Animal welfare, unlike trade, international cooperation in criminal matters, or environmental conservation, has been largely neglected across the international legal framework, with no single instrument addressing the issue. This is despite initiatives aimed at creating international principles, such as the proposed Declaration on Animal Welfare (see, for example, Gibson, 2011), and support by various NGOs, such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
Only two treaties contain provisions dealing intentionally and directly with aspects of animal welfare (Harrop, 2013). These are the Schedule to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (opened for signature 2 December 1946, 161 UNTS 72 (entered into force 10 November 1948; which has a very limited scope and is not further addressed in this Module) and CITES. CITES contains several provisions regulating human interactions with wild animals and animal welfare in the course of international trade (Harrop, 2013). This includes Article 12(2)(c), which mandates that the Secretariat prepare 'studies concerning standards for appropriate preparation and shipment of living specimens'. As a result of this requirement, the CITES Guidelines for the Non-Air Transport of Live Wild Animals and Plants have been adopted by the Conference of the Parties. Air transport is regulated by Live Animals Regulations of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) (CITES Resolution Conf. 10.21 (Rev. CoP16)).
Other CITES provisions relevant to animal welfare include the permit-granting requirements under Articles III, IV, and V to ensure that 'any living specimen will be so prepared and shipped as to minimize the risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment'. Article VIII(4) further provides that illegally traded specimens that are confiscated are placed in rescue centres or other places appropriate or consistent with the Convention. Resolution 17.8 of the Conference of the Parties further deals with this issue (CITES Resolution Conf. 17.8). Nonetheless, CITES is not a vehicle for the advancement of general animal welfare; it is limited in scope to treatment during international trading activities. Further, many States Parties to CITES fail to maintain effective records of proper treatment of specimens during transportation, including instances of mistreatment and mortality (Bowman, 1998).
Environmental treaties, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, deal with human interactions with animals through conservation and biodiversity perspectives aimed at preserving animals at the species level. Conversely, animal welfare approaches seek to protect individual animals irrespective of conservation and endangered status (Harrop, 2013). There is, it has been argued, a 'noticeable, if still tentative', inclusion of animal welfare and protection principles within more well-developed and sophisticated international rules dealing with biodiversity and conservation (Sykes, 2016). These developments, together with related pushes to recognize animal rights, indicate that the welfare of individual animals is likely to be of growing international importance.