Spain’s parliament has passed a resolution urging the federal government to adopt specific legal protections for great apes, and the measure is expected to become law within one year.

The vote marks the first time that a national legislature has called for recognition of any nonhuman’s right to life and freedom. Once the measure becomes law, it will be the first time that nonhumans have been granted formal legal standing.

The four great ape species (bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans) are humans’ closest evolutionary relatives.

“This is a historic day in the struggle for animal rights and in defense of our evolutionary comrades, which will doubtless go down in the history of humanity,” said Pedro Pozas, Spanish director of the Great Apes Project.

The Great Apes Project was formed in 1993 to advocate for the animals’ rights to life, liberty and freedom from torture.

The resolution calls on the Spanish government to protect apes from “abuse, torture and death,” and to internationally promote the demands of the Great Apes Project declaration. These demands include “the extension of the community of equals to include all great apes”; a prohibition on killing great apes except under “strictly defined circumstances” such as self-defense; a ban on imprisoning them without due process of law; and a ban on subjecting them to the “deliberate infliction of severe pain” for any reason, even one that is alleged to benefit others.

Specifically, this would formally outlaw imprisoning apes for use in circuses, films, television commercials or scientific experimentation in Spain.

“We have no knowledge of great apes being used in experiments in Spain, but there is currently no law preventing that from happening,” Pozas said.

The law would not prohibit keeping apes in zoos, but would require that minimum standards of care be complied with. According to supporters of the law, drastic improvements would need to be made in the conditions of 70 percent of Spanish zoos for them to be allowed to keep holding the animals in captivity.

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