Angie Vega (2023)
Colombia is a country located in the northwestern part of South America. The country is ecologically diverse, with Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, Amazon rainforests, and tropical grasslands. It is considered a "megadiverse country" that ranks as the first country in the world for a diversity of bird species.
As a Civil Law country, Colombia's legal system is mainly based on codes and laws. Colombia has four high courts (the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Justice, the State Council, and the Superior Council of the Judiciary) that create judicial precedent so long as they rule on relevant procedural or substantive issues. Article 230 of the Constitution establishes that judges are subjected solely and exclusively to the rule of law. Court decisions, doctrine, and general law principles are considered assisting criteria.
In civil law systems, judicial decisions are applied case by case and serve as a reference for other judges. However, in Colombia, as well as in some other civil law countries, high courts' decisions have gained more relevance, and their scope is not limited as it was previously. In certain instances, judicial interpretation of the law is just as important as the written law itself. For example, the Constitutional Court decisions on constitutionality issues and unifying decisions by the State Council create immediate legal precedent.
Article 1 of the Constitution states, "Colombia is a social state of law, organized in the form of a unitary, decentralized republic, with autonomy of its territorial entities, democratic, participatory and pluralist." This means that the central government has the power to make the most important political decisions. Congress is the legislative authority. It is responsible for making the laws for the entire territory. The country is divided into territorial entities called departments (similar to states in the U.S., but with less independent authority) divided into districts and local municipalities. The executive branch of Colombia is administratively decentralized, with representatives at the departmental, district, and municipal department levels. The representatives in these three levels have certain limited powers independent from the central authority.
The political power is distributed in three branches. Article 113 of the Constitution states that these branches are the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. They all have independent roles but are "designed to work harmoniously for the undertaking of the nation's goals."
The President manages the executive branch. Governors, mayors, and ministries report to their respective leaders. For instance, mayors report to the respective governor and the President. Governors report to the President. (Colombia's Political Constitution, Art 115 (1991)).
The Legislative branch amends the Constitution, makes laws, and exercises political control over the government and the administration. Congress is the body in charge of the legislative function, which comprises the Senate and the House of Representatives. (Colombia's Political Constitution, Art. 114 (1991)).
The Judicial branch administers justice. The judicial branch in Colombia has four higher courts, which are the last instance for the three most important jurisdictions: ordinary, administrative, and constitutional. (Colombia’s Political Constitution, Art. 116 (1991)).
The higher courts of the judicial branch are:
1. The Supreme Court of Justice: the highest Court of the ordinary jurisdiction that hears claims against the President and investigates the members of Congress (Colombia's Political Constitution, arts. 234-235 (1991)).
2. The Constitutional Court: decides on constitutional claims and studies the constitutionality of the laws (Colombia’s Political Constitution, Arts. 239-241 (1991)).
3. The Superior Council of the Judiciary investigates the conduct of the judicial officials (Colombia’s Political Constitution, Art 257 (1991)).
4. The State Council: the highest body of the administrative jurisdiction. It advises the government on administrative matters. (Colombia’s Political Constitution, Arts 236-238 (1991)).
Colombia's animal legal framework has had an interesting development. Even though animals are not considered morally comparable to humans by the law, there are duties and responsibilities limiting conduct to guarantee the protection of animals as they are part of nature, which is protected under the Constitution. The animal legal framework in Colombia focuses on a protectionist theory, and it is based on the constitutional mandate to protect nature. A unique aspect of the animal legal framework in this country is that general anti-cruelty laws protect all animals equally, setting the country apart from the majority approach with anti-cruelty laws designed to protect companion animals. Law 84, 1989, was the first animal protection statute in the country. From there, the constitutional mandate to protect nature has been the focal point in subsequent laws and court decisions protecting animals as they are part of nature. For example, Colombia is the only country in the region that categorizes animals as sentient beings in its Civil Code. This modification was added through Law 1774, 2016. Colombia was also one of the first countries to prohibit the use of wild animals in circuses, and more recently, sport hunting and animal testing for cosmetic purposes were prohibited in the entire territory as well. Law 2111 was enacted in 2021, modifying the criminal code by creating new crimes against the environment and strengthening existing ones. Under this new law, illegal wildlife trafficking is punishable with up to 12 years of imprisonment.
In contrast, activities such as bullfighting, cockfighting, novilladas, becerradas, etc., continue to be legal despite the efforts of politicians, lawyers, and activists that have unsuccessfully attempted to get rid of these practices by introducing laws and filing constitutional lawsuits for nearly two decades. The reason these cruel practices are still legal: cultural tradition. In the case of bullfighting, Colombia is one of the eight countries that still allow this practice, as it is an exception to the duty to protect animals established in Article 7 of Law 1774. Under Law 1774, animal cruelty is only punishable with imprisonment from 1 to 3 years when cruel acts result in death or serious injury to the animal.
Colombia is the first country in the region to change its civil code, adding a paragraph to the article that classifies animals as property. This modification states that animals are sentient beings under the law, effectively modifying the classification of animals by categorizing them somewhere in between a person and a chattel as “sentient beings.” In addition, lower courts have recognized multispecies families in two opportunities. This puts Colombia on the limited list of countries legally recognizing this type of family. It is important to mention that there has yet to be a high court ruling on this subject. Colombia was also the first country to grant rights to an animal other than a great ape. It was Chucho’s case, an Andean or spectacled bear that lives in a zoo on the northern coast of Colombia under unacceptable conditions for his species. Even though the decision was ultimately stricken down, it is still a reference in countries worldwide as an example. This case brought serious attention to the issue of animal rights in the country. Unfortunately, the Court ultimately held that animals are not subject of rights but are subjects of protection. Recent laws and judicial decision show the country is taking animal issues more seriously, evidenced by serious consideration of animal rights, the phase out of different lucrative animal uses, and the creation of meaningful national policies to protect animals.
Another important and innovative measure in Colombia is that in an effort to address more efficiently the increasing number of animal cruelty reports and investigations, The Attorney General's Office created the Special Group for the Fight Against Animal Abuse (GELMA), which has been running since 2019. This group investigates and prosecutes animal cruelty cases. It is made up of 38 prosecutors on the entire territory, 38 investigators, and 44 police officers. This group has three-digit telephone number where citizens can call to report animal cruelty cases specifically. Additionally, the national police department has patrol vehicles for environmental and ecological protection, which assist in cases involving environmental issues and cruelty against wildlife and domestic animals.
Finally, it is important to mention that an increasing number of cities have adopted public policies on animal welfare. Initiatives and strategies focus on managing stray animals and public shelters, vaccination, sterilization, and reporting animal cruelty. Medellin and Bogota are the leading cities implementing strategies for animal protection. Medellin, for instance, has an animal anti-cruelty squad and a welfare center (La Perla) that focuses on educating the public about the welfare of companion animals, adoption, and veterinary care. Medellin also has a registry for companion animals and their owners, mass sterilization programs, and a program for caring for larger species. The city has also started a program to substitute animal-drawn vehicles, and it is one of the few cities that have prohibited horse parades (cabalgatas).
