The European Convention on Human Rights was being developed around the same time as the International human rights documents and repeats many of the universal principles. Some nations will be signatory to both the ECHR and the International Bill of Rights (This is the collective name given to the UDHR and the two Covenants that give effect to the provisions of the initial Declaration). One of the important Articles of the ECHR in relation to veganism is Article 9. This Article repeats the paramount universal principle of being able to live according to one’s own beliefs. Article 9 states:
ARTICLE 9 Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
This Article grants an absolute right to believe what you want to believe and a qualified right to manifest, in practice, the daily behaviours that accompany your belief. This is an important consideration for veganism because veganism is a practice based belief and any interference that limits a vegans practice may amount to coercion into a belief not of their choosing. Under this Article, in 1991 a case concerning veganism was brought by a vegan prisoner who was required under the prison rules to work in the prison print facility. The applicant believed that the dye he would have to work with had been tested on nonhumans and that he would therefore be required to rescind his veganism and comply with speciesist practices. This case is known as H v the UK (ECtHR App. 18187/91). The Commission of the European Court of Human Rights, along with the UK Government agreed that veganism was within the scope of Article 9 but used the concept of proportionality to conclude that the vegan concerned would nevertheless be required to work with substances derived from other animals. It was decided in this case that interference would be lawful under the principle of proportionality as the interference was prescribed by law in the prison rules.
What this case illustrates is that even though veganism is protected under Article 9, the state nevertheless had the power to limit a vegan’s practice of veganism and enforce assimilation into a belief not of his choosing. The purpose of Article 9, as is the same under Article 18 of the UDHR and the ICCPR, is precisely to limit and avoid coercing people into participating in beliefs not of their choosing.
However, the legal reasoning, concerning the validity of veganism as a way of life concerning deep convictions that comes within the scope of human rights law, sent a clear message throughout Europe. It was to be observed within the community that there is a legal duty to accommodate vegans when assessing the breadth of Article 9 of the ECHR. As such, all European nations ought to recognise in their domestic legislation the duty owed to veganism as a non-religious belief that qualifies for human rights protection. The sad truth is however that many nations retain an interpretation of Article 9 as a provisions that concerns religious beliefs only despite being under a duty to prevent discrimination.
The ECHR is law that regulates your relationship with the state. For vegans this means that your national law ought to provide that your ethical vegan beliefs are accommodated when you are in a relationship with state authorities such as prisons, schools, hospitals, or any other state owned enterprise. If you are employed by the state as a police officer for example, your request for vegan friendly shoes should not be refused as if you are “required” to wear a uniform made from the skin of nonhumans, you could, arguable, claim that such a requirement was forcing you to assimilate into cultural beliefs not of your choosing and that your ethical chose was being interfered with by your government. Of course, you would need to ascertain that vegan friendly uniform items were available and that they meet any safety requirement stipulated by your employer in the interests of your health and safety and their duties and responsibilities to you.
The Council of the European Union issues equality directives. One of these is known as the principle of non-discrimination. It dates back to the year 2000. It states that its provisions are written with respect to the European Convention. Where equality law uses the expression “religion and belief” it should be interpreted consistently with the Convention.
For example, in the UK, Equality law applies to veganism and outlaws:
• Victimisation because you are vegan.
• Harassment because you are vegan.
• Unfair treatment as a result of being vegan.
• Treatment that puts you at a disadvantage due to being vegan.
You are also protected from any unwanted conduct that:
• Violates your dignity.
• Causes you to feel humiliated (subjective feelings).
• Creates a degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.
In employment this means that:
• If your employer provides food, you have the right to request and receive vegan food. For example, a working lunch.
• If you require safety wear, you have the right to request and receive vegan alternatives to standard equipment made from the skin of other animals, where these are available and comply with required specifications.
• You have the right not to be humiliated or have to cope with an offensive or degrading environment as a result of jokes or other remarks about from your colleagues.
• If your employer has a practice or policy which puts you at a disadvantage because you are vegan you have the right to request that the policy be amended. For example, a common practice is the office purchase of milk taken from cows. If you do not feel comfortable contributing, or taking a turn to collect this product then it is reasonable to request exemption.
Socially, equality provisions mean that:
• You have the right not to be treated unfairly or disadvantageously by any service provider because you are vegan. This includes the catering industry. You have the right to request and be provided with vegan food. This applies to hotels, airlines and other public transport.
Court Cases around the world
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