The Plea

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Lawyers: Jessica den Outer, Jan van der Venis

Jessica den Outer:

Your Honor, Dear judges and witnesses to this trial in the public gallery. Who stands up for the interests and rights of our trees? Of these trees, the trees in the Amstelpark. For their interests and those of the leaves, stems, juices, and roots?

We are here before you today as lawyers for the 6000 trees of the Amstelpark, as advocates for the rights of these trees. We ask you to recognize the rights of the trees and stop pollution. At the end of this plea, we will explain which rights the trees deserve.

Now it is first useful to indicate our clients. A tree consists of several components. We speak today for the trees as a collective, but also their leaves, trunks, juices and roots. A tree is not only what we can see with the naked eye: just under the ground an enormous network of roots and fungi forms that feeds the tree. We may not see it very clearly: but the trees are a perfectly organized organism and represent an entire ecosystem, a web of life.

These interests, of trees as a whole but also of their parts, are insufficiently taken into account in our human world and considerations. We only look at our own interests, not those of other life forms.

Let me first take you back to 1972. Most of the trees that surround us today were planted in 1972 on the occasion of the Floriade.

In 1972 - apart from the Floriade - more events took place that we can now see as seeds that were planned at the time so that rights are due to the trees in the Amstelpark today and we can successfully invoke them today:

The year 1972 was in several important years in many respects. For example, the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth report warned of the consequences of human behaviour driven by economic growth. There are limits to growth, they said. At the same time, it was the year that law professor Christopher D. Stone's Should Trees Have Standing? published, in which he first argued for the rights of nature. Also in 1972: the first UN conference in Stockholm in which the environment was central with a link to human rights. The final statement prominently stated:

Principle 1: Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.

A human right is linked to a human duty to improve the environment for current and future generations. But is this human right also a tree right?

Well, the declaration of that time also gave rights to ecosystems:

Principle 6: The discharge of toxic substances or the release of heat, in such quantities or concentrations as to exceed the capacity of the environment to render them harmless, must be halted to ensure that serious or irreversible damage is not involved upon ecosystems.

A right for ecosystems, therefore, not to be subjected to too many toxins and heat. Exactly what this case is all about today.

We are now in the year 2022. 50 years later. The trees of the Amstelpark are the silent witnesses of the changes on the planet. Most of the trees are now past their childhood, have recorded periods of drought and changes in the climate in their growth rings and together form a unique collection (of over 300) of tree species in the peat and clay of Amsterdam. Planted by man, they are a living archive of the Anthropocene, the new name for the current era defined by man. The Anthropocene is derived from the word anthropos, meaning human in ancient Greek. The Anthropocene represents an era in which humanity has become a geological force and the negative impact of humans on the Earth can be clearly demonstrated.

Why are we conducting a case like this for the first time today? Why don't these trees have their own rights this year, laid down in law and policy?


First the facts and what goes wrong:

Jan van de Venis:

The trees of the Amstelpark were planted about 50 years ago. 'The Amstelpark in Buitenveldert, one of the best-rated parks in the city. Thanks to the Floriade of 1972, for which the park was created. 'Houseplants from Africa, wild plants from the Amazon region, large cacti from Mexico – money was no problem,' according to an article in Het Parool earlier this year.

Stomped out of the ground and put together quite a bit; it must have felt the same way for the trees. Trees. Feeling?

Imagine those trees, imagine if they lived like us humans. We now know - through popular books such as those by German forest ranger Wohlleben - that trees are complex creatures that help each other, send messages and communicate with each other in other ways - above and below ground. In nature, they make these 'supporting' connections with plants, animals and fungi that fit their habitat, adapted through millions of years of evolution. What must it have been like for them to suddenly have to deal with species they normally don't know, whose language they didn't speak, so to speak? There is no running away from a tree. Find out.

It will be a crazy idea for many people, but many of the trees of the Amstelpark were still very young in tree years when they were planted in 1972 and actually still 'children' in tree age compared to human life. Many of the species in the Amstelpark have a normal life expectancy of 200 – 400 years. Many of them are children even now in that same equation; less than a quarter of their normal life expectancy.

What childhood did they get thanks to the Floriade 1972? A 'K childhood'. No older trees around to help them, no support, contact and exchange underground and above ground with species with which things run smoothly. Alone and learning from each other and often surrounded by other - sometimes exotic - trees that they do not know from their natural system, with whom they do not interact naturally, whose signals and language they did not understand, they have grown up.

This is regardless of where they are now and the pollution and human pressure they have to endure. Because that's what this case is about: are we going to take their interests into account from NOW?

At the moment, as will become apparent from the next section on roots, trunks, leaves and juices, we humans do not take sufficient account of the health and adequate living conditions of trees in general, but also of specific requirements and interests in particular. of certain species.

In the area, the life of the trees is made more difficult by traffic, industry, human activity and climate change. A few concrete examples: people who rush past the trees every day for work and private life and emit fine dust, the enormous air pollution caused by companies such as Schiphol and TataSteel and the NUON power stations. Air pollution is brought in from all directions. These companies also all produce so much nitrogen that the trees are continuously fertilized, and are fattened - even trees that do better on poorer soil.

