity to possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty.The concept of legal personhood for nonhumans is so new to many people that they often get confused and think you’re talking about human rights. But human rights are, by definition, for humans. Other animals need to be recognized as having rights that are specific to their species. Experts in personhood often equate rights with basic needs – what we need at a basic level in order to thrive. An elephant, for example, has the basic need, and therefore the right, to live her life as part of a family group in her natural habitat.

But before anyone, human or otherwise, can be recognized as having rights, they have to be recognized legally as a “person” with the capacity for a legal right. And that’s what the NhRP lawsuits will be setting out to accomplish. It’s all about giving other animals what they should have in the first place: a chance to live their lives unburdened by our exploitation. Such a small thing is such a big thing for them.

It seems so obvious to most of us that all animals have the need, and therefore the right, to live their lives in a natural setting unfettered by human manipulation and abuse. Kimmela’s work with the NhRP focuses on taking the first steps in accomplishing this in relation to those animals for whom the scientific evidence is abundant in terms of their intelligence, emotional sensitivity and social complexity.

This year, 2013, is the beginning of a process that will involve many lawsuits and appeals in courts all across the country. Some we will win and some we will lose. But in every case, the effort will be groundbreaking. And it seems that others agree. According to the magazine Popular Science, the work of the Nonhuman Rights Project will be one of the top science stories of 2013.

Perhaps, in the future, we will look back on this year as having been the year of the nonhuman person. And I wouldn’t be surprised if, sometime down the road, an elephant, dolphin or great ape graces the cover of Time magazine as their Person of the Year!

11 Replies to “2013 – The Year of the Nonhuman Person”




  2. It’s great to hear this news, hopefully we can do similar work in Australia however our standing laws are bring ever tightened so that organisations such as animal liberation are excluded from bringing actions. Hopefully we can make speciesism as culturally and legally repugnant as racism and sexism… Great work Lori and Steve et al 🙂

  3. Thanks for an excellent article; everyone who is genuinely interested in establishing legal rights for nonhuman animals needs to read this. Sharing!

  4. NhRP Sounds fantastic to me. I’m all for it & believe that one day in the future people will look back at 2013 incredulous that it took so long for this legal right of all earthlings to be acknowledged. Let us pave the way.

  5. Alicia Cabrera-Thomas January 15, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    These rights are SO NEEDED & would establish that
    MAN has NO RIGHT to RAPE the animal kingdom~~
    no right whatsoever…………
    how many pictures of elephants slaughtered in their natural habitat do we have to see before

  6. “A species forest is a forest of, by and for all the other species native to that forest. People do not manage a species forest. Species forest cannot be defined categorically, because species forest is not simply one of our many forest types. Species forest is not a forest definition which a field technician can use in a study. Species forest means occupancy and the occupants are named in the expression. The rightful occupants are all the other native species.” — Stafursky

  7. Long overdue. Acknowledging the personhood of other species is the next leap in our own evolution. We need this!

  8. Reading this well written article brings tears to my eyes!! What a wonderful thing to recognize Non-Human Persons (Animals)!! This is the Year for this to happen 2013, many truths will come out, and it is high time that we ignorant humans recognize our blessed animals as a Person, they are sacred and smart and have the right to live in their natural surroundings with their families, to live out their days in their natural habitat in joy & peace!! Thank-you so much!! Bless you and may your crusade be a highly successful one.

  9. I just fell in love with you! This is something I have waited to see happen all my long life.
    One reason specifically involves my pal Carol Buckley, founder of The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald. Tn. Carol has been barred from seeing ‘her’ elephant Tarra for 3 years. She rescued and raised Tarra, who turned 39 yesterday. the 2 of them built the hugely successful org. from the ground up, initially camping out on the 2600 acres that now host many happy rescued elephants. But because animals are considered “property”, Carol has not had any success with reuniting with her, even for visitation.
    The work you will accomplish..and you will..paves the way for a quantum leap in human consciousness. Bless your hearts.

  10. I see no reason why this should not succeed here in the USA since our highest court has seen fit to give corporations, an entity on a piece of paper, legal personhood rights. Therefore, anything alive, feeling, and breathing has a right to personhood the same as homo sapien.

    1. Lori Sirianni March 7, 2013 at 5:00 am

      Laura Cotter, what an intriguing thought and I fully agree. I’m no attorney but your argument makes perfect sense to me.

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