II. Animals in the Constitution
The most recent Constitution was enacted in 1991. It does not mention animals in its text. However, like other constitutions in the region, it establishes the duty to protect nature and the environment. The environment is considered a collective right, and the duty to protect it is reflected throughout many articles in the constitutional text. For instance, Article 8 establishes that the government and the people have the duty to protect cultural and nature’s wealth; Article 79 establishes the right to enjoy a healthy environment and the government’s duty to plan the management and use of natural resources; and Article 95 Num 8, establishes the duty to protect the country’s cultural and natural resources and to ensure the preservation of a healthy environment. Other Articles regarding the protection of the environment include Articles 1, 2, 11, 49, 80, 88, and 333.
Collective rights are protected through a popular action (Accion popular), which is a procedural mechanism established in article 88 of the Constitution to safeguard this type of rights. It can be filed by any person when there is a threat or a risk of violation of a collective right or interest. Therefore, a popular action is an adequate mechanism to protect animals.
III. Animals in the Civil Code
Animals were initially classified merely as “movable objects” in article 665, meaning that they are objects that can move from one place to another by themselves and are subject to appropriation. Article 658 states that they can also be real property by destination (Similar to the definition of fixtures, where the personal property becomes part of the land) if they are used on-farm power or for the benefit of the farm, so long as the owner of the farm puts them on the land himself. In addition, “animals that are kept in rabbit hutches, aviaries, ponds, hives, and any other habitat are also considered real property by destination, as long as they are adhered to the ground, or are part of the ground itself, or are part of a building.”
In 2016, Ley 1774, introduced modifications to the civil and criminal codes. This law elevated the classification of animals to sentient beings. This new classification was added to article 665 of the civil code, which defines animals as “movable objects.” Colombia is the only country in the region that has added this classification to its civil code, putting animals somewhere in between chattels and living beings that deserve special protection. However, this does not mean that animals have rights.
Other Articles in the civil code defining and regulating the term animal include article 698, which establishes that domestic animals are subject to dominium, and the owner holds this dominium even when the animal escapes and goes on to the land of another; Articles 686 - 697 regulate the ways to acquire dominium (or absolute ownership) of wild animals (modified by the Code of Natural Resources of 1974, which establishes that wildlife belongs to the government). Before this law, wildlife could be acquired by hunting or fishing.
IV. Animals in the Criminal Code
The Criminal Code was also subject to modification by Law 1774 of 2016. The current text of this code punishes criminal conduct against the life and physical and emotional integrity of animals and crimes against natural resources and the environment.
Articles 339A and 339B (Added to the criminal code by Law 1774) punish conduct that causes death or seriously impairs an animal's health or physical integrity, leaving out conduct that does not have serious consequences. The term animal in this article means a domestic animal, domesticated animal, vertebrate wild animal, or exotic vertebrate animal. The punishment for this crime is imprisonment of 12- 36 months, a special disqualification for the exercise of a profession, trade, or possession that is related to animals from 1 to 3 years, and a fine of 5 to 60 legal monthly minimum wages. Note that under Colombia’s law, crimes punishable by up to 4 years in jail are considered misdemeanors. This means that animal cruelty is considered a minor, releasable offense.
Title XI, Chapter I-IV, Articles 328-336A, “Crimes against natural resources and the environment” (also added to the criminal code by Law 1774), regulates offenses such as wildlife traffic, illegal hunting, illegal fishing, illegal management of exotic species, ecocides, etc. For instance, wildlife trafficking in punished with 60-135 months in jail and a fine of 300 to 40.000 legal monthly minimum wages. In addition, article 328A establishes that this penalty will be increased from one-third to one-half when the conduct is committed via the export or sale of cartilaginous fish fins (sharks, rays, or chimeras).
Finally, Article 339, PAR 1, establishes the uses of animals that are exempted from animal cruelty crimes. Conduct within the following activities will not be subject to animal cruelty penalties: 1) activities involving the keeping of animals for reproduction, breeding, training, and maintenance; 2) activities involving slaughter and processing of animals for food production purposes; and 3) training activities for legally accepted competitions. (such as Colombian walking horse tournaments (caballos de paso fino)).
V. Other relevant laws
Colombia has three general provisions regarding the protection of animals in general: 1) Law 5 of 1972 (regulated by Decreto 497, 1973); 2) Ley 84, 1989, known as the National Statute of Animal Protection, and 3) Ley 1774 de 2016, which recognizes animals as sentient beings. Ley 5, 1972 creates and regulates the animal defense boards and mandates all the municipalities to have one. These boards are created to promote educational campaigns to avoid animal cruelty and have independent legal personhood once created.
Decreto 497, 1973. Regulates Ley 5, 1972. Article 3 lists acts constituting bad treatment towards animals such as keeping animals in places that are unsanitary or that prevent them from breathing, moving, or resting or which deprives them of air or light; forcing animals to work excessively or beyond their strength or any act that results in suffering in order to obtain from the efforts that cannot reasonably be required of them except by means of punishment; abandoning the injured, sick, exhausted or mutilated animal, or stopping the providing of everything that can be humanely provided, including veterinary assistance; not giving an animal a quick death free of prolonged suffering, regardless of whether the animal will be used for human consumption; confining animals in such a number that they cannot move freely, or leaving them without water and food for more than 12 hours; keeping animals confined with others that terrify or annoy them; and skinning or plucking live animals.
Ley 84 of 1989 is the general statute for animal protection. It prohibits animal cruelty. Under this law, “animals in the entire territory shall have special protection against suffering and pain caused directly or indirectly by humans" (Article 1). It establishes the general duties of humans towards animals. Among these duties includes the duty to provide animals with enough food, water, and medicine to guarantee their well-being; the duty to provide animals with appropriate space so they can move adequately; and the duty to provide appropriate shelter. Article 7 contains the exceptions to the duty to protect animals, meaning that the practices listed in this section are legal under the current legal system, even though they might be inherently cruel. These exceptions correspond to the different variations and forms of bullfighting, rejoneo, coleo, las corridas de toros, novilladas, corralejas, becerradas, tientas, and cockfighting. Ley 84 also regulates the slaughter of animals for non-consumption, animals in experiments and research, animal transportation, hunting and fishing, resources, penalties, legal competency, and procedures to follow regarding this law. This law punished animal cruelty with penalties, not jail time.
Ley 1774, 2016 elevates the legal status of animals from property to sentient beings. Under this law, animals are not subjects of rights but rather subjects of special protection. Penalties for animal cruelty are strengthened under this law. This law typifies animal cruelty as a crime. It modifies the criminal code establishing that those that subject an animal to cruelty, causing the animal death or serious injury, will be subject to punishments consisting of jail time, fines, and inability to work with and have animals (see Section IV above). Under this law, funds obtained from animal cruelty fines will be destined for the improvement of public policy concerning the protection of animals (drafting, communication, and execution), educational campaigns, and the creation of animal protection funds. Finally, under this law, the police have 24 hours to respond to a report of animal cruelty. They have the authority to seize an animal without a warrant as a preventive measure.
Decreto 780, 2016 establishes standards and regulations for the control of epidemics and zoonotic diseases. Article 220.127.116.11.19 establishes the duty to vaccinate domestic animals in accordance with the legal standards against preventable zoonotic diseases. In addition, article 18.104.22.168.20 prohibits selling and commercializing any animals on public roads. This law also prohibits breeding facilities for domestic, wild, or exotic animals in urban areas.
Ley 1955, 2019 "The National Development Plan for 2018-2022," in article 324, instructs the national government to draft the national policy and guidelines for the protection and welfare of farm animals, stray animals, and animals subject to cruelty, among others. Furthermore, it instructs the government to define strategies and programs and to propose laws for animal protection on issues such as responsible ownership, sterilization campaigns, the creation of welfare centers, rehabilitation and integral assistance to domestic and wild animals, the progressive substitution of vehicles of animal traction, and the strengthening of investigation and prosecution procedures for crimes against animals to eradicate all forms of animal violence, cruelty, illegal traffic, and trade.
