The Defence

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Defendant: Sem Bakker

Honourable Court, Honourable Judges and those present,

We have taken note of the plea of the tree representatives. However, as defendants in these proceedings, we are of the opinion that the claims of the 6,000 trees of the Amstel Park should be dismissed on the following grounds.

The rights of trees is not a valid law

In their plea, the plaintiffs admit that Dutch law does not currently recognise any rights for nature. There is therefore no need to discuss that any further. Therefore, if only Dutch law is considered, trees cannot currently invoke any rights.

Furthermore, plaintiffs have extensively researched stricter legislation regarding human rights in environmental law, with plaintiffs analogously invoking international principles and rights recognised for humans. In doing so, plaintiffs cite many international sources of law.

First of all, we consider it very important that, when applying all these sources of law to our case, a clear line should be drawn between sources of law where rights to nature are explicitly recognised and sources of law where they are not. In the cases plaintiffs cite where rights to nature were recognised, this concerns the legal systems of other countries, such as Ecuador, India and Spain, which certainly do not apply to the Netherlands. It is possible that developments from these countries derive from the international sources of law cited by plaintiffs that also apply to the Netherlands, but this is neither stated nor proven by plaintiffs today. Therefore, we consider that the legal systems from other countries cited by plaintiffs are irrelevant to this case. Indeed, the rights from these do not apply to the Dutch legal system. It is therefore not applicable law here.

Plaintiffs also refer to various international legal sources that do apply to the Netherlands, such as treaties like the ICCPR and the ECHR. However, the articles cited from these sources refer to requirements that can be imposed on 'duties of care' and 'positive obligations', but nowhere in this legislation is there a clear reference to a possibility of rights of nature, or rights to trees.

The defendants therefore take the view that the legislator of these treaties could never have intended these 'duties of care' or 'positive obligations' in such a way that they could possibly have the effect of deriving rights from nature. For the record, these treaties refer to human rights, and not to anything else. And that, according to defendants, is for good reason.

Humans by their very nature are very different from trees, therefore analogy is not possible.

Plaintiffs pretend that recognising rights to nature would be a simple matter, but of course it is not. For instance, what is the purpose is of giving rights to nature? Is it better protection, equality before the law or possibly something else? Also, this way you impose an anthropocentric system on nature. Is that actually desirable?

Humans as natural persons, or in legal persons, alone communicate completely differently from trees, for example. It is true that it has been scientifically proven that there can be communication between trees, that this communication can be read and that there can be a certain degree of cognition in trees. Defendants certainly do not wish to contradict these studies. Yet the way in which trees might communicate with each other is and remains very different from that between humans like you and me. And that makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to interpret what decisions trees or forests want to make and to represent them as humans.

To give an example, in what way should the trees in Amstel Park make it known that they actually want what plaintiffs are claiming here today? In this regard, we point out that so far we have not seen any evidence to show that what the representatives of the trees here today are claiming corresponds to what the trees actually want. Perhaps it is the will to live, continue to exist and not be cut down. But what does this will show? As this evidence is lacking, we hereby invite you to ask the trees themselves today:  So trees of the Amstelveld, do you actually agree with all that is claimed here in this plea? In any case, we as defendants are very curious to hear your answer.

Also, this example raises the question of whether it is actually desirable to impose an anthropocentric system on nature. Because while we're at it, let's check whether the trees of the Amstelveld have paid court fees for these proceedings. Are trees actually capable of that at all? If not, Your Honour, you will have no choice today but to declare the trees of the Amstelveld inadmissible.

There are many more examples that demonstrate that equating trees with legal persons is not an overnight exercise. And that this is no simple exercise proves all the more to defendants that the rights of trees cannot simply be obtained by applying human rights from international treaties to them analogously. Trees may also have very different interests and needs from humans. And because this analogy is thus actually impossible to make, this in turn proves to defendants that the legislators can never have had rights to nature in mind with the international treaties cited by plaintiffs.

The fact that the differences between humans and objects of nature are so great also means that to apply rights to trees, entirely new legislation would have to be devised. We have already mentioned some examples that should be considered when designing this, but this is only a start. Because this would involve entirely new legislation, we believe that it is therefore not up to you as the judiciary to initiate this legislation. After all, this would put you in the legislature's chair, violating the three-power doctrine. And as you understand, that is not desirable for many reasons.

But also in purely practical terms, imagine if you were to grant the plaintiffs' claims today, we assume that you are not also going to answer the many questions that this granting will entail. And that is of course understandable because all these issues are not easy to oversee. But in the event of an allocation, you will then not escape the fact that this will entail great legal uncertainty. We assume that you do not want this on your conscience, because you will understand: this will ultimately not benefit the trees of the Amstelveld either.

Do trees even benefit from these rights?

Finally, we also wonder in this context: is it actually worth all this effort, to allocate entirely new rights to nature, with all the uncertainty this entails? Claimants did not address this in their pleadings, but we think this is a very relevant question. How do we actually know that the trees will be served if rights are allocated to them? Also because we do not yet know at all what rights are at stake here, this question cannot really be answered at all. And therefore, until this question can be answered, these claims cannot actually be awarded at all.

The defendants understand that these natural rights were once invented in the early 1970s, but that, precisely because of the proliferation of duties of care, these rights have somewhat faded into the background. If these rights were to be chosen now, shouldn't it first be beyond doubt that they would benefit trees over all the duties of care already in the treaties? But that is exactly what has not been proven so far.


In conclusion, natural rights are not applicable to law and analogous application of human rights to them is not possible. Furthermore, adjudication of these claims breaks the triumvirate doctrine and its practical effect would create a great deal of legal uncertainty. This is because it is impossible to foresee how these rights should be implemented. Also, there is no evidence that the trees of the Amstelveld would benefit from these rights over and above all the duties of care that are already in place. Based on all these arguments, as defendants, we maintain our position that plaintiffs' claims are inadmissible, or that all its claims should be dismissed.