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Raise your voices for the voiceless

The series of events of animal abuse during the recent past saw renewed urgency to enacting the new Animal Welfare Bill.

The most recent incident was one reported just last week (13) of a dog sexually abused by a person in Balangoda.

Reportedly, the perpetrator secretly took his neighbour’s dog to his house, where he sexually abused the animal. The three-month-old animal succumbed to its injuries upon arrival at the vet.

Media gathering

A media conference was organised by Justice for Animals, a community project under the Sri Bodhiraja Foundation, to discuss the enactment of the Animal Welfare Bill, on 13 January at the Ramanna Nikaya Headquarters, Colombo 5.

The panel consisted of three key speakers; Sri Bodhiraja Foundation President Ven Dr. Omalpe Sobhitha Thero, Bar Association of Sri Lanka President U. R. de Silva and Attorney-at-Law and former consultant to the Law Commission on Animal Welfare Legislation Senaka Weeraratna.

The event was attended by clergy, animal activist groups, animal lovers, and the media, and key problems relating to current legislation on animal welfare were discussed.

Addressing the guests at the media conference Ven. Sobhitha Thero stated: “We’ve forgotten that animals have the right to share the world as much as we do. We seem to think that we are the owners of everything around us, including animals and natural resources. We have to acknowledge and respect the rights of all living creatures.”

The proposed Animal Welfare Bill aims to replace the ancient laws and deter animal cruelty. Addressing the gathering at the discussion on the enactment of the Animal Welfare Bill, U. R. de Silva spoke of the role of the Bar Association in relation to initial preparation of the draft act. He stated that the full support of the Bar Association will be given to the enactment of the Bill.

Several participants at the media conference presented suggestions to strengthen the laws protecting wildlife, regulating slaughterhouses, and holding owners responsible for neglecting pets.

U.R de Silva and the team stated that these suggestions would be considered in the enactment process.
Attorney-At-Law Senaka Weeraratna, who was the legal consultant on animal welfare legislation to the Law Commission of Sri Lanka, stated that the new Animal Welfare Bill contains a clause that enables the State to hold pet-owners responsible for negligent care. “It is time that we take responsibility,” he added.

The current laws in place against animal cruelty include the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, enacted in 1907, which is inadequate to address the current animal cruelty challenges and definitely not a deterrent to halt this cruelty. It applies only to domestic animals, recognises only a few acts of cruelty, the penalty for cruelty is a mere Rs. 100 or a jail term up to six months, and lastly, has no specialised implementing agency.

Simply implementing laws isn’t enough

We contacted Lalani Perera, lawyer and animal welfare advocate, to obtain her expert opinion on the proposed law.
“Animals are increasingly exposed to multitude forms of pain and suffering – in slaughterhouses, livestock farms, laboratories, zoos, pet shops, on the streets, in homes, and even in places of religious worship, and today animal welfare is an international policy issue.”

She added that it was understood that simply implementing laws would not magically eradicate all forms of cruelty.
“Police have to be sensitised to the need to take action. But there are cases where the Police were positive, as in the widely publicised cases where a helpless dog was set on fire while alive or when an eagle was skinned alive or a leopard was mercilessly mauled to death by a gang of hooligans. But these are the exceptions and not the rule.”

Commenting on further steps that may assist in the eradication of cruelty against animals, Perera stated: “Raising awareness and empowering the community are crucial. Societal attitudes towards animals must change. When I receive calls about cruelty, I try to persuade the Police in the area to at least warn the perpetrator.

“I am confident that there are compassionate lawyers who will come forward and perhaps the Bar Association of Sri Lanka too can offer some assistance. At least some incidents of cruelty, like pet dogs and cats being poisoned, can be avoided if there is responsible pet ownership.”
Animal rights advocate Otara Gunewardene stated that the forms of abuse they see with the rescues of Embark range from beaten up strays to ones who suffer from burns as a result of hot water, oil or acid thrown on them.

“On most occasions, we do not know who the culprits are or when the act of cruelty was committed and we are usually informed about the animal that needs help by someone who has found the injured animal.” In these cases, there is no evidence to take a case to court.
Currently, an online petition initiated by activist Anoka Abeyratne at Change.org which requests the Sri Lankan Government to enact the Animal Welfare Bill has garnered more than 113,000 signatures.