A. Companion animals
The general animal protection statutes establishing duties towards animals described above also cover companion animals. Under these laws, there is a duty to protect animals and prevent unnecessary pain and suffering. In addition, those that cause an animal death or serious injury will be prosecuted for animal cruelty, as this conduct is established as a crime in the Colombian criminal code. Other relevant laws concerning companion animals include:
Ley 2054, 2020 modifies Law 1801 of 2016. It establishes that all districts or municipalities must establish an animal welfare center, municipal shelters, or transitory homes to take domestic animals to the extent possible according to the financial capacities of the territorial entities. If the district or municipality does not have these centers, they must support the efforts of private animal shelters or foundations that receive domestic animals. If the animal has not been claimed by his or her owner or keeper after thirty days, the animal will be declared abandoned, and the authorities will proceed to promote his or her adoption. This law also establishes that domestic animals or pets cannot be restricted from common areas in apartment buildings. Dogs have to be leashed, and in the case of potentially dangerous dogs, they have to be muzzled, and the owner must have the corresponding license in accordance with the law.
Ley 1801, 2016 or the "National Code of Safety and Citizen Coexistence." Title XIII is titled "of the relationship with animals." Chapter one talks about the respect and care owed to animals, prohibiting behaviors that negatively affect animals, such as the promotion, participation, or sponsorship of betting activities involving animals; the sale of domestic animals on public roads; the wandering of animals on the streets; and the use of captive animals as shooting targets. Chapter II, "Domestic animals or pets," establishes that only species authorized by the law can be kept as pets. The ownership of wild animals as pets is prohibited. Service animals accompanying their owners are always allowed in public spaces. Dog fighting is prohibited in the entire territory. Chapter IV regulates the management and ownership of potentially dangerous dogs, tort liability, and the registry of potentially dangerous dogs.
Ley 753, 2015 adopts the National Development Plan for 2014-2018, denominated "All for a new country." Article 248 states: "Public policy in defense of animal rights and/or animal protection. The national government will promote public policies and governmental actions in which the rights of animals and/or animal protection are promoted and promulgated. To accomplish this goal, the national government will work in coordination with social organizations of animal defense to design policies where concepts, institutional powers, conditions, aspects, limitations, and specifications on animal care regarding the reproduction, possession, adoption, production, distribution, and commercialization of domestic animals not suitable for reproduction will be established. In addition, the territorial and decentralized entities will monitor, control, and promote respect for animals and their physical and mental integrity."
The traffic code in article 97 establishes that all territorial entities are required to create “cosos” or “animal deposits,” which are animal shelters that must meet the requirements for the adequate maintenance of the animals kept thereby. This article also establishes that animals are not allowed to wander on public roads and that the authorities are in charge of doing was necessary to take abandoned animals off the streets. In turn, these animals shall be taken to municipal or private shelters.
B. Farm animals
The general anti-cruelty laws in Colombia cover farm animals as well. Farmed animals are subject to the special legal protection against suffering and pain established in the provisions of law 84 of 1989, law 1774 of 2016, and law 05 of 1972 (regulated by decreto 497, 1973). This means that farm animals are (at least symbolically speaking) at the same level as other animals in the territory. Note that under current laws, animal cruelty is only punishable with jail if the animal suffers death or serious injury. In addition, activities involving the keeping of animals for reproduction, breeding, training, and maintenance and activities involving slaughter and processing of animals for food production purposes are among the exceptions from the animal cruelty crimes establishes in the criminal code in Article 339, PAR 1.
Since 2017, the government has been enacting laws and regulations complying with animal welfare international standards. Before that, laws and regulations regarding farm animals focused primarily on health and sanitary standards required in order to make meat, eggs, and chicken suitable for human consumption. This continues to be the main focus, although recent laws and regulations specifically address welfare for specific species.
Different authorities are in charge of monitoring and enforcement depending on the area. For instance, the National Food and Drug Surveillance Institute -INVIMA- oversees slaughterhouse procedures. The Colombian Agricultural Institute -ICA- is the authority in charge of monitoring compliance with the welfare standards and imposing sanctions on the agricultural sector for violations of health and animal welfare regulations.
Recently issued regulations focus on the welfare of animals in the rearing, transportation, and slaughter phases for specific species. Some of these regulations also include aquaculture, such as "Resolución 253, 2020,” which establishes welfare standards for cattle, buffalo, poultry, and aquatic animals raised for human consumption.
The following are some of the provisions in the general anti-cruelty laws that more specifically protect farmed animals:
Law 5, 1972 and Decree 497 of 1973 regulate the welfare of animals during the rearing phase. Some of the acts considered cruel in Decree 497 that can specifically apply to farm animals include keeping animals in places that are unsanitary or that prevent them from breathing, moving, or resting, or which deprive them of air or light; voluntarily hitting, injuring, or mutilating an animal or any organ, except castration, or other operations performed for the exclusive benefit of the animal and those required for the defense of humans, or in the interest of science; abandoning an injured, sick, exhausted or mutilated animal or stop providing an animal everything that can be humanely provided, including veterinary assistance; whipping, beating or punishing in any way downed animals, with or without a vehicle; and confining animals in such a manner that they cannot move freely, or leaving the animals without water and food for more than 12 hours.
Under article 3 of law 1774 of 2016, the owner or keeper of an animal is responsible for their care. At a minimum, animals should not suffer hunger or thirst, unjustifiable physical discomfort or pain caused by negligence or carelessness, and they are not subjected to conditions of fear or stress.
Chapter V of ley 84 regulates animal slaughter. Article 20 states that animals slaughtered for human consumption are regulated according to procedures and standards established in other norms. The goal is to avoid waste or loss of meat or fur quality due to involuntary cruelty.
Chapter VII, "transportation of animals," applies to all animals, including farm animals. It stipulates that procedures that do not involve cruelty, mistreatment, extreme fatigue, or lack of rest, drink, and food for them shall be used in the transportation of animals. Animals must be transported in vehicles that protect them from the weather. Smaller animals (i.e., chickens) must be transported in adequate crates with sufficient ventilation and space. In addition, there are provisions on the length of transportation and breaks to provide the animals with rest, food, and water.
Other relevant laws and regulations protecting farm animals
Resolución 20223040006915 (Feb 11, 2022), “Adopts the procedural manual for transport, handling, and mobilization of live animals for human consumption of the bovine, porcine, caprine, ovine, avian, buffalo, equine species and other species.”
Resolución 115708 (Dec 27, 2021), “Establishes the requirements to obtain health and safety licenses for farms rearing animals for meat and milk for human consumption.”
Resolución 76509 (Sep 25, 2020), “Establishes the requirements for Good practices in swine production."
Resolución 253 del (Oct 29, 2020) “Adopts the Manual of Animal Welfare Conditions for cattle, buffalo, poultry and aquatic animals in the agricultural sector.”
Resolución 136 (Jun 3, 2020) “Adopts the manual for animal welfare conditions for Equidae, Porcine, Sheep, and Caprine species in the agricultural sector.”
