Shocking case of Labrador ‘Charlie’ burnt alive in Sri Lanka renews calls for Animal Welfare Bill to finally replace 112-year-old cruelty law

Humane Society International

COLOMBO – Animal protection campaigners in Sri Lanka, Humane Society International, are renewing calls for the country’s outdated 1907 animal welfare law to be replaced, following a series of shocking cases of animal abuse. The most recent case on New Year’s Eve saw a Labrador dog named Charlie burnt alive whilst in his outdoor kennel in Negombo. Charlie sustained devastating burns and died of his injuries on New Year’s Day.

Sri Lanka’s Animal Welfare Bill is yet to be passed into law despite having received Cabinet approval in January 2016. The Bill is designed to replace the country’s Cruelty to Animals Ordinance of 1907, which is an inadequate deterrent against animal cruelty. The maximum punishments currently available are a 100 rupee fine (equivalent to the cost of a bottle of soda in Sri Lanka) and a prison sentence which may extend to six months, which campaigners believe have rarely been imposed.

Images/video: (Warning: distressing content)

Humane Society International works in countries around the world, and has been instrumental in helping to advance animal welfare laws in countries such as India. The charity believes that creating robust legal protections is vital in tackling animal cruelty.

Humane Society International’s Sri Lanka Director Vositha Wijenayake Attorney-at-Law, says: “Enacting the Animal Welfare Bill is now an urgent need in Sri Lanka where punishments for cruelty to animals are woefully inadequate and rarely enforced. As a result, there is little to deter offenders from committing animal cruelty. This has to change. Sri Lanka has been dragging its feet for too long in bringing the Animal Welfare Bill into law. Animals and people alike benefit from animal protection being enshrined in law, because a society that ignores wanton acts of cruelty to defenceless animals sends a disturbing message to the community that those who cannot speak for themselves are worthless. To promote a humane society we need to start with the humane treatment of all living creatures.”

The tragic case of Charlie is just one of a number of high profile cruelty incidents. In 2016 Sri Lankan police arrested two men for torturing a sea eagle in Habaraduwa after photos on social media showed the endangered bird being skinned alive and the eagle’s legs cut off. And last year another act of cruelty made global media headlines when a leopard was brutally beaten to death by a group of villagers in Kilinochchi. The cruelty was filmed on a mobile phone, footage from which circulated on social media and prompted global outrage and police action. HSI’s Wijenayake says the police response to the killing of the leopard and of Charlie the Labrador are positive because arrests were made. The charity hopes this is a signal that animal cruelty is starting to be taken more seriously in the country.

Wijenayake says: “Sri Lankan leopard, a leopard subspecies native to the country, is protected in Sri Lanka because of their endangered status. There are fewer than 1,000 leopards on our island. The incident highlights how communities lack awareness on how to humanely deal with human/wildlife conflict, and how easily people can turn to violence to resolve an issue. The police are to be commended for making arrests in these high profile cases, but sadly that is still not the case in Sri Lanka for all cases related to animal cruelty that do not make the news. We hope these arrests are a sign that times are changing.”

The Animal Welfare Bill would strengthen the law by:

  • Broadening the scope of the definition of animals covered within the animal welfare laws of Sri Lanka
  • Increasing the maximum penalties for animal cruelty and negligence
  • Setting up an efficient, effective legal system which provides protection for all animals
  • Introducing the concept of duty of care on the part of the owners of animals