Animal sentience included in Belgian Constitution


Animal sentience included in Belgian Constitution

3 May 2024
After years of campaigning, the sentience of animals is now officially recognised in the Constitution of Belgium. The Constitution takes precedence in the hierarchy of Belgian legal norms, and now includes a reference to ensure the protection and well-being of animals.

After a lively debate in a plenary session of the Chamber of Representatives, including concerns raised by the agriculture sector, a critical two-thirds majority was ultimately reached to approve the addition.

Belgium is now the 6th EU Member State to include animals in its Constitution, following Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Austria. Other nations have also acted to enshrine constitutional animal sentience, including Switzerland, Egypt, Brazil and India. 

The following passage has now been officially added to Article 7 of the country’s Constitution:

In the exercise of their respective powers, the Federal State, the Communities and the Regions ensure the protection and well-being of animals as sentient beings.

GAIA, supported by the large majority (86%) of Belgians, has been campaigning for years to include animals in the Constitution. The organisation is delighted that animal welfare is now recognised as a fundamental value in Belgian society

Animal sentience is also enshrined in law at EU level, as Article 13 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union mandates EU Member States to consider animal welfare as a significant commitment. Animals are recognised as sentient beings, acknowledging their capacity to experience pain and suffering, and emphasising the moral duty to treat them with care and respect. 

As well as sending a strong message about the commitment of Belgium to protect animal welfare, the inclusion should also have a direct impact as regulations made by federal and regional parliaments, as well as local authorities, must comply with the Constitution. It could also have the impacy of strengthening enforcement of animal welfare laws.

This is a historic victory for GAIA and all those who defend animals’ interests. Only 30 years ago, such a breakthrough was simply unthinkable. Today, animal welfare is becoming a constitutional value in its own right, joining other fundamental principles. This recognition reflects a major change in society and highlights the growing importance of animal protection in our country. It is this kind of progress that GAIA has been fighting for since it was founded.

Michel Vandenbosch, President, GAIA