And the water level, which is not set up by responsible bodies such as water boards for the well-being of the trees in the Amstelpark, but for other interests that make their voices heard, such as agriculture.

And zooming out to a bigger problem: dangerous climate change. More and more drought is coming our way. Was this one of the cooler and wet summers of the coming decades? We are rapidly moving towards that.

This makes it all so difficult for the trees that some species are already disappearing: they are slowly but surely dying. They live under constant stress and will in any case not grow up in an adequate and balanced way. Let's turn this around and make their health and living conditions as good as possible.

In any case, we must realize the World Health Organization standards for air quality and other standards for water quality, noise and other types of pollution that are necessary for the health of people and trees, and take them with us for the trees of the Amstelpark. This is also reflected in our requirements.

At the moment, as will become apparent from the next section on roots, trunks, leaves and juices, we humans do not take sufficient account of the health and adequate living conditions of trees in general, but also of specific requirements and interests in particular. of certain species. In the area, the life of the trees is made more difficult by traffic, industry, human activity and climate change.

Concrete examples: people who rush past the trees every day for work and private life and emit fine dust, the enormous air pollution caused by companies such as Schiphol and Tata Steel, all of which also produce so much nitrogen that the trees are continuously fattened. And the water level is not geared towards us by responsible bodies such as water boards, but more towards agriculture. And the bigger picture on climate change: more and more drought is coming our way. Was this one of the cooler and wet summers of the coming decades? We are moving towards that more and more.

This makes it all so difficult that some species are already disappearing: they are slowly but surely dying. They live under constant stress and will in any case not grow up in an adequate and balanced way. Let's make their health and life conditions as good as possible. In any case, we must realize the WHO air quality standards that apply to humans and other standards for water quality, noise and other types of pollution that are necessary for the health of humans and trees and take them with us for the trees of the Amstelpark. This is also reflected in our requirements.

On behalf of the trees and their parts:

Jessica den Outer:

We all know what a tree is, right? But the way a tree function is not well known. The interdependence of all parts of a tree is very complex. A tree starts life just like any other plant you've seen: as a seed under the ground. Within a month after sowing you will already see a trunk, tree-like leaves or needles, bark and the formation of wood. The tree is “made” to grow big and old and reproduce in the place where it germinates. If the soil or environment is not suitable, it will not make it. For this case, it is important to see which nuisance affects the tree the most. That is why we treat the facts and circumstances one by one.

1. On behalf of the roots

Jan van de Venis:

Roots are the underground part of the tree, through which trees absorb water and nutrients from the soil. The absorption of this water creates root pressure, which, with sufficient evaporation through the leaves, leads to a supply of water to the leaf tips. In a good and healthy collaboration, carrots are therefore a pump that does its job just right. The roots also anchor the trees in the ground.

An important function of the tree root system is the small, almost invisible “hair” of the root. Root hairs stretch and expand in search of moisture. At the same time, they help build the ground support of a tree. Millions of those delicate, microscopic hair roots wrap around the individual soil grains and absorb moisture along with dissolved minerals.

Roots usually grow in the direction of gravity and thus downwards. There are tree species that are 'larger', and have more root mass, below the ground than above the ground. We only see a small part of the trees.

The richest part, in terms of life, of a tree is underground: underground it teems with life. Healthy soil teems with life and is full of organisms.

Are you familiar with the Stranger Things series on Netflix and the upside-down world? That upside-down world, therefore, exists for our clients, the trees. But then that is the positive world: They may live even more underground than above the ground in an environment that has a less and less negative human impact. Less pollution, fertilisers, poisons, noise and ever more stable and continuous access to water - the deep groundwater.

For the part that we see above the ground, it is therefore crucial that the part below the ground is healthy and nutritious. Healthy and sufficiently moist soil.

We stand up for the roots of our clients. The roots, origin and source of our life, through which we receive important nutrients and information. We have an interest in healthy and biodiverse soil. Why is this not actively taken into account? The Amstelpark, as the aforementioned Parool article also states, was created at the time and we trees - and therefore our roots - were placed fairly 'randomly'. Do you take into account healthy soil for us? Stop polluting it - also with too much fertilizer such as nitrogen and ammonia. Start enriching it. Consciously invest in subsurface biodiversity.

And water? The water for the roots IS the water for the tree. That groundwater is also polluted. Due to human junk: PFAS, fertilizers, medicines, etc. The soil is now becoming unnecessarily acidic due to Schiphol, TataSteel, traffic and intensive livestock farming.

If there is water at all: clients are increasingly dealing with heat and drought. Due to the human-induced problem of climate change. Clients can now often just manage: extra pumps when it rains again, but it damages the vitality of roots and trees in the long term. Will a drought ever arrive that will cause clients to run dry and die?

What are you doing about climate change? Much too little. The government lost the Urgenda case on human rights grounds. These are also tree rights, as we will argue later on.

