Over the past 60 years, the United Nations has agreed numerous international instruments covering human rights. Now, the World Society for the Protection of Animals is pressing them to expand the circle, and draft a Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare. The UDAW would recognise that animals are sentient, establish minimum standards for animal welfare, and outlaw cruelty. If agreed to, it would help shape policy towards a better, less cruel world.
The New Zealand government is supporting this proposal, and rightly so. We like to think of ourselves as a progressive country and a defender of human rights. But underlying that progressive vision are humanist values which oppose pain and suffering, regardless of species. Support for decent animal welfare standards is thus a natural outgrowth of our concern for human rights.
The road to a UN declaration will be a long one, and probably take at least five years. But if it is successful, and governments act on it, then the world will be a better place.