Decreto 2113, 2017 “Adds a Chapter to Title 3, part 13, 2nd book of Decree 1071, 2015 (Regulatory Decree of the Agricultural, Fisheries, and Rural Development Administrative Sector), titled “Animal welfare for production species in the agricultural sector,” which establishes the general provisions and requirements for livestock Animal Welfare in the agricultural sector. Among other things, it establishes that Decree 1071, 2015 is framed based on the five freedoms (freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury, and disease; freedom to express normal and natural behavior) and defines production animals as “vertebrates and invertebrates used in commercial production.” Some general aspects include that surfaces (for walking, resting, etc.) must be adapted to the specific species to minimize the risks of injury or transmission of diseases or parasites to the animals. The environmental conditions must allow for comfortable rest and safe and comfortable movements, including changes in normal postures, and allow the animals to show natural behavior. Allowing animals to be in social groups encourages positive social behaviors and minimizes injury, disorder, or chronic fear. When painful procedures cannot be avoided, pain should be managed to the extent available methods allow. Animal handling should promote a positive relationship between humans and animals and not cause injury, panic, lasting fear, or avoidable stress. Finally, the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA) is the enforcing authority in charge of imposing sanctions for violations of animal health and welfare regulations.
Decreto 1500, 2007 establishes the technical regulations that create the standards for inspection, supervision, and control in the meat production chain. This decree focuses on the sanitary and health aspects involved in the slaughter phase of livestock. However, there are some provisions that directly or indirectly address animal welfare. Some of these provisions include raising animals in facilities that pose a minimum risk for animal production and welfare. Primary production farms must implement good practices in animal feeding and animal welfare. Vehicles must have adequate physical separation mechanisms to prevent overcrowding, crowding, and animal aggression during transport. In addition, vehicles must have adequate conditions for animal welfare, biosecurity, biocontainment, and sanitary management. Article 31 Num 3 establishes that animals must be slaughtered by non-cruel methods, which ensure that they are rendered unconscious before being slaughtered. The National Institute for Food and Drug Supervision -INVIMA- is the authority in charge of establishing and overseeing compliance with slaughter methods.
Wild animals are protected by the general animal protection laws that establish that animals have special protection against suffering and pain caused directly or indirectly by humans. However, there is an interest in the protection of wildlife that is often addressed in laws and regulations seeking to protect the environment. Initially, animals were protected as natural resources that ought to be protected under constitutional mandates. Today, wild animals are still considered a resource but also as sentient beings. Even though Law 84 of 1989 and law 5 of 1972 (laws protecting animals that are still valid) (See Chapter 5) were enacted before the 1991 Constitution, the constitution does not have any provisions regarding the protection of wildlife or any other animal. However, it establishes the right to nature and the duty to protect the environment. The criminal code in Title XI, Chapter I-IV, Articles 328-336A, “Crimes against natural resources and the environment” regulates offenses such as wildlife traffic, illegal hunting, illegal fishing, illegal management of exotic species, ecocides, etc. For instance, wildlife trafficking in punished with 60-135 months of imprisonment and a fine of 300 to 40.000 legal monthly minimum wages. In addition, article 328A establishes that this penalty will be increased from one-third to one-half when the conduct is committed via the export or sale of cartilaginous fish fins (sharks, rays, or chimeras). Current legislative and judicial efforts focus on the prohibition of specific forms of cruelty of wildlife such as the prohibition of sports hunting and the strengthening of punishment for wildlife trafficking.
Ley 2111, 2021 is the law for environmental crimes. The focus is to protect the national ecosystems and the nation’s natural patrimony. This law creates new crimes and strengthens existing ones concerning national wildlife by imposing up to 12 years (60-135 months) of prison and monetary fines of 40,000 minimum wages for illegal trafficking. More specifically, regarding wildlife, the law punishes “those who traffic, acquire, export or trade without authorization from the competent authority or in violation of existing regulations, specimens, products or parts of aquatic, wild fauna or exotic wild species.” The new crimes created under this law are deforestation, its promotion and financing; wildlife trafficking; the financing of the invasion of areas of special ecological importance; and the financing and illegal appropriation of vacant lands belonging to the nation. Furthermore, the sanctions for the crimes of damage to natural resources and ecocide, illegal hunting and fishing, the illegal use of renewable natural resources, and environmental contamination were strengthened.
Ley 1801, 2016 is the National Police and Coexistence Code. Prohibits the commercialization, storage, possession, or keeping of wildlife or plants that pose a risk to human health or integrity. It also prohibits the taking, use, keeping, possession, or transportation of wildlife species (live or death) or their parts without the corresponding authorization. Article 164 establishes that the National Police has the power to seize wildlife in accordance with the law.
Decreto 1076, 2015. Issued by the president with the purpose to gather and explain regulatory norms governing the environmental sector.
Ley 1638, 2013 prohibits the use of wild animals, native or exotic, as part of shows in circuses in the entire country. To accomplish this goal, Ley 1638 gave circuses a two-year deadline to transition and re-purpose their shows without using wild animals. However, it is important to note that this law does not cover the use of domestic animals. Therefore, these animals (i.e., dogs, horses, rabbits, etc.) can still be used.
Ley 1333, 2009. Establishes the fines, sanctions, injunctions, and corresponding procedures for violations of environmental regulations. It establishes provisional dispositions, preventive seizure procedures of flora and fauna, and guidelines on how to proceed when the environmental authority does not have the infrastructure or equipment to keep individual wildlife specimens. It creates information portals for environmental regulation control, "the Unique Registry of Environmental Wrongdoers" (RUIA) and the "Wildlife Information Portal" (PIFS).
Ley 611, 2000. Regulates the sustainable management of aquatic and wildlife and their use.
Ley 165, 1994. Adopts the "Convention on Biological Diversity", Opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
Ley 99, 1993. Creates the Ministry of environment, reorganizes the Public Sector responsible for the management and conservation of the environment and renewable natural resources, and reorganizes the “National Environmental System” (SINA).
Ley 17, 1981. Adopts the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Decreto Ley 2811 de 1974 is the “National Code of Renewable Natural Resources and Environmental Protection.”
D. Regulation of specific animal uses
i. Animal testing for cosmetic purposes
Ley 84, 1989, Chapter VI, together with regulation 8430, 1993, chapter V issued by the Ministry of Health, regulate the use of animals in research and experimentation. Law 84 establishes two requirements for the use of animals in research and experimentation. First, live animal experimentation and experimentation and research with animals in laboratories require prior authorization from the Ministry of Health and Social Protection (MSPS) and environmental authorities. Second, the law requires the creation of ethical committees approved by the Ministry of Public Health to oversee the treatment of animals, protocols, and procedures regarding their treatment. Furthermore, experimentation and research of animals are prohibited if: the results of the experiment are known in advance; the experiment does not have a scientific purpose and especially when it is oriented towards a commercial activity; the use of animals is used as means of illustration or to obtain manual dexterity, among others established in Article 25. Furthermore, animals have to be under enough anesthesia to avoid pain, and they have to be immediately sacrificed upon the termination of the experiment if they have severe wounds or wounds that implicate serious mutilations.