The judge also ruled that a company like Shell has its own responsibility in terms of CO2 reduction and climate goals.

That is also in our interest, in terms of heat, in terms of water and of course also applies to Schiphol, Tata Steel and other CO2 and nitrogen emitters. Include our interests in this as well. Restrain them. That is your duty to us.

Provide sufficient available and clean water for roots and therefore for our clients, the trees. Also, take this into account when determining the groundwater level. Not only with the interests of farmers and water boards, but also with that of trees in the Amstelpark.

Roots are invisible but vital to trees. Hence this plea is especially for them. Plant (in 1972) and get out? We'll see what comes of it and what remains.

No, you have rooted our clients and are responsible. We have a right to your respect and to maintain a biodiverse and healthy system. To an adequate life. People may not immediately understand this, but it is vital to our clients.

That is your responsibility to roots and trees: to give our clients a good and happy long life.

My clients' robust bodies take a beating. The trunks of the trees are cut down, and damaged and struggle with the consequences of periods of drought. In 2018, 2019 and 2022, our clients had a hard time. For example, my clients, the Norway Spruces, are extremely bothered by bark beetles due to the severe droughts of recent years. This evidence can also be found in the growth rings research that scientific expert Ute Sas Klaassen will tell you about later.


2. On behalf of the trunks

Jessica den Outer

What the trunks themselves need, or what their rights are, has not or hardly been thought of before.

In the current capitalist and Western system, a dead tree yields more value than a living tree. The financial components of wood, the economic value of a tree, are leading. People see in the tribes a product from which they

can make tables, chairs and other furniture. To this end, people, especially from the Western perspective, assign an instrumental value to the tribes.

Some see the tribes as silent climate spectators. My clients' growth rings have been recording the climatic conditions of the Amstelpark since 1972. My client the Canada poplar can collect an enormous trunk size of 85 cm. 85 cm trunk is full of stories about droughts, diseases and good years. Imagine what this tree has been through in the past 50 years. From that point of view, people assign a historical value to the trees, or an ethical value, because people think the oldest oak is beautiful, for example.

But what about the intrinsic value of the tribes? Value simply because the tree exists? Without attaching a human value judgment to it? In the West, but also all over the world, we have to move away from the anthropocentric approach, where we only assign value to something if it can mean something to people. And towards the recognition that all life has intrinsic value.

From that point of view, the tribes also have a right to exist. They have the right to make annual rings and provide life to countless organisms that depend on the tree.

But those rights, dear judges, are not respected. For example, a large number of our clients have cut down to allow the A10, the ring road of Amsterdam, to run through the Amstelpark. We have our strong reservations about this: How did this process go? Have the interests of our clients been sufficiently taken into account? With felling permits in hand, the Zuidas has removed quite a few dead trees along the road in recent years for safety reasons (see hyperlinks below (in Dutch)).

On the one hand that is understandable for traffic safety, but why don't we look at an integrated solution? Can't the trunks be put back in the park, where they form a safe haven for all kinds of insects and other creatures like dead wood? These are just a few examples. If the trees had rights, we believe that decisions like this would be handled differently. And that is urgently needed: because a terrifying future awaits the trees.

3. On behalf of the leaves

Jan van de Venis

A tree has leaves. Why actually?

Leaves provide the moisture balance of the tree. The leaf of a tree is full of chloroplasts, which is very important for the tree. In addition to the chlorophyll granules giving a leaf its green colour, the granules are also very important for evaporating water and converting substances into other substances. Water with nutrients, CO2 and sunlight is converted into oxygen and sugars thanks to the leaf (green granules). Oxygen is crucial for humans. The sugars are for our own growth and the growth of fruits: for the offspring of our clients. For their future generations, so to speak.

In addition, a leaf is also useful for (other) trees after it has turned green: In autumn our clients go to rest. Before the frost sets in, the roots no longer absorb water from the soil. If all the leaves remained on the tree, the tree would dry out. That's why clients drop their leaves.

Leaves that fall to the ground are converted by small animals and fungi into nutrient-rich soil that will benefit all our clients in spring and summer. The circle is then complete. The same facts and circumstances and arguments on climate change, healthy soil, water quality and availability are therefore just as important for the leaves.

Through the leaves of our clients, and the trees in the Amstelpark, something fantastic happens for us humans: We absorb CO2 and supply oxygen, but also: we also capture gaseous air pollution and particulate matter! The more leaves, the more air pollution our clients can absorb. They can do this thanks to a super smart adaptation: The breathing stomata are located on the underside of the leaf. After all, during a long period without rain, the top of the leaf becomes covered by a layer of dust. Stomata at the top would become clogged as a result. This dust problem occurs much less at the bottom. This a brilliant design for us, for which we can be grateful to our clients.

But it is not unlimited: there is now so much dust and dirt from people, traffic and industry on the leaves that it also restricts them from 'breathing freely'. (a good question to the expert witness later, is there also evidence of this? Clogged mouths?)

