Wednesday, June 22 2022

As a humanitarian crisis, Ukraine can be a game changer for pets and animal protection rules – and for the way we understand pets as a humanitarian protection issue.

Photo: European Union / ECHO / Oleksandr Ratushniak

A striking image from Ukraine is of a massive flow of displaced pets, accompanied by continuous updates on abandoned pets, animal shelters and zoos inside besieged areas and bombarded.

Animal care quickly became a part of the humanitarian narrative of the attack on Ukraine, with countless heroic accounts the efforts of activists, shelters and zoo staff to keep the animals alive, as well as underground operations to bring them to safety.

Advocacy efforts by national and international animal rights groups have prompted receiving countries to change entry requirements, waive fees, shorten or eliminate quarantine times, or introduce new types of “animal passports”. The EU uses a special derogation in Regulation 2013/576, which allows refugees from Ukraine to import their pets into the EU without meeting standard requirements. In an unprecedented development, many governments are signaling a willingness to welcome the passage of pets with or without their owners, and even without documentation, rabies vaccination and/or microchip.

So far, scholars have paid little attention to companion animals and warfare, including the crossing of humanitarian borders. Here, I draw from the perspectives of disaster studies, international humanitarian law (IHL), refugee studies, and animal studies to outline three problem frames that can serve as a starting point for discussion.

  • In most emergencies, human protection is rare. The refugee regime is under strain and aid agencies are unable to provide sufficient food aid to famine-stricken populations. How do you morally navigate conversations about protecting pets?
  • At the same time, the emotional toll of displaced people is exacerbated by the sometimes inevitable abandonment of pets and domestic animals. The reality of contemporary movement makes it necessary to engage in the development of policies for the movement of companion animals.
  • When it comes to the legal regulation of companion animals, IHL presents a number of tensions as to how animals should be classified or given the status of “protectable” – either in relation to their value to humans , or with their intrinsic value.

I argue that this goes back to the larger issue of speciesism and paternalism – and how we can grapple with the moral problem of anthropocentric bias when calibrating critiques of the humanitarian frontier.

Animals in Humanitarian Action: Calibrating the Conversation

Humanitarian action is essentially human-centred. When talking about the protection of companion animals during war and conflict, there is a worry that the alleviation of extreme human suffering during hostilities would be compromised if the protection of animals were contemplated, or that it would amount to “treason of species”.

A recent example illustrates this well: in what is now called the Afghan animal transport by airBoris Johnson revealed he authorized the evacuation of 94 dogs and 68 cats from Afghanistan when the Taliban took control in August 2021. The animal rescue mission was led by a former marine, who set up an animal shelter in Afghanistan after serving in the war in the mid-2000s. Afghan personnel were initially left behind. With Afghan refugees now being deprioritized by all major resettlement countries in favor of Ukrainians, there is no denying that the issue of protecting Ukrainians’ pets raises uncomfortable questions about care and attention policy.

A first step consists in recognizing the possible difficulties linked to a discourse of protection centered on the animal (the airlift of the animals was perhaps done to the detriment of the Afghans), while underlining the false arbitrations (the reception of dogs without quarantine in Norway does not come at the expense of refugee resettlement). However, it will be difficult to maintain clear-cut arguments: nothing prevents the veterinary expenditure of host countries from being budgeted as “aid”.

A different way to approach this dilemma is to consider the plurality of perspectives addressed in refugee studies. Like Noted by Ben White, to understand human movement, past and present, one must also consider animals. Recent work focuses on historical aspects animals and refugee contexts; how are the camps shaped by the need to accommodate both animals and humans; the role of working equine (horses) in humanitarian emergencies; or the devastating impact protracted conflicts over animal welfare and the risks of zoonoses in refugee and host populations. Moreover, within the framework of climate change, it is necessary to see animal and human migration together. Thus, beyond the human/animal dichotomy, there is a wide range of policy and normative issues to consider.

Disasters: the ethics of planning and non-planning

Even before the pandemic, more than half of households worldwide were thought to contain at least one pet. Concretely, we must make humanitarian policies for pets.

Disaster studies are relatively old focus on pets in the context of emergency planning, evacuations and shelters, in part triggered by single disasters such as the 2005 United States Hurricane Katrina. The reforms are driven by the recognition that people will protect their pets, even at at the expense of their own safety. Focusing on a wide range of events (flood, fires and hurricanes), these perspectives provide important insights for discussing companion animals in wartime. Yet these are also emergency analyzes in times of peace. They presuppose the existence of an essentially benevolent (if not ineffective) state and do not take into account violence against landlords or the difficult priorities of deciding which human lives to save.

We should also recognize the politics and ethics of Nope-planning and Nope-inclusion of companion animals in preparedness planning and humanitarian programming. This is very relevant with regard to the interface between animal health and human health: we know the acute repercussions of animal emergencies and their catastrophic impact on groups of animals subjected to mass slaughter due to animal transmissions -human (such as Jacob-Creutzfeldt disease or avian flu). Where do mass movements of pets fit into these types of animal emergency scenarios? Ukraine is a high risk country for rabies. Who is responsible for maintaining animal health, for example in rabies-free regions? What kind of individual responsibilities do Ukrainian pet owners have and what kind of responsibilities – and legitimate expectations – do host communities have?

International humanitarian law: Military value, property and the problem of obligations

In the small but quickly growth Specialists in the IHL literature now ask a series of questions concerning the classification and status of animals.

Historically, animals including horses, camels, donkeys, mules, oxen, dogs, pigeons, cats, dolphins, sea lions, and even mice have been intrinsic to war efforts in as long as “animal soldiers ». Much of the current IHL discussion focuses on the lack of specific protection for animals – and the problematic protection warrants reliance on classifying animals as property. For example, Article 53 of Geneva Convention IV prohibits the destruction by the occupying power of private and public property, except in cases of absolute military necessity. This provision could ensure minimum protection for certain animals, but only when they are considered to be property of private or public interest (or alive) goods. Conversely, it is argued that animals should be recognized as Moral people and treated as sentient beings, which would provide animals with better protection than inanimate objects. At the same time, animals cannot be assimilated to the category of “protected persons” within the meaning of IHL (“combatant/prisoner of war” or “civilian”), as this status also entails obligations. unable to undertake.

Towards a dismantling of the anthropocentric bias?

The three problem frameworks described in this blog relate to a range of very different topics – from regulations covering animal soldiers on the modern battlefield, to the status of livestock in refugee responses, to the challenge of animal emergencies such as avian flu. and the Pet Disaster Evacuation Policy. Yet they all point to the increasingly contested underlying issue of speciesism and the anthropocentric bias of law.

Around the world, the status and rights of animals in many national jurisdictions are changing, with increasingly forceful advocacy for the recognition of animals as legal persons in their own right. In refugee law, it has been proposed that the definition of refugee be extended to animals, for example that many elephants meet the criteria of the refugee definition: they “have a country” in the relevant sense; they are afraid of being persecuted; they are moved by this fear; and they cannot return to their country, or will not, because of their fear.

Yet, in the context of the humanitarian frontier, one should be aware that attempts to reorder the relationship between humans and animals can quickly become a legitimization of the practice of human sorting, where some humans come to decide that animals should take priority over other groups. humans. At the same time, the de facto and de jure accommodation of Ukrainian pet owners raises questions regarding the expectations of future refugee populations that they will be able to bring and care for animals across international borders – and that resettlement programs will adapt to this. .

  • Kristin Bergtora Sandvik is Research Professor of Humanitarian Studies at PRIO and Professor of Law at the University of Oslo.


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