Ley 2047 de 2021, This law prohibits animal testing for cosmetic products, which includes the import, manufacture, and commercialization of cosmetic products tested on animals in the entire Colombian territory. Violations of these prohibitions entail sanctions and fines of up to 50.000 monthly minimum wages. In addition, the National Institute of Drugs, and Food Surveillance (INVIMA) is the enforcement authority. This law will not apply if there is no alternative model for animal testing or if the data obtained by animal testing has a different purpose than cosmetics.
ii. Animals used in circuses
Ley 1638, 2013 prohibits wild animals, native or exotic, as part of shows in circuses. To accomplish this goal, Ley 1638 gave circuses a two-year deadline to transition and re-purpose their shows without using wild animals. After two years, national and local authorities would only be able to issue licenses allowing the use of wild animals for this kind of show. This law does not include the use of domestic animals.
iii. Regarding the use of animal-drawn vehicles
Ley 2138 de 2021 establishes parameters and regulations for the replacement of animal-drawn vehicles and standards that promote the welfare of horses and cattle that are used for this purpose. It also offers guarantees to those who derive their livelihood from this type of vehicle so they can access social transformation programs. Vehicles of animal traction are to be substituted by motor vehicles that are ready to circulate, are in new condition, are approved for carrier transportation, and are suitable for the topography and distances of the corresponding municipality.
District, municipal, and departmental authorities oversee the carrying out the substitution programs for animal-drawn vehicles, except in cases where they are intended for rural transport in municipalities whose geographical condition does not allow other means for tourist, agricultural, livestock, forestry, and sports activities. Replacement programs are to be financed with departmental, municipal, and district funding. This law gives local governments ten months from its promulgation to complete a census with 100% of the data on animal-drawn vehicles and their owners.
VI. Relevant Jurisprudence
Colombia is the leading country in the region in producing animal jurisprudence. In total, about 18 Constitutional court and state council decisions arising under animal welfare or the legal status of animals in different scenarios. The debate is centered on whether animals should be subjects of rights or subjects of protection. Further, there are decisions addressing the legal personhood of animals. This country also has the first decision granting a habeas corpus to an animal that is not a great ape. The high courts have reputedly held that even though animals are considered sentient beings, they are not morally comparable to human beings. However, it does not mean that the law should not protect them. The interest in protecting them has been reflected in the limitation of constitutional rights such as the right to culture, the right to recreation, and the right to free development of personality in order to establish duties to guarantee the well-being of animals.
A. Jurisprudence on animal rights
Supreme Court of Justice. Sentencia AHC4806, Jul 26, 2017. (This decision was invalidated in Feb 2017 by decisions STL12651 and SU016,2020.) The Supreme Court of Justice ruled in favor of the spectacled bear, "Chucho," granting him habeas corpus after the bear's attorney challenged the lower court decision that denied it. Chucho is a 25-year-old spectacled bear that was born and raised in semi-captivity. He lived with his sister for 18 years in a natural reserve in the city of Manizales. After his sister died, Chucho became depressed and started escaping. The environmental authorities thought it would be in the bear's best interest to relocate him, for which they decided to move him to a zoo in northern Colombia. Unfortunately, the living conditions of Chucho were diminished as he went from living in semi-captivity to living in a smaller area.
Attorney Luis Domingo Maldonado filed a habeas corpus in the representation of the bear that was denied in the first instance by the civil chamber of the Superior Tribunal of Manizales. Attorney Luis Domingo Maldonado argued that the current legal system did not have a specific proper mechanism that allowed the taking of immediate and urgent measures to protect the rights of animals as sentient beings to retire them for centers of captivity when they have spent their lives in natural reserves. He also used as examples the precedents from Brazil and Argentina, where a chimpanzee and an orangutan were granted habeas corpus. The attorney sought that the court order Chucho's immediate and permanent relocation to the natural reserve 'La Planada,' located in the Department of Narino. The Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice reversed the lower Court's decision and ordered Chucho's relocation from the zoo in Barranquilla to a more appropriate location with semi-captivity conditions. In its reasoning, the judge stated that animals are entitled to rights as sentient beings, not humans. The idea was to insert a morality of respect to counter a global ecological public order where humans tend to destroy the habitat. After long consideration, the chamber stated that it is necessary to modify the concept of 'subject of rights' in relation to nature, understanding that who is subject to rights is not necessarily correlatively bound to have duties. “The legal, ethical and political purpose is the unavoidable need to create a strong conscience to protect the vital environment for the survival of men, conservation of the environment and as a frontal fight against the irrationality in the man-nature relationship.” In 2017, this decision was appealed through a "Tutela" before the labor chamber and the criminal chamber under substantive and procedural due process violations arguments. Both chambers granted the "Tutela" and invalidated the habeas corpus. In decision SU016 of 2020, the Court confirmed its decision to revoke the habeas corpus filed on behalf of Chucho. In a public audience, many experts spoke about granting wild animals the status of legal persons and the right to freedom. The Court held that the judge that granted the habeas corpus had incurred in legal error as animals have no right to freedom, and habeas corpus is a legal mechanism available for humans that are illegally and unjustly detained. It is not available to animals.
Moreover, the Court stated that there were other more adequate mechanisms to guarantee the well-being of animals, such as an inquiry for intervention by the environmental authorities or a popular action. With this decision, the status of animals remains the same as it was. Animals are legally recognized as sentient beings, subject to special legal protection, and humans have the duty to take care of them.
Constitutional Court. Sentencia T-622, 2016. This is not a judicial decision that touches on animal welfare issues per se. However, it is important to mention as the Constitutional Court granted for the first time the status of a legal person to a river (more specifically, the Court held that the river is an entity subject of rights). The plaintiff, "Centro de Estudios para la Justicia Social" "Tierra Digna,"' brought an action of “Tutela” (Constitutional mechanism that is preferential, and summary created for protection of fundamental rights) representing various community councils of the Atrato region in the Colombian Pacific against the Presidency of the Republic and others. After determining that the action of "Tutela" was the appropriate mechanism for the protection of the fundamental rights of the ethnic communities, the Court established in its ruling that the right to water was a fundamental right, as it is a necessary component to the right to a dignified life.
Furthermore, the Court stated that it is essential for many organisms that inhabit the planet to be able to survive. In a new approach, the Court held that the Atrato River is subject to rights that imply its protection, conservation, and maintenance and instructs the national government to be the guardian and to exercise the river's legal representation through the President or whomever he appointed, along with the ethnic communities that inhabit the basin of the river. Thus, it guarantees that the Atrato river is represented by a member of these communities and a delegate of the Colombian government.
Third court of Bucaramanga. Sentencia de Tutela, July 25, 2017. This is the first time an animal, specifically a dog, filed a lawsuit seeking the government to grant protection for the dog's rights to life and health. The trial court denied the action of "Tutela" filed by the dog named "Negro" based on the definition of the person given by the civil code. As a result, the judge concluded that "Negro" was not a person and therefore was not entitled to have rights. Note that this a lower court decision, and therefore, does not create legal precedent. Nonetheless it is important for illustrating the consideration of animal rights by different courts in the country.
State Council. Contentious-Administrative Chamber. Sentencia 25000-23-24-000-2011-00227-01(AP). Here, the judge held that the collective rights of wild animals had to be protected and that animals were subject of rights. This concerns the night monkeys in the Amazon that a scientist was using in his research to find the malaria vaccine. (This decision was invalidated on Dec 12, 2014, by the State Council's Fourth. This decision resulted from a "Tutela" filed by the defendants arguing procedural and substantive errors. The second chamber held that in Colombia animals are subjects of protection, not subjects of rights).