4. On behalf of the juices

Jessica den Outer

When you look at my clients, you may not realize what is going on in their bodies. My clients have a heartbeat. Juices flow inside a tree. The water that the roots suck up is carried upwards, to the branches and leaves. And the nutrients that the leaves make are brought back down so that they can be stored in the roots. Without a heartbeat and the unique root pressure and suction of leaves, my client cannot survive.

Like everything in life, a healthy tree sap system depends on all other components. To feed the tree, there must be sufficient and strong roots. The soil water from which the nutrients of the juices are extracted must not be polluted. Therefore, in the context of the juices, we ask you to respect all the rights of the entire tree.

Juices must have the right to flow, to nourish the tree and to be healthy and free from pollution. Just like people, trees should have the right to clean water.

But those rights are now also not being respected. Think of Waternet, which endangers the healthy water quality of the juices, as we just heard in the plea for the roots. Due to drought, the soil water from which the juices flow is seriously threatened. Water is life. Dear judges, if we assume the rights of the trees, several parties must be held accountable to ensure the health of the juices and the whole tree.

The conclusion from the facts and circumstances of this matter:

The trees of the Amstelpark, their roots, trunks, leaves and juices, are under pressure. Now, according to WUR's research, the Amstelpark trees are doing fine for the most part; there is quite good soil, and usually enough water, but there is a risk of water shortages in case of drought/heat in the summer. So climate change and the danger of even more frequent and intense droughts in the future are the main danger. That pressure is therefore increased by man. By human act or omission. That can be done differently. But should it be different? We argue that it is:

what about the law?

Do the trees in the Amstelpark have rights?

Jan van de Venis:

Do rights apply to nature and can trees invoke them?

Rights for Nature in a general sense and rights for trees in a more specific sense are not yet explicitly regulated by law in the Netherlands. A defect that – we hope and expect – will be remedied by the legislator in the coming years. This would fit within a fast-growing and global trend in which more than 37 countries have already laid down this concept in legislation and regulations and more than 409 global initiatives advocate the recognition of the Rights of Nature, from general rights for Mother Earth to rights of specific natural areas or animals.

The fact that Dutch law does not yet recognize rights for nature does not mean that these trees do not have rights or cannot stand up for their rights. For the trees of the Amstelpark we - by analogy - appeal to the same principles and rights as recognized through human rights. For themselves, their own rights, but also for the rights of other non-human residents of the Amstelpark.

First of all and before talking about their rights, can we advocate for the trees here?

Well: The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) long ago considered that it was in line with the spirit and purpose of Art. 8 ECHR to also understand "certain professional or business activities or premises" within the scope of that article - relevant for health and environmental matters - the ECHR. (see ECtHR 16-12-1992, ECLI:NL:XX:1992:AD1800, with reference to EJ Dommering (Niemietz).

If a non-living thing like 'business activities or premises' can invoke human rights, then those who stand up can for living beings 'natural activities, premises or areas certainly do, as we argue here today.

In addition, standing up for nature (areas) and rights is not new and accepted in many places: Judges in India (about the Ganges and Yamuna rivers) and Bangladesh (about the Turag and all other 200 inland rivers) have concluded in cases about rivers that these rivers are alive, are living entities with them and therefore have rights; similar but not quite the same as human rights. Think of the right to life and the right to health.

In Ecuador, Pacha Mama, Mother Earth, has constitutional rights. In New Zealand, a river, a mountain and an indigenous forest (former national park) have their own legal personality. In the United States, more than 30 small communities have established rights to nature.

And it has results. Look, for example, at the case law in Ecuador. In the 2021 Los Cedros cloud forest case, local communities used the Rights for Nature to block mining plans. More than 68% of the forest would have to be cleared for these plans, but in this case, the judges ruled: the forest has a right to exist. These kinds of destructive activities are not in line with the Rights of Nature.

Besides these global developments, human rights - such as health, life and family life - are also positively influenced by the presence of nature and negatively by its absence. In other words: not only do these trees have rights and we can stand up for them, but when their rights are respected, protected and realized (the three steps as they also apply to human rights; in English 'Respect, Protect, Fulfill') this will also benefit human and human rights. In Uganda, where the Rights of Nature are enshrined in a national environmental law, the link has already been made between a human right to a clean and healthy living environment and the rights of nature. One cannot do without the other.

Last but not least: closer to home and the ink of the vote in the Spanish Senate has only just dried: The Mar Menor, a lagoon in Spain, has been granted legal personality as the first nature reserve in Europe and now has the formal right 'to exist as an ecosystem and to evolve naturally'.

In addition, the area is given the right to protection, conservation and restoration. This also applies, of course, to nature outside Spain, we argue.

The 'duty of care requirements' and 'positive obligations' to be discussed below are relevant for all life in the Amstelpark, but in particular for the trees.

Jessica den Outer:

What rights do the trees claim? What rights do our clients need?

You, Your Honorable Court of Judges, are charged today with this case, which contains an appeal to human rights. Human rights that - just like in India, Bangladesh and Colombia - apply to nature. Human rights as tree rights, so to speak.

