Animal rights activists are a growing part of Lebanon's civil society. Although many in Lebanon might laugh away the notion in a country where full human rights have yet to be secured. Regardless of your opinion on the issue, there is something to be said about the ability of a non-political issue like this to bring people together around a common concern and help build a concept of citizenship that transcends sectarian divides.
Some recent news on the issue:
Last week, animal lovers around the world were mortified by the news of Omega, a smoking 12 year-old chimp who was rescued from a zoo in Lebanon. Click here to read more about Omega.
And then last month, activists staged a protest outside a local pet shop. Click here to read more about it.
Developing Lebanon is pleased to be able to bring you another spotlight series with one of the lead organizers of this campaign:
Spotlight Series: The Animal Pride and Freedom Campaign
Interview with Mrs. Soraya-Zattar Mouawad
1) Mrs. Mouawad, please tell us about the "Animal Pride and Freedom Campaign?" What is your mission? How do you plan to effectively introduce change to the ways animals are treated in Lebanon?
The Animal Pride and Freedom Campaign was launched two months ago. The group was created in response to the poor treatment and abuse violations of animals in Lebanon. Animals are thrown in cages in illegal pet shops with no concern for sanitation or hygiene. We hope to raise public awareness on the national and international levels to highlight the plight of innocent animals and the violations they face. We hope to encourage pet shop owners to become more cooperative and humane in their treatment of animals.
2) Does Lebanon currently have any laws or enforcement mechanisms pertaining to the protection of animal rights? If so, what are they? What does the Campaign propose to improve the situation? Are the violations you see happening because the law is insufficient or is it a question of enforcement or both? How can a new law ensure proper implementation and enforcement?
The current law is outdated and does not meet the demands of the current generation. We need a stronger law matched by better enforcement. A strong law will enable activists to hold pet shop owners accountable without feeling threatened. However, the law is only as good as the enforcement mechanisms that are in place. Unfortunately, corruption in Lebanon prevents proper enforcement and exotic animals are imported illegally into the country as a result. We have been trying to meet with the leadership from the Ministries of Agriculture and Interior. Until now we have been unsuccessful in fully gaining their attention. The campaign would like to see an end to the gross animal rights violations including, ending the illegal importation of exotic animals and the sadistic practice of dog-fighting. In addition, the campaign would like pet shops to no longer cage animals and make improvements in proper hygiene. It is important that any new law also mandate the implementation of quarantine for any animal entering Lebanese territory and that they have proper check-ups and documentation from legally registered veterinarians.
3) Do you have a draft of a new law? Are you working with any international NGOs to help improve advocacy efforts to influence Lebanese politicians? What is the best way to force Lebanese politicians to pay attention to this issue?
We are working on a draft law. We currently do not have the support of any international organizations but we are aware of their presence and interested in working with them to help boost and improve our capacity. It would be good to learn how this problem has been dealt with on a global level so that we can make improvements here at home. Domestic and international media coverage is critical to gaining attention. There needs to be more awareness of the problem first before having any kind of impact.
4) Are the Campaign volunteers and activist representative of Lebanon's sectarian diversity? Do you believe that bringing Lebanese civil society together around less political but equally important issues in Lebanon's development can play a role in national reconciliation?
We are a mixed group of volunteers representing Lebanon’s diversity. Lebanon is suffering from many internal and external political problems and the country has yet to successfully implement a national reconciliation process. Perhaps, by uniting around non-political issues that do not have sectarian sensitivities we can help start a process in building national consensus by Lebanese as citizens of a democratic state and not as religions.
5) Do you have an action plan to reach out to more Lebanese citizens?
We are currently working to educate children and teachers about the values and responsibilities in raising pets. They are not toys to be thrown away at the end of a summer vacation but they are a long-term commitment that should bring joy and happiness to many families. I am also an artist and working on organizing an art exhibit in collaboration with local environmentalist to reach out to more people.