B. Judicial decisions on animal cruelty
Constitutional Court. Sentencia C-045, 2019. This Constitutional Court's decision declares sport hunting illegal in the entire territory. In its reasoning, the Court stated that sport hunting is not an exception to the duty to protect animals against cruelty, as it does not satisfy any objective or purpose compatible with the Constitution. "It is not an expression of religious freedom, nor intended for food or medical or scientific experimentation. It is not done to control the species population and is not a deeply rooted cultural manifestation." The Court further stated, "The sacrifice of an animal by humans is an extreme form of mistreatment as it eliminates its very existence and is an act of annihilation. When it is unjustified, an animal's death is cruel because it means understanding that the animal is exclusively a resource available to humans. Sport hunting, in short, is a harmful act insofar as it is aimed at capturing wild animals, either by killing, mutilating, or catching them alive. "…" What happens here is an example of how the content and scope of constitutional norms adapt to a changing society. It is about the concept of a Living constitution, in which its scope and content take shape with the political community's economic, social, political, and cultural changes." Other forms of hunting, such as subsistence hunting, hunting for scientific and research purposes, and controlled hunting, continue to be allowed under the circumstances delineated by laws and regulations and with prior authorization of the natural resources managing authority.
Constitutional Court. Sentencia T-095, 2016. In this decision, the Court drew a line between the concept of animal welfare and the concept of animal rights. The plaintiff brought an action of “Tutela” (Constitutional mechanism that is preferential and summary, created for the sole purpose of protection of fundamental rights) against ‘la Personería Local of Fontibón,' the local Mayor's office of Fontibon, the District Secretary of Health, the Zoonosis Center and the District Secretary of the environment of Bogota. The plaintiff argued that these governmental entities had violated his fundamental right to petition and the right to animal welfare of twenty-five dogs when the authorities ordered the confiscation of the canines that were in the District Ecological Park of the Wetland of Capellanía and who were cared for by volunteers. Furthermore, the plaintiff argued that the Defendants did not respond to his request to provide funds to build a shelter and provide food and veterinary assistance for the dogs or to relocate them. The Court held that there was a constitutional duty to animal protection that derives from the duty to protect the environment. However, the duty to guarantee the well-being of animals as sentient beings is not absolute and may be subject to exceptions. Therefore, the Court stated that the mandate to protect the environment, which includes sentient beings, does not translate into a right to animal welfare. For that reason, such duty is not enforceable through the action of Tutela.
Constitutional Court. Sentencia T-146, 2016. The Second Chamber of Review of the Constitutional Court held that individuals cannot own wildlife and that the state of freedom of wildlife should be protected. The holding resulted from a Tutela denying guardianship to a family that requested the environmental authorities to return a howler monkey named “Bebe” based on violations of their rights to life and health. The plaintiffs alleged that "bebé" was a member of their family, and not having him affected the family's emotional and physical health. Finally, they argued that the sadness and depression were so severe that they took group therapy with a psychologist. The monkey was stolen from the family's property and rescued was assisted by "Corporación Autónoma Regional de Cundinamarca," who sent the monkey to "Fundación Bioandina." The defendants reported the monkey to be completely "humanized." He was so stressed that he refused to eat and had to be relocated to the Medellin Zoo to be rehabilitated. According to article 248 of the National Code of Renewable Natural Resources, the Court stated that wildlife belongs to the nation. Therefore, the defendant's actions did not violate the family's well-being, as the forfeiture of wildlife is necessary to ensure their conservation protection as it is a constitutional mandate to protect biodiversity and environmental integrity. The Court noted that the monkey had completed his rehabilitation process and had been reintroduced to his natural habitat.
Constitutional Court. Sentencia C-467, 2016. The Court looks at the constitutionality of the definition of animals as “things.” The plaintiff sought the unconstitutionality of articles 665 and 658 of the Civil Code that define animals as "movable objects" and "real property by destination. The Court upheld the validity of these articles and stated that such categorizations were not against legally considering animals as sentient beings deserving of protection against pain and suffering. In other words, the protection of animals is not affected by this language. "Animals are included in the category of property because property rights may be exercised over them, and animals are often the subjects of legal transactions. Therefore, categorizing animals as property responds to a necessity and does not affect the regulation in other provisions to develop the duty to protect animals as sentient beings (Law 1774, 2016).”
Constitutional Court. Sentencia C-283, 2014. This is an unconstitutionality claim against Articles 1º, 2º, and 3º of Ley 1638, 2013, prohibiting native and exotic wild animals in circuses. Plaintiffs argued that these Articles violated numerous provisions of the Constitution, including the right to work, the right to choose a profession, and the rights to culture and recreation. In addition, plaintiffs alleged that the law violated the freedom of private initiative of the owners of the circuses. In decision C-283, the Court held that Congress has the power to prohibit certain cultural manifestations involving animal cruelty. The Court stated that "culture needs to be constantly reevaluated to adapt to human evolution and to guarantee rights and the fulfillment of duties. Especially when the purpose is to eliminate the traces of a marginalized society that has excluded certain individuals and collectives." The Court also stated that the duty to protect animals is not absolute, as values, principles, and constitutional norms in specific cases contrary to these principles can limit its application. The Court held Article 1 of Ley 1638, 2013, constitutional and refrained from deciding on the constitutionality of Articles 2 and 3 for lack of evidence to render a decision.
Constitutional Court, Sentencia C-034 de 2013. Plaintiff filed a Tutela against the homeowner’s association, which changed the apartment complex rules to prohibit pets from using the elevator. In this decision, the Court held that it is not viable for homeowners’ associations to prohibit pets from using elevators. This is because the right to free development of personality and the right to personal and family intimacy encompass the right to have a pet. Therefore, horizontal property rules may not go against current laws or violate the resident’s fundamental rights. However, there can be limitations and parameters to these rights so long as they are established to guarantee respect for the rights of others, a peaceful coexistence, and the regulations are reasonable and proportionate.
Constitutional Court. Sentencia T-608, 2011. The Court held that a pet parrot had to stay under the custody of the environmental authorities in order to rehabilitate and reintroduce her to her natural habitat. In this case, the plaintiff alleged a violation of her husband’s rights to have a dignified life and the right to health.
Corte Constitucional. Sentencia T-760, Sep 25, 2007. This case is about a family parrot named Rebecca that was seized by environmental authorities. The judge held that the environmental authorities had to keep the parrot to guarantee the environment's protection. The plaintiff owner alleged that her rights to health, personal integrity, life, and human dignity had been violated as Rebecca was considered an emotional support animal.
C. Multispecies families
Colombia is one country that has recognized the existence of the multispecies family. Even though this term is not legally defined or regulated, companion animals have been integrated into the concept of family through judicial decisions and one conciliation agreement (which have similar legal effects as judicial decisions). Lower court decisions and conciliation agreements are binding between the parties. Even though these legal decisions do not create precedent, it is interesting to see the shift in the treatment of animals by the legal system when there is an issue involving the family unit.
In article 42, the Constitution defines family as “the fundamental unit of society. It is constituted by natural or legal ties, the free decision of a man and a woman to marry, or the responsible will to conform to it. The state and society guarantee the integral protection of the family.” The Constitutional Court, in recent decisions, has recognized that the concept of family has broadened, and it encompasses other different forms of families. All those different forms have equal rights and responsibilities (See, i.e., Corte Constitucional, Sentencia T292 de 2016). To protect this institution, the Constitution has in its text rights such as the right to free development of personality and the rights to personal and family freedom and intimacy.