We take you through the current state of affairs in human rights regarding environmental themes, such as air and water pollution, but also noise pollution.

First Articles 6 and 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the ICCPR. The right to life is protected in this treaty under, among other things, the provisions of Article 6 paragraph 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.[1] The right is expressed in it: “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”

As early as 1982, the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN's judicial and interpreting body for this treaty, explained in General Comment No. 6 admits that States often interpret this law too narrowly: “5. Moreover, the Committee has noted that the right to life has been too often narrowly interpreted. The expression “inherent right to life” cannot properly be understood in a restrictive manner, and the protection of this right requires that States adopt positive measures. In this connection, the Committee considers that it would be desirable for States parties to take all possible measures to reduce infant mortality and to increase life expectancy...”.

States are thus obliged to take positive steps to protect the right to life, where it would be desirable for them to take all possible steps to reduce negative impacts.

In general comment no. 31 states the UN Human Rights Committee about positive obligations: “There may be circumstances in which a failure to ensure Covenant rights as required by article 2 would give rise to violations by States Parties of those rights, as a result of States Parties' permitting or failing to take appropriate measures or to exercise due diligence to prevent, punish, investigate or redress the harm caused by such acts by private persons or entities.”

The UN Human Rights Committee stated in General Comment 36 of October 30, 2018[2], (under para. 62) that the government has positive obligations to:

  • coordinate obligations from human rights with those under international environmental law - and thus coordinate with the various international laws on the protection of nature in the area;

  • from the obligation to respect and guarantee the right to life, take measures to protect the environment from damage and pollution caused by public and private parties (which includes noise pollution); and

  • respect the precautionary principle in doing so.

In other words, the protection of the environment is also paramount from a human rights point of view. Nature and the environment must be protected through human rights, which means that nature also has rights.

The government, companies and people let go too easily of the interests of nature and the rights and protection granted to that nature.

Their interests are not taken into account. While based on human rights, and international environmental law, the rights granted to nature must certainly be taken into account.

In the Milieudefensie against Shell case, the court also did not involve human interests in the interpretation of the unwritten standard of due care for the Shell company. The issue was whether or not Shell acted unlawfully because it did not do enough to reduce CO2. In that case, the judge also took into account: (3.) the consequences of CO2 emissions for the Netherlands and the Wadden area and (4.) the right to life and undisturbed family life of the Dutch residents and the inhabitants of the Wadden area.

The judge took the interests of residents of the Wadden area into account. Of humans, but also non-human nature. In our opinion, what applies to the non-human nature of the Wadden also applies to the non-human nature in this case: we must take the interests of the trees in the Amstelpark into account.

Jan van de Venis:

SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals)

In this context of connecting human rights and international environmental law, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can also be mentioned: as global goals for sustainable development, according to the national government [4]. The 193 member states of the United Nations have adopted this development agenda. The 17 goals apply in all countries and for all people and, they state, are implemented with respect for the international framework of human rights.

The Netherlands endorses these goals and has committed itself through goals 14 and 15, among other things: (14) Protecting and sustainable use of the oceans and seas and (15) Protecting ecosystems, forests and biodiversity. The Netherlands is doing poorly internationally on these goals.

This is evident from the fact that we have less forest than internationally agreed. The national government's annual report on the SDGs also stated this year: “The emphasis on high production at a low cost has put great pressure on biodiversity and the environment, especially given the limited area of ​​the Netherlands. With the values ​​and trends for biodiversity in water and on land (SDG 14 and 15), the Netherlands is therefore at the European rear.”

We can expect more. More protection based on human rights, less negative impact on people and nature due to pollution – including noise.

The preamble to the SDGs states (added bold and underlined): As we embark on this collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind and The SDGs “seek to realize the human rights of all.”, The words 'human rights appear no less than 15 times in the text and various human rights are explicitly mentioned or form the basis of the specific goal (for example the right to water and sanitation and SDG 6.1 and 6.2).

Point 18 of the introduction of the SDGs states: “We will implement the Agenda for the full benefit of all, for today's generation and future generations. In doing so, we reaffirm our commitment to international law and emphasize that the Agenda is to be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the rights and obligations of states under international law.” The human rights, of people now and future generations, are leading for the SDGs and their implementation.

It is abundantly clear: human rights also play a crucial role in the implementation of the SDGs and therefore also in the substantial reduction of health, enjoyment of life and threats to vulnerable nature through pollution and (noise) nuisance.

Clients, the trees of the Amstelpark, believe that the human rights mentioned entail that government policy should in any case not be aimed at them, and should not entail or increase the chance that more pollution will occur. This is contrary to the text, core, tenor and the 'positive measures' referred to under Articles 6 and 17 ICCPR. Our clients suffer every day for 50 years. The municipality, province and national government seem to have forgotten them and do not act based on their right to exist. Plant and go, problems? I don't hear them. Today we hear them!

