What can Animal Law learn from Public International Law?

Mo Esan

Center for Animal Law Studies, Lewis and Clark Law School, Portland, Oregon

The realm of international law is possessed by a myriad of possibilities. It creates a lot of room for states to have the flexibility that they desire. Article 38 of the Statue of the International Court of Justice contain four sources of international law which are international conventions, international custom, general principles of law and judicial decisions and teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations. This singular article gives a lot of room for law to be distilled for the governing of international relations. This research seeks to use the possibilities embedded therein to provide opportunities for the advancement of global animal law. Studies exist in search for a general principle of international law on animal welfare and treaty law. These reveal a malleable climate for the future of animal protection on a global scale.

The general principles of public international law include jurisdiction, personality and the law of international institutions also go further than the sources in displaying adoptable models for animal protection. On jurisdiction, we find that global courts like the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court do not only regulates affairs between states but also serve as enforcement mechanisms for specific issues that occur in domestic jurisdictions. This is helpful for monitoring compliance of member states.

On the other hand of personality, public international law has taken giant strides in clothing entities with legal personality in the international legal order. First, it began with states themselves being subjects of international law in their own respect and then it extended to international organizations and more recently I relation to international criminal law, individuals. What if animals can adopt these models and attain some form of legal status in the international legal order?

Lastly, on the laws that govern international institutions, they have been able to assume an autonomous status with a distinct category of personality of their own and the ability to enter into agreements with states and other international institutions, dispute resolution devices and compliant mechanisms. This is significant for animals in the sense that if there were an international institution or agency solely devoted to animal protection, they might be able to elevate animals to a recognizable status and be able to enter into agreements with states on animal issues and actually enforce those agreements.

In light of these three general principles, what we have here is a model where animals in general and if not, certain categories of animals can have some form of legal status in the international legal regime. It is likely that this might be applicable to certain realms like animals involved in human conflict or animals as victims of natural disasters. For example, assuming the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) assumed the status of the regulatory agency and there was a sudden breakout of a pandemic, the OIE can release guidelines to state parties on how to protect animal health and then hold states accountable for shortcomings. This puts all affected animals in a category of their own and have legal rights, enforced through their guardian- the OIE. More so, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties prevents contracting state parties from invoking their national law as a means to not comply with their international obligations. Therefore, every contracting state party is left without an excuse for non-compliance. While it will be difficult to actually litigate any disputes, it at least offers an improvement to the lax accountability standards that we have at the moment.

Ambitions like these are all the more feasible through universal declarations. Their non-binding nature, truly global reach and ability to crystallize into hard law over time offer rich soils where global animal protection agendas can take root. Drawing upon the trend of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), we see that’s it provides a ‘benchmark and a beacon’ that serves as a common standard for all nations with regard to what human rights is. Therefore, states can then enact domestic legislation in respect of the provisions as they did with the two resulting covenants- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). In the realm of animal protection, two universal declarations exist which are the Universal Declaration on Animal Rights (UDAR) and the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare (UDAW).[10] Neither of them have been formally adopted by the United Nations but they have some merit nonetheless.

This research seeks to see how the general principles, the instrument of international institutions and universal declarations can elevate animals or categories if animals to a certain legal status in the international legal order. The rich history offers something significant that we hope that the global animal protection agenda can leverage on in the near future.



  1. Statute of the International Court of Justice, 26 June 1945, Can TS 1945 No 7 [ICJ Statute].
  2. See generally, Anne Peters, Studies in Global Animal Law (Springer Berlin Heidelberg 2020).
  3. Katie Sykes, “Nations Like Unto Yourselves: An Inquiry Into the Status of a General Principle of International Welfare” (2011) 49 Canadian Yearbook of International Law 3.
  4. David Favre, “An International Treaty for Animal Welfare.” (2012) 18(2) Animal Law 237.
  5. Steve White, “Into the Void: International Law and the Protection of Animal Welfare” (2013) 4(4) Global Policy 391.
  6. Charlotte E. Blattner, Protecting Animals Within and Across Borders: Extraterritorial Jurisdiction and The Challenges of Globalization (Oxford University Press 2019).
  7. Kristina Daugirdas, ‘International Organizations and the Creation of Customary International Law’ (2020) 31(1) European Journal of International Law 215. 
  8.  Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, May 23, 1969, art. 38, 1155 U.N.T.S. 331.
  9. Miah Gibson, ‘The Universal Declaration of Animal Welfare’ (2011) 16(2) Deakin Law Review 539. 
  10. Motunrayo Esan and Bankole Sodipo PhD, ‘Towards a Universal Declaration on Animal Protection’ (2021) 3(1) Carnelian Journal of Law and Politics’ available at: https://carnelianjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Sodipo-Esan-CJLP-1.pdf (accessed Nov. 1, 2022).
  11. Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, G.A. Res. 217A (III), U.N. Doc. A/810 at 71 (1948).
  12. Nsongurua Udombana, ‘Mission Accomplished? An Impact Assessment of the UDHR in Africa’ (2008) 30 Journal of Public Law and Policy.
  13. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted Dec. 16, 1966, entry into force Mar. 23, 1976, arts. 7 & 9, 99 U.N.T.S. 171.
  14. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, adopted Dec. 16, 1966, entry into force Mar. 23, 1976, art. 9, 993 U.N.T.S. 3, 6
  15. See generally, Amy B Draeger, “More Than Property: An Argument for Adoption of the Universal Declaration of Animal Welfare” (2007) 12 Drake Journal of Agric Law 277, 297.