Supreme Court of Justice, Chamber of Civil Cassation. Sentencia STC1926-2023. Romeo and Salvador, two beloved family dogs that found themselves in the center of a heartbreaking divorce. The divorce resulted in the family judge ordering the foreclosure of the dogs in the divorce proceeding. The plaintiff filed a writ of protection or "Recurso de Tutela" before tthe Chamber of Civil Cassation of the Supreme Court of Justice to protect her rights to family unity, free personality development, and health. Furthermore, she argued that the lower court decision had violated not just her rights but her children's rights, who had developed a filial bond with the dogs, as they are sentient beings and not just mere property. The Court denied the "Tutela" affirming the lower court decision allowing foreclosure upon companion animals, holding that the "tutela" was not the appropriate legal mechanism to protect procedural guarantees. In his dissenting opinion, Magistrate Aroldo Wilson Quiróz stated that the court had missed a valuable opportunity to address the issue of the multispecies families in Colombia. This novel legal concept is supported under Art. 42 of the Constitution, and that it was the responsibility of the court as the body of last instance, to delve into this subject, pointing out the fact that even though animals are considered property, they are also sentient beings in the eyes of the law with rights that limit the right to own them. Like in other family cases, the magistrate suggested that courts should address issues such as custody, visitation rights, and alimony payments when companion animals are involved.
First Circuit Criminal Court of Ibague. Tutela Clifor’s case, June 26, 2020. Clifor’s case is the first of its kind in the country. Here a court recognizes that families are multispecies and companion animals deserve special legal protection to guarantee the constitutional right to a family. Clifor, was a schnauzer, a nonhuman member of the Lozano Cárdenas family. He suffered from idiopathic epilepsy and required “Phenobarbital” to treat this condition. A member of his family filed a constitutional mechanism called “Tutela,” which allows an individual to go before a judge for the immediate protection of their fundamental rights. It is an expedited process, as the petition has to be resolved by the judge within ten days. The petitioner asked that the secretary of health of the city of Tolima and Tolima’s Rotary Fund, the government make available the medicine for Clifor, which purchase had been denied because, in June of 2020, they were closed to the public due to the ongoing health emergency. The family argued that he was a family member, more specifically, a sibling, and family rights were protected under the Constitution. The judge found the defendants to have violated the constitutional right to protect the family of the petitioner and Clifor’s right to live and the right to obtain medicine to maintain his health, granting the protection of such rights. The Court ordered the defendants to provide the medicine within 48 hours. In its decision, the judge stated: “If an animal requires a health service and such service is denied, that act constitutes a violation of the duty to protect animals. This goes against the principle of social solidarity required to guarantee a better quality of life for individuals, communities, and sentient beings. Such violation, in this case, affects the right of the family unit to access the necessary medicine required to guarantee the survival of the pet and ensure the tranquility of the members of its family.”
Constitutional Court, Sentencia C-034, 2013. Here, the plaintiff filed a Tutela against the homeowner's association, who changed the apartment complex rules to prohibit pets from using the elevator. In this decision, the Court held that It is not viable for homeowners' associations to prohibit pets from using the elevators. This is because the right to free development of personality and the right to personal and family intimacy encompass the right to have a pet. Therefore, horizontal property rules may not go against current laws or violate the resident's fundamental rights. However, there can be limitations and parameters to these rights so long as they are established to guarantee respect for the rights of others, a peaceful coexistence, and the regulations are reasonable and proportionate.
Comisaría de Familia de la Comuna 16 (Belén) de Medellín, Conciliation agreement, April 3, 2019. In this case, an unmarried couple that decided to part ways opted for legal conciliation to reach an agreement about custody, visitation rights, and financial support for their dog. The family commissioner allowed the case to go to conciliation based on “current family dynamics,” where the perception of the family unit has broadened, opening the door to the existence and acceptance of multispecies families, where animals have an important place within the family unit (See article in Spanish “Animals as family members, is a regulation necessary? (Legis, Ámbito Jurídico)).
D. National bullfighting statute and the legal precedent of the Constitutional Court
Bullfighting is a very controversial topic in Colombia. Some people view it as an inherently cruel practice against animals that should not be legal. In contrast, others defend it, arguing that it is a tradition and a cultural expression that the law should protect. Though Colombia has advanced laws protecting animals that set the country apart from other countries in the region, bullfighting continues to be a legal practice as it is one of the exceptions established in article 7 of the animal protection statute (Ley 84,198) that carried on to law 1774 of 2016, which declared animals as sentient beings under the legal system. (For more, see Legal Framework of Bullfighting and Societal Context in Colombia)
There have been at least five attempts to pass laws prohibiting bullfighting in the last five years. The Constitutional Court has protected this practice by rulings that put the interest in protecting cultural expression above the duty to protect animals. Today, there is a well-established precedent where the Court has repeatedly held that Congress is the only one that can regulate or prohibit it. Moreover, that bullfighting is a cultural expression allowed in those municipalities where it is deeply rooted. Local governments of cities and municipalities that meet this requirement do not have the authority to prohibit bullfighting or to modify the conditions under which they occur. Larger cities such as Bogota, Manizales, and Cali meet these criteria. Therefore, bullfights are allowed to take place in these cities despite the opposition of the local governments.
Bogota attempted to “discourage” the practice through ordinance 767 in 2020. Since the city was not allowed to prohibit bullfights, it regulated them by prohibiting the use of sharp objects and killing of the bulls in the ring. In addition, they required that 30% of the event's publicity be focused on educating the public about the suffering of bulls. It imposed a 20% tax and decreased annual bullfights allowed from 8 to 4. During this time, no bids were sent to lease the city’s bullfighting stadium because sponsors and organizers disagreed with such requirements. Thus, Plaza Santamaria did not hold any bullfights in 2020 - 2022. However, in December 2022, the Constitutional Court ordered the city to refrain from taking any action conducing to the violation of decision T-296 of 2013 and ordered the opening the stadium “to allow bullfights “to take place in the usual conditions as an expression of cultural diversity and social pluralism,” effectively ordering the city to do what is necessary for the comeback of bullfighting to the capital.
Is bullfighting a tradition deeply rooted in society? The poor attendance reported at the most recent bullfighting events across the country suggests otherwise. But, regardless of whether it is an unacceptable form of violence towards animals, It seems like the position this practice once held, where it was considered a venerable form of art deeply ingrained in the definition of being a “Colombian,” has faded away over the years, to the point that does not longer make sense to consider it part of the culture or to categorize as a protected tradition.
Constitutional Court. Auto 547, 2018. The court held unconstitutional Law C-041, 2017, which held bullfighting and other exceptions in article 7 of this law should be prohibited as they are cruel and inhumane. However, Law C-041 deferred its effects and gave Congress a two-year deadline to allow Congress to rule on the issue. On Auto 547, the Court held, “Congress is the only body that has the power to prohibit traditional practices that involve animal abuse.”
Ley 916, 2004, or National Bullfighting Statute, declares bullfighting as "a form of artistic expression." This statute has national scope and regulates everything concerning the planning, organization, and development of bullfighting, giving a legal status within the legal system. The bullfighting statute discusses topics such as the characteristics of the bullring, the name of different areas in the ring, and their purpose. It has an extensive glossary explaining the different methods utilized during the different phases of the bullfight, procedures to weaken and kill the bull, and the moves of the animal and the bullfighters. This statute explains the instruments used and how and when to use them. It notes requirements such as that every bullring stadium must provide medical assistance for the participants, with all least four specialized doctors in every bullfight. While on-site medical care is outlined for the human participants, no veterinarian is required to be present during their execution.