Jessica den Outer:

2 and 8 ECHR

The case law of the European Court of Human Rights has long accepted that in the context of either the protection of the right to respect for private and family life (8 ECHR)) and the right to life (2 ECHR) positive obligations rest on States. This, among other things, effectively guarantee the right to be spared environmental nuisance and/or damage. The prevention of endangerment, the creation of danger, is an important part of the effectuation of the intended protection.

Based on the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, States are entitled to certain policy freedom, a 'margin of appreciation'. But this is not unlimited and has been further elaborated in recent rulings – also specifically on air pollution and noise nuisance.

Through cases brought by citizens against countries they won on human rights grounds, such as a) Di Sarno v. Italy, No. 30765/08, January 10, 2012;

  1. Jugheli and others v. Georgia No. 38342/05, 13 July 2017, and

  2. Cuenca Zarszoso v. Spain No. 23383/12, 16 January 2018

(in which it was specifically about noise pollution and which line was confirmed very recently in Yevgeniy Dmitreiyev v. Russia, No. 17840/06, March 1, 2021)); and is a line developed by the ECtHR, which has become both clearer and stricter about the 'margin of appreciation', 'fair balance' and the positive obligations of the government. We also invoke these rights and case law for the trees of the Amstelpark.

We would like to refer our clients to the extensive analysis of the Supreme Court in the Urgenda Climate Case ruling, Supreme Court (13-09-2019, ECLI:NL: PHR:2019:887), in which the Supreme Court from para 2.34 to 2.84 very clearly explains what human rights protection entails about the environment (dangerous) activities and how this relates to international environmental law.

What was stated by the Supreme Court on the general development of law and subsequently linked to climate (that was what the Urgenda case was about) also applies here to air pollution, noise nuisance and water levels. It would go too far to take this literally, which is why clients emphasize the line set out by the Supreme Court and supplement the special aspects below.

The development of human rights and environmental cases was marked by "milestone judgments" of the European Court such as (the cases mentioned and elaborated in the summons) López Ostra v. Spain, no. 16798/90, 9 December 1994, Guerra and Others v Italy, No. 14967/89, February 19, 1998, and Öneryıldız v. Turkey [GC], No. 48939/99, November 30, 2004.

Judgments from 2004 (Oneryildiz v. Turkey) and 2005 (Storck v. Germany) followed, in addition to the existing line, that already in case of an increased risk of infringement of the right to life or private life the obligation to take measures arises.

There is thus an obligation on the State to establish an effective legal and administrative framework to ensure that the risk of increased nuisance and pollution is reduced.

In 2009 (Tatar v. Romania), the ECtHR concluded that where official reports confirmed that as a “deterioration in the local population's quality of life and, in particular, affected the applicants' welfare and deprived them of the enjoyment of their home, so affecting their private and family life.” then “The existence of a substantial, serious risk to the applicants' health and welfare imposed on the State an obligation to adopt reasonable and adequate measures to protect their right to respect for their private life and home and, more generally, their right to the enjoyment of a healthy and safe environment.”

The increasingly strict line set out for the State by the ECtHR is continued in Di Sarno v. Italy (109 ff.) The Court considers that the present case … concerns (s) the alleged failure of the authorities to take adequate steps to ensure the proper functioning of the waste collection, treatment and disposal service in the municipality.

The ECtHR then weighs the obligation of the State: “The collection, treatment and disposal of waste are without a doubt dangerous activities (see, mutatis mutandis, Oneryildiz, cited above, § 71). That being so, the State was under a positive obligation to take reasonable and adequate steps to protect the right of the people concerned to respect their homes and their private life and, more generally, to live in a safe and healthy environment. In the case of dangerous activities, you must intervene in advance and protect yourself preventively.

Again (after Tatar in 2009 'right to the enjoyment of', but now a 'right to live in') the ECtHR explicitly mentions a “right to live in a safe and healthy environment” to be protected by the State.

Where humans have this right, don't they also have a similar duty to other living beings? Of course, it is! Plus, our clients, the trees of the Amstelpark, also have the right to live in a safe and healthy environment: because of this and with that, we in turn ensure that people have a safe and healthy environment.

Back again to the Jugheli case: the ECtHR says “It is precisely in the case of hazardous activities (noise pollution, air pollution, water pollution for humans and fellow nature) that states must lay down regulations that are tailored to the specific characteristics of the activity in question. , especially about the potential risk. When granting permits, setting up, managing, securing and supervising activities, the government must itself take care and oblige all those involved to take practical measures to ensure effective protection.”.

The ECtHR thus confirms, in line with what has already been argued under the ICCPR, that there must be an active and involved government: regulating, operating and supervising, which obliges all those involved to guarantee the effective protection of citizens, and - in what we add - co-nature and trees in the Amstelpark that may be at risk due to the risks.

Jan van de Venis:

Relevant human rights from the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural

Article 11 paragraph 1 of the ICESCR codifies the right to an adequate standard of living. The article gives several examples: “…the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.” A right to an adequate standard of living for yourself and your family and to a continuous improvement of living conditions. The same paragraph 1 affirms “The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right…”.

