Like the position of defender of human rights, Jacques-Charles Fombonne, President of the SPA, calls for the creation of a position of defender of animal rights. He answers questions from Science on the subject.
Two years ago, Robert Badinter planted the seed for this idea. “Writing laws, making decisions, holding conferences, formulating codes, that’s good. But only an independent authority is likely to extend the protection, the necessary protection of animals., declared in 2019 François Mitterrand’s seal guard at the conclusion of a symposium from the Animal Law Foundation. Jacques-Charles Fombonne, president of the Society for the Protection of Animals (SPA), takes up this proposal today. On this line, and following the model of the Defender of Human Rights, he requests the appointment of a Defender of Animal Rights. The President of the SPA explains this approach to science.
Science: What is an Animal Rights Defender?
Jacques-Charles Fombonne: The idea is to have someone who is not just another official who is not necessarily the High Commissioner or Secretary of State for Animal Welfare. This would be an independent person, appointed by the Prime Minister or the President of the Republic. It’s the same idea as for the defender of rights, Claire Hédon. The benefit of having an Animal Rights Defender is having someone who is able to gather energies. Someone who is also capable of forcing what needs to be limited. Someone who could finally have a completely cross-cutting activity.
This is an important aspect because animal protection is an extremely complex legal area because it is very widespread. The rights of animals are found both in the Rural Law and in the Penal Code for everything concerning abuse. It is also found in the local authority code for pounds, for example. Animal protection is therefore an area of focus that requires many things to be done in a wide range of areas. These are multifaceted issues, and the position of defender of animal rights would therefore also be multifaceted.
What would his role consist of? What would his missions be?
Today we have problems that are real social problems. These include, for example, bullfighting, ritual slaughter without anesthesia, but also animals used for show. One of the roles of the Defense of Animal Rights would be to bring together all those involved in these issues to talk about these societal issues that our fellow citizens are wondering about. The aim would then be to make proposals for laws or regulations. The Defender of Animal Rights would therefore be a source of suggestion.
He also wanted control missions. As a controller of detention sites, this animal rights defender would have the right to arrive at slaughterhouses or farms without notice to see what is happening there. The L214 association is currently doing so in a covert manner. But we understand that from the moment it is associations that do it, it means that the state relay does not exist. But it is usually the role of the state to control what happens in these places, it is not the role of the associations. We do it because otherwise there would be no one to do it. The work that L214 does is amazing in this sense, otherwise we would never know what’s going on. But from the moment it is a rights activist who can see it and seize the agriculture minister by condemning what is happening, it will have an infinitely much greater weight than the president of an association.
In these missions, the Defender of Animal Rights and his team would also have the role of creating and leading an observatory for animal conditions. We hear everywhere that France is the record country for leaving animals. But in reality, no one can say exactly how many there are and why they are being abandoned. But in order to know the remedy for these abandonments, it is necessary to know the causes. So one of the purposes of this observatory would be to understand why these animals are being abandoned, in what contexts, and to define the profile of the people who are leaving them. All this information will then allow us to reduce the remission of animals. The associations do not have the funds for this. If, for my part, I ask the gendarmes, the police or the prosecution to ask them how many cases of assault they have encountered, they will obviously not answer me. If it is a rights observatory that does that, they will respond to it. There we will move on.
Why are you asking today for the creation of an animal rights activist?
At present, the individuals who are the force of proposals are mostly associations, such as SPA or L214. Today, each organization is required to contact elected government agencies separately to advance its ideas. It’s a form of lobbying. From the moment there is an animal rights activist appointed by the President of the Republic, it will have greater weight than each association taken separately. If this person interrogates the public prosecutors, the prefects or the administrative authorities in matters of regulation or legislation, it does not have the same influence as if it is the chairman of the SPA, even though I am received politely. The interest of a rights defender is authority. First of all, it is the opportunity to ask people who have the information to give it to them, in order to be able to draw the conclusions. It is a defender of rights. And then he must from time to time be able to take his pilgrim’s staff and say what works, what does not, and what he has been able to observe.
A group of deputies worked on the contours that this position could assume. Loïc Dombreval had detailed this work in a report sent to the government in 2020. Have you been consulted or associated with this work? What do you think about the result?
We were attached to the commission headed by Loïc Dombreval. I was questioned even though it was not specifically about this topic. The question of the creation of an Animal Rights Defender was actually raised. But I think the contours of the position were probably not accurate enough. It is necessary to define a profile, but also to register the concept of independence for this position, it is imperative. The idea is to appoint him to a single, fairly long mandate. Possibly a longer term than the President of the Republic.
How do you plan to implement this idea in the coming months?
This post does not come from the Legislative Assembly, but from the will of the President of the Republic to create it. We therefore do not need the intervention of the Assembly for that. In a very pragmatic way, I will benefit from this pre-election period. It is a way to encourage candidates to respond to us about their actions in favor of animal protection. This will force them to explain themselves. So we know, depending on who is elected, how our proposal will be received after 2022. At the moment, Emmanuel Macron has not given us any positive signals for the appointment of an animal rights activist. I think I will send him a letter to ask him what his position might be. I’m still hopeful, because it’s in line with the demands of our fellow citizens.