Constitutional Court. Sentencia SU056, 2018. In this occasion, the court held unconstitutional the decision of the administrative tribunal of Cundinamarca that allowed the city of Bogota to carry out a popular consultation intended to ask residents of Bogota whether they agreed to have bullfighting in the city. The Court held that the decision to invalidate such a ruling was based on principles of legal precedence and final judgment. Furthermore, the administrative court decision was against the authority established in decisions A-025 of 2015, T-296 of 2013, C-889 of 2012, y C-666 of 2010 of the Constitutional Court, which held that the power to prohibit bullfighting rest in Congress and local governments only have police power. Therefore, allowing a mayor to carry out a popular consultation regarding the future of bullfighting is to go against judicial precedent, violating the right to due process and the right to be treated equally by the law.
Constitutional Court. Sentencia C-041, 2017. This decision prohibits bullfighting as it is considered a cruel act against animals. However, it deferred the effects of its decision and gave Congress two years to determine whether bullfighting and the other exceptions established in Article 7 of the Statute of Animal Protection would continue to be legally allowed. The Court held that if, after this period, Congress did not legislate on the matter, decision C-041, 2017 would take full effect, and bullfighting, along with all the practices established in Article 7, would be considered illegal. Note that this decision was held unconstitutional by Auto 547 of 2018 of the Constitutional Court, which effectively held these practices legal.
Constitutional Court. Sentencia C-889, 2012. In this decision, the court grants constitutional value to animal protection. On this opportunity, the Court decided on the constitutionality of Arts. 14 and 15 of the statute of Bullfighting Statute. It establishes the criteria that must be met in order for bullfighting to be legal: (1) bullfighting has to meet the legal conditions established for public shows in general; (2) bullfighting must meet the legal conditions established in the statute that regulates the taurine activity, Ley 916 of 2014; and (3) bullfighting must comply with the constitutional conditions, restrictions, and limitations established in decision C-666 of 2010 to satisfy the mandate of animal welfare, animal protection, and to avoid suffering and pain. It must also satisfy social ingrain, location, opportunity, the condition of no financial funds, and exceptionality.
Constitutional Court. Sentencia C-666, 2010. The Constitutional Court decided on an unconstitutionality claim against Article 7 of the Statute of Animal Protection Ley 84 of 1989 that corresponds to the exceptions to the duty of animal protection. Through Decision C-666, the Court limits the scope of the legality of bullfighting, establishing certain requirements. In its holding, the Court stated that the seven practices in Article 7 would not violate the Constitution so long as they were done within the following parameters:
(1) As long as it is understood that these animals should, in all cases, obtain special protection against suffering and pain during the execution of these activities. This exception allows the continuation of cultural expressions and entertainment with animals, so long as exceptionally cruel acts against these animals are eliminated, or lessened in the future in a process of adaptation between cultural expressions and duties of protection to animals;
(2) These practices can only take place in municipalities and districts in which the practices are themselves a manifestation of a regular, periodic and uninterrupted tradition, and therefore their execution responds to a certain regularity;
(3) These practices can only take place during occasions in which they have commonly taken place and in the municipalities and districts where they are authorized;
(4) These are the only practices that are authorized to be part of the exception in Article 7 to the constitutional duty to protect animals; and
(5) Municipal authorities cannot economically support the construction of installations for the exclusive execution of the activities listed in Article 7 with public funds.
Constitutional Court. Sentencia C-115, 2006. In this opportunity, the Court held that bullfighting represents a cultural manifestation and artistic expression of human beings that the legal system must protect. Therefore, bullfighting could not be considered a violent act in terms of article 12 of the Constitution because the prohibition of torture and cruel treatment or punishment presumes an act to be violent when it is against a human being. In turn, bullfighting cannot be considered a violent act because here, there is no treatment that is incompatible with human dignity.
Constitutional Court. Sentencia C-367, 2006. the participation of minors in bullfighting activities is allowed so long as they are at least 14-years-old and their parents or guardians, show organizers, and licensing authorities guarantee the safety conditions established in international treaties and agreements ratified by Colombia.
Constitutional Court. Sentencia C-1192, 2005. Here, the court decides on a claim of unconstitutionality against Articles 1, 2, 22, and 80 of the Taurine Regulatory Statute Law 916 of 2004. On this occasion, the Court upheld the constitutionality of this law, confirming bullfighting as an artistic expression allowed by the Constitution: "A manifestation of Colombia's diversity, as intangible good that symbolizes one of the many historical-cultural traditions of the Nation." The Court stated that since bullfighting is a cultural manifestation of the nation, children do not need to be protected from this practice. The Court believes "children should be provided the opportunity to attend these events so that they can learn and judge for themselves if bullfighting is an art form or an outdated violent practice. For that reason, the statute does not violate the fundamental rights of children. The Court also held that bullfighting is not part of the interpretation of Article 12 that corresponds to the prohibition of torture. With this decision, the Constitutional Court affirms that animals, in this case, bulls, are not entitled to any rights. The Court considered tradition and culture of a higher value than animal protection.
The animal legal framework in Colombia has had a unique development as animals have gone from having a strict property consideration to having a higher status as part of nature to being considered sentient beings in 2016. However, these changes did not happen progressively in time. On the contrary, laws and court decisions may be based on any of these considerations depending on the issue, the activity, the animal, or the species. Another example of how these considerations of animals did not happen in progressive order is the fact that the first anti-cruelty statute, Law 84, 1989 (which is still valid), predates the 1991 Constitution. Yet, no consideration regarding the protection of animals was made in its texts. In fact, animals were not mentioned at all. However, the 1991 Constitution established the right to nature as a collective right and the duty to protect the environment, together with other constitutional mechanisms such as the “popular action” (which can be utilized by any person as the right to nature is a right that belongs to everyone) that have helped animal advocates in securing better legal outcomes for animals.
Today, Colombia has a more advanced and progressive animal legal framework than other countries in Latin America. This legal framework has evolved in the last 20 years but has addressed issues more directly in recent years. This is how the most recent laws regarding animals prohibiting animal testing for cosmetic purposes and the commercialization of such products, the mandate to municipalities to establish animal shelters, the strengthening of punishment for the violation of environmental crimes, which include illegal trafficking of wildlife, standards of animal welfare for farm animals, and the phasing out of animal-drawn vehicles are now in full effect. In addition, the country has general anti-cruelty laws that protect not just companion animals but farm animals and wildlife as well (subject to exceptions). Animals are also considered sentient beings. What does it mean? The high courts have made it clear: the categorization of sentient beings does not presuppose the entitlement of rights. As the law stands today, animals are subjects of protection by both the government and society, but not to rights. Therefore, constitutional mechanisms established to protect fundamental rights, such as habeas corpus, cannot be used to protect animals. Consequently, even though anyone can seek the protection of an animal through a popular action, it is not the moral consideration of the animal that enables the use of this constitutional mechanism, but rather the categorization of animals as part of nature.
Finally, as the country moves towards meaningful protection of all animals, the effort to pass laws to fulfill the goal of governmental animal protection is evident. It will be interesting to see what the country does to strengthen the enforcement and punishment of these progressive laws and whether it will take a turn in the treatment of bullfighting and other outdated practices involving animals and on the recognition of animals as subjects of rights.