Your rights as a vegan begin with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (The Declaration). The rights and freedoms listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been interpreted in different ways when incorporated into the laws of various nations. To give effect to the provisions as rights the Declaration was formalised by 2 Covenants. These were the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). They restate our rights and indicate the obligations of member nations. The following is an example of how we can read human rights provisions through a vegan interpretation:
A vegan interpretation of rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Under Article 1 of The Declaration, vegans are equal in dignity and rights.
Under Article 7 of The Declaration, vegans are equal before the law and entitled without discrimination to equal protection of the law.
Under Article 18 vegans are entitled to their belief and have the right to manifest their belief in teaching and practice. This is a particularly important article for veganism. Beliefs that qualify for protection under human rights law typically concern a life lived with deep convictions. Qualifying beliefs under human rights can be religious or non-religious in nature.
Under Article 22 a vegan is entitled to social and cultural rights indispensable for their dignity and free development of their personality.
Under Article 25 a vegan is entitled to a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being including food, medical care and social services.
Under Article 26 vegans have the right to a vegan education.
Under Article 28 vegans are entitled to a social order in which their vegan rights are respected and provided for.
Under Article 29(2) law can limit a vegan’s right to exercise rights and freedoms only if, in exercising their rights, vegans do not recognise or respect the rights and freedoms of others; or if in pursuing their vegan rights, vegans compromise society’s moral code, public order or the aims of a democratic society.
Signatory nations are allowed to state specific understandings and enter reservations against the articles of human rights Covenants. For example, some nations may enter a reservation against the Article 18 right to freedom of belief claiming that any such provision ought to be read in line with Islamic Shariah. Other nations may restrict the interpretation of this Article to traditional religious beliefs involving the worship of deities. Other nations interpret the Article 18 right to freedom of belief very widely and provide protective rights for both religious and secular beliefs equally. For example, in the UK, the Equality and Human Rights Commission states explicitly that veganism is within the scope of human rights provisions. The interpretation of the Equality and Human Rights Commission stems from a wide interpretation of the meaning of Article 18 but also from the legal reasoning of the European Court of Human Rights where a case concerning veganism was discussed in 1993.
A vegan interpretation of rights under the ICCPR:
Under Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, vegans have the right to self-determination, social and cultural development.
Under Article 2 of the ICCPR, a state must respect human rights without distinction of any kind
Under Article 2 (3) (a) if vegan rights have been violated, the state must do whatever is necessary to give effect to our rights.
Under Article 18 we have the right to our vegan belief and the right to manifest our belief in teaching and practice. This Article is taken directly from the UDHR and states explicitly that nobody should be coerced into a belief not of their choosing. This is particularly important when we think about the power of the speciesist society we are born into. It raises very important questions about the way being born into a speciesist society may be totally coercive.
Under Article 26 member nations must enact laws prohibiting discrimination against us as vegans and guarantee our equality.
Under Article 27 minority cultures must be allowed to enjoy and practice their culture.
A vegan interpretation of rights under the ICESCR
Under Article 2 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, member nations must guarantee our vegan rights without discrimination.
Under Article 6 we have the right to freely choose employment.
Under Article 10 (3) member nations are required to take special measures to protect children from anything which affects their morals or health.
Under Article 13 (3) member nations must respect our convictions in the moral education of our children.
The UDHR, the Articles contained in the ICCPR, the ICESCR and other legislation appear straight forward. However, when a case is presented to court there is often much more to discuss than anticipated. Law is very complex and though under human rights law veganism may be deemed a qualifying belief, the government of a nation may be allowed to interfere with the practice of veganism in certain circumstances. The freedom to practice veganism, however, may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
The Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/36/a36r055.htm) focuses on the rights of individuals to live out their lives according to their deep convictions.
1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice. (Again, this is particularly interesting for those of us who feel we are born into a coercive speciesist society).
3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
1. No one shall be subject to discrimination by any State, institution, group of persons or person on grounds of religion or other beliefs.
2. For the purposes of the present Declaration, the expression intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief; means any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on religion or belief and having as its purpose or as its effect nullification or impairment of the recognition, enjoyment or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis.
Discrimination between human beings on grounds of religion or belief constitutes an affront to human dignity and a disavowal of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and shall be condemned as a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and enunciated in detail in the International Covenants on Human Rights, and as an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations between nations.
1. All States shall take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the recognition, exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all fields of civil, economic, political, social and cultural life.
2. All States shall make all efforts to enact or rescind legislation where necessary to prohibit any such discrimination, and to take all appropriate measures to combat intolerance on the grounds of religion or other beliefs in this matter.
1. The parents or, as the case may be, the legal guardians of the child have the right to organize the life within the family in accordance with their religion or belief and bearing in mind the moral education in which they believe the child should be brought up.
2. Every child shall enjoy the right to have access to education in the matter of religion or belief in accordance with the wishes of his parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, and shall not be compelled to receive teaching on religion or belief against the wishes of his parents or legal guardians, the best interests of the child being the guiding principle.
3. The child shall be protected from any form of discrimination on the ground of religion or belief. He shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace and universal brotherhood, respect for freedom of religion or belief of others, and in full consciousness that his energy and talents should be devoted to the service of his fellow men.
The International community employs a Special Rapporteur to oversee implementation of these important rights and equality provisions. The current Special Rapporteur for the freedom of religion and belief is Professor Heiner Bielefeld. You can watch a video clip of Mr Bielefeldt talking about the importance of being allowed to live according to your non-religious deep convictions here.
The right to culturally acceptable food
The right to food is provided for in international law. Although this right is typically talked about in the context of poverty or crisis situations, it is a right that has some scope for a vegan claim to the kind of diet that is needed.
The right to adequate food is contained in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It imposes a requirement on governments to ensure everyone has adequate food. It also requires governments to inform wider society about good nutrition.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has provided an explanation of what duties and responsibilities governments have in relation to this Article. It makes an important point about the right to food being met when everyone has physical and economic access to adequate food. The right to food is taken very seriously by official international organisations that oversee implementation of international law. With regard to the right to food, the United Nations has appointed a Special Rapporteur who is responsible for checking and reporting on how this right is being met by governments.
The Special Rapporteur has given a definition of the right to food being:
"the right to the right to have regular, permanent and free access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensures a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear."
The importance of this right for vegans is that it is defined as the right to food that corresponds to the culture. As such, it is a right owed to all vegans when in relationships with state authorities. This means for example, state owned schools, health services, care homes, prisons and when a vegan is employed by the state. It also covers the circumstances where governments are providing free food in the context of the recent economic crisis, at “food banks”.
Despite the fact that veganism comes within the scope of human rights and equality provisions each case presents different circumstances which are sometimes complex in the context of what has to be considered in legal reasoning. If you feel you have suffered unfair treatment or discrimination it is advisable to obtain expert opinion before taking any action that may put you at a disadvantage. As can be seen in the case of H v UK (see the "Court Cases" section for more information on this case), although the Commission and the UK Government acknowledged veganism to be within the scope of human rights protection, it was nevertheless reasoned that it would be “proportionate” to require H to work with dyes if they were of other than synthetic origin.” In any case, he would be required to do so under the Prison Rules which constitute legitimate interference into ones’ manifestation of belief.
Court Cases around the world
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