In October 2010 Sri Lanka took an important step towards ensuring the safety and welfare of animals through the presentation to Parliament of its Animal Welfare Bill, the first time the issue had been formally legislated on since 1907.
The Animal Welfare Bill had far-reaching implications and was widely seen as a very positive step for Sri Lanka. The measures that would have been introduced by this Bill were designed to:
1. Recognise that all citizens of Sri Lanka have a duty of care to treat animals humanely, and must take all reasonable steps to ensure their wellbeing.
2. Prevent cruelty to animals by the prohibition of activities known to cause suffering, and impose fines and/or imprisonment on anyone found guilty of cruelty or neglect.
3. Improve co-ordination between Government departments, local authorities, NGOs, religious bodies, animal welfare charities and the general public to raise awareness of animal welfare issues.
4. Establish a National Animal Welfare Authority to assist in the formulation of national policy, advise the Government on animal welfare best practice consistent with internationally accepted standards, and provide financial resources for the foundation of public animal shelters.
Anyone familiar with the Animal Welfare Bill will know that a great deal of time, effort and consideration has gone into its preparation - the Bill recognises the rights not only of companion animals but also livestock, wild animals, stray animals and working animals, as well as animals kept in captivity or used in scientific research and experimentation. The Bill also clearly defines the legal framework, governmental appointments and resources needed to implement the measures embodied within it.
Yet despite the urgent need for this Bill, the Sri Lankan Government has still not allocated time in Parliament to oversee its enactment. This is particularly concerning given the fact that the existing legislation is woefully inadequate and President Mahinda Rajapaksa has publicly stated his personal commitment to enshrining the humane treatment of animals in Sri Lankan law.
As a predominately Buddhist country Sri Lanka must uphold the principle of humane treatment for all animals that is central to its faith, therefore the Sri Lankan Government has a moral obligation to enact the Animal Welfare Bill. The significant impact this Bill could have cannot be overstated when we remember that stray dogs alone account for over 3 miilion of Sri Lanka's animals, which remain at serious risk of abuse primarily because of weak legislation.
Recent events in countries such as Romania and Russia have demonstrated how vulnerable such animals are when they have no legal protection, and Sri Lanka is no different. The dog shown at the top of this page was doused in gasoline and set fire to. Although she was rescued by a foreign animal welfare charity based in the country, her injuries were too severe for her to recover from and she died shortly afterwards. Without the Bill, the perpetrator of her abuse remains free to commit further crimes without fear of reprisal or imprisonment.
I hope you will join me in encouraging the Sri Lankan Government to enact the Animal Welfare Bill and demonstrate to the international community that Sri Lanka is a progressive country that places a premium on the humane treatment and welfare of animals.