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Matthew, the chimp at the heart of the legal action
Austrian Chimpanzee launches appeal to gain formal legal status as a human being.

The European Court of Human Rights has agreed to a preliminary hearing to determine whether chimpanzees are entitled to the legal status and protections granted to human beings. 

The action is being sponsored by the Association Against Animal Factories, an activist group based in Vienna.  Eberhart Theuer, the group's legal advisor says, "This case is about the fundamental question: Who is the bearer of human rights? Who is a person according to the European Human Rights Charter?"

At the center of the case is Hiasl, a 26-year old chimpanzee now called Matthew by his keeper, Briton Paula Stibbe.  Matthew currently shares a shelter with another chimpanzee named Rosi in the town of Voesendorf, outside of Austria.  Their upkeep runs nearly $8,000 a month and the shelter recently filed for bankruptcy. 

Donors have stepped in to offer assistance, but Stibbe says only official status as a human can permanently prevent Matthew from being transferred out of Austria.  That status would force the state to appoint a guardian to look after his status, and presumably also entitle him to government assistance for upkeep.

A win for the group could have sweeping ramifications for the entire European Union, with legal precedent existing for apes -- and possibly other animals -- to receive the rights, protections, and even medical, financial, and social benefits of human beings.

A lower court dismissed the original case without directly addressing whether or not an ape could legally be adjudged a human.  So Miss Stibbe and the AAAF appealed directly to the European Court of Human Rights, which has agreed to a preliminary hearing.

Miss Stibbe says, "Since he has no close relatives, I am doing this as the person closest to him."  She says she also plans to legally adopt Matthew as well.





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