Based on this right, one can claim an improvement in living conditions. It is therefore up to the government to limit nuisance and pollution. Furthermore, “health” is regarded within international law as a fundamental human right with an associated obligation to respect, protect and implement that human right, which obligation in the first instance also rests with States on the defendant.

The first paragraph of Article 12 ICESCR states that 'States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health'.

The second paragraph of article 12 mentions a specific duty towards children: 'The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for: (a) The provision for the reduction of the stillbirth rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child. Very relevant given noise nuisance and air pollution.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights devoted its General Comment 14 entirely to Article 12.[1] The Committee sets out the specific 'State obligations to respect, protect and fulfil'. Air pollution is explicitly mentioned: Under point 35. (obligation to fulfil): “States are also required to adopt measures against environmental and occupational health hazards and any other threat. For this purpose, they should formulate and implement national policies aimed at reducing and eliminating pollution of air, water and soil…”.

It couldn't be much clearer: it is up to the State to formulate and implement a policy aimed at reducing and even eliminating pollution, including noise nuisance. This does not say 'for people', but in a general sense that air, water and soil pollution must be reduced. Also for the trees of the Amstelpark. What protects human rights also protects tree rights here.

The right to health is intended to create conditions that enable people to lead healthy lives, including a clean living environment. It is therefore up to the State to promote the conditions for living a healthy life, which extends to a healthy living environment. And what extends to trees, to the rights of these trees: What is good for them is also good for man.

And, finally, in point 30 et seq., the Committee has set out the general legal obligations. This includes the progressive realization of the right to health. Point 31. is very clear: “Rather, progressive realization means that States parties have a specific and continuing obligation to move as expeditiously and effectively as possible towards the full realization of article 12.”. The Committee leaves no doubt that nuisance and pollution must be reduced from the point of view of the right to health.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

Clients also invoke the (positive) obligations of the government under the Children's Rights. It will be a crazy idea for many people, but the many trees of the Amstelpark have a life expectancy of 200 - 400 years old. At the time of planting in 1972, they were still very young in tree years and actually still 'children' in tree age compared to human life. Many of them are children even now in that same equation; less than a quarter of their normal life expectancy.

Imagine those trees, if they live like us humans.

What childhood did they get thanks to the Floriade 1972? A K childhood. No parents around, no support, contact and exchange underground and above ground. Alone and learning from each other and often surrounded by other - sometimes exotic - trees that they do not know from their natural system, with which they have no natural interaction, they have grown up. This is independent of the place where they are located and the pollution they have to endure.

From the trees:

Every child has the right to a carefree childhood, clean water and an adequate standard of living. Where did ours go? Why were we never able to be what we were then: growing children?

Now we are 50 human years, but as trees, we are not yet at a quarter. Just say grown up and (financially) in your world. Why don't you look at us with more empathy? Youth unemployment, expensive housing, and difficulty starting - get the attention of young people. We also have 3/4 of our lives to go - if we're even allowed that. Do you take responsibility for our well-being? A nice life? Or plant the only thing that binds you to us?

Article 6 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states the right to life of every child and, in paragraph 2, that States shall ensure the child's survival and development as far as possible. The right to health, again 'the highest attainable standard of health', is explicitly repeated for children in article 24. And paragraph 2 of this article obliges the State to take sufficient measures to combat disease, taking into account the danger of environmental pollution to take. That has not happened for our clients.

One of the tasks of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is to monitor compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and to deal with country reports to that effect. On 9 June 2016, in the Concluding Observations for the United Kingdom (CRC/C/GBR/CO/5), the Committee made a very clear statement about air pollution and children's rights, (also mentioning the Sustainable Development Goals – about which more has already been said):

“Environmental health”

  • The Committee is concerned about the high level of air pollution that directly affects child health in the State party and contributes to the negative impact of climate change affecting various rights of the child, both in the State party and in other countries.

  • … the Committee recommends that the State party, including the devolved administrations about devolved matters; (a) Set out a clear legal commitment, with appropriate technical, human and financial resources, to scale up and expedite the implementation of plans to reduce air pollution levels, especially in areas near schools and residential areas;”

A clear recommendation from the Children's Rights Committee: Children's rights require a clear legal commitment to expand and accelerate the implementation of plans to reduce pollution. From children's rights, the air, water and noise pollution must be reduced. For the children who visit the Amstelpark, but also for the children's trees.

In Concluding Observations for Nigeria (2010 on pollution), Zambia (2016 on the negative impact of mining) and Belgium and Bosnia Herzegovina (both on air pollution in 2019), the Children's Rights Committee has further elaborated[2] and the Human Rights Council has 2018 adopted the authoritative report on Children's Rights and the Environment of the Special Envoy for Human Rights and the Environment[3]: it also expresses the positive obligation: States should:

  • Conduct environmental impact assessments of projects or policies that include a careful examination of impacts on children; and

  • Adopt and implement environmental laws, standards, policies and action plans that take full account of how children are more susceptible to environmental harm and/or face barriers to exercising their rights.

None of that has happened here, at least insufficiently. And must change: for the children in the vicinity of the Amstelpark, in the Amstelpark and for us, as children's trees.

Jessica den Outer:

Add to that the groundbreaking case of our cousins ​​growing in the Amazon:

In a historic ruling in 2018, Colombia's highest court sided with a group of youths and children who stood up to the government for failing to properly protect the Amazon rainforest. The young people convinced the Supreme Court that the Amazon rainforest was essential to their constitutional rights to life, health, food, water and a safe environment. In addition, the young people argued that since deforestation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, the government's failure to protect the Amazon was also a direct violation of the rights of future generations.

The Supreme Court stated in its ruling:

Without a healthy environment, rights holders and living beings cannot survive and we cannot protect the rights of our children and future generations. The Amazon, the Court stated, is crucial to us as humans now and to our future generations. Not only are the rights of young people and future generations at stake, but the Amazon therefore also has rights of its own, including the right to protection and restoration. The Supreme Court of Colombia has thus ruled that the Colombian Amazon forest is an entity that has its own rights.

We see that rights for nature and human rights can go hand in hand.

Jan van de Venis:

The cousins ​​of our clients in the Amazon have these rights, derived from the right recognized in Colombia to a clean and healthy environment. We believe that our clients have that right too. Even though they do not live in a natural system - that is not

their fault, they were just put here - we ask you to confirm this today for the trees of the Amstelpark.


On July 28, the UN General Assembly recognized this new human right by an overwhelming majority. The Netherlands voted along, also voted in favour and is now bound by it. This human right comes very close to a tree right. It confirms everything that has already been mentioned above in terms of international treaties and rulings. But there is something else: already in 2018, the Human Rights Council accepted, as part of this right, a resolution on 'The dependence of human rights on biodiversity' (A/HRC/34/49). This report describes how and concludes that people are connected and dependent on biodiversity. Not only from water and food but also from contact with nature. How microbial diversity and substances excreted by trees make us healthier. We are connected to other nature. Critically connected. From the report adopted by the UN Human Rights Council:

"The loss of this microbial diversity appears to cause problems with immune regulation, leading the human immune system to attack the wrong targets, which in turn increases the prevalence of autoimmune, allergic and other non-communicable inflammatory diseases."

And our clients, the trees, have a positive impact on your health people! From the same UN Human Rights report:

“It is becoming increasingly clear that exposure to nature has beneficial effects on mental health. A comprehensive review of studies concluded that “experiencing nature can have positive effects on mental/psychological health, healing, heart rate, concentration, stress levels, blood pressure, behaviour and other health factors. For example, looking at nature, even through a window, improves recovery from surgery.”

This is all linked to human rights such as the right to health and an adequate standard of living.

As people have these interests and rights, so do we. In fact, by realizing tree rights, you also realize human rights!


As far as we are concerned, there can only be one conclusion:

The trees of the Amstelpark have rights and we are standing here today against the violation of those rights.

We are not asking you to order the government to give nature or the Amstelpark legal personality, whether or not through a new kind of nature legal entity. How the government in the Netherlands will do it is up to that government, in our opinion. But what we do ask you is to confirm the rights of the trees. And force the government to respect these rights.


It may please Your Honour to order by judgment, so far as possible provisionally enforceable:

To declare for justice:

  1. That the trees in the Amstelpark have rights;

  2. That these rights apply to them in the same way that human rights apply to humans and children's rights apply to children;

  3. That people, as guardians or guardians, can stand up for the interests of these trees;

  4. That - as with human rights - the government should respect, protect and realise these rights for the trees and prevent other actors, such as companies, from violating them;

  5. That - as with human rights - these other actors, such as companies, themselves have a responsibility to respect these rights for trees; and

  6. That government bodies, companies and residents of the Netherlands act unlawfully towards the trees of the Amstel Park if:

- they do not take sufficient account of the health and adequate living conditions of trees in general, taking into account specific requirements and interests of certain species and the living conditions of roots, trunks, leaves and juices;

- they do not realize that by 2025 at the latest the WHO standards for air quality and other standards for water quality, noise and other types of pollution that are necessary for the health of humans and trees have been realized and included;

2. To recommend:

  • To recommend to the municipal, provincial and central government to include in the entire process of granting permits, monitoring and enforcing health and nuisance standards the rights of the trees of the Amstelpark and the interests, health and adequate living conditions of the trees in general, the specific requirements for and interests of certain species and the living conditions of roots, trunks, leaves and juices; and

  • That the protection of the right of trees to a clean, healthy and sustainable living environment in coherence and connection with other nature, including people, must be paramount.

Such with an order against the State to pay the costs of these proceedings, to be paid within fourteen days after the judgment to be rendered in this case and against proper proof of discharge, including the salary of the lawyers and disbursements, plus the subsequent costs on the at the foot of the liquidation rate, with the stipulation that legal interest will be due on the court costs if the conviction is not paid within fourteen days after the date of the judgment to be rendered in this case.