Local Goal Getter Nina Rijsterborgh from Maas in de Wet, a flood of rights

About a year ago Nina Rijsterborgh got in touch with the Maas Cleanup on Maas Cleanup day. She was confronted with the state of the river after only one day of cleaning the Maas. Thus, when Maas Cleanup challenged the office of Boels Zanders Advocaten, where she works, with coming up with an alternative action that positively affects the Maas, she rolled up her sleeves and started working, with a team of other experts, on what is now a petition “Maas in de Wet” or Maas in the law”. For this week’s Local Goal Getter, we had an encouraging conversation with Nina Rijsterborgh, who works on an initiative that could provide rights to the Maas as if it were a person.

Challenge accepted!

When the question within Boels Zanders Advocaten arrived of who would be interested in looking into this challenge, Nina, unhesitatingly jumped at this opportunity. She was interested from a professional point of view, because of her background in environmental law and interests in developments in lawmaking on a personal level. It starts with the parts we individually play in a healthy environment. Every contribution counts, just raising awareness can already make a world of difference.

With Maas Cleanup awareness is created, and the Maas in de Wet petition could lead to political change.

Maas in de Wet is a joined initiative that came into existence by the cooperation from multiple disciplines including a legal background represented by Boels Zanders Advocaten, and thus Nina Rijsterborgh, Jessica den Outer an independent rights of Nature expert, Viastory providing the communication expertise, IVN (Institute for nature education and sustainability) and a multitude of businesses.

After careful evaluation of a several of options, including a citizens initiative and a lobby campaign, they focused their efforts on the creation of a petition. With a petition you can measure the general reaction of the public, raise awareness and shape a campaign in such a way that makes the public join the cause. The balance of the message is nuanced and a constant back and forth between juridical data and the story that creates feeling, since raising awareness on a legal issue can be rather informative.

Why should we care?

The essence of providing rights to the Maas lies in the tons of plastic waste that is collected in one day by no less of 5.000 volunteers of Maas Cleanup that had to work out of reactive measures, while this could have been prevented by systematic solutions. This is where Maas in de Wet comes in, it could provide a foundation by giving the Maas rights in order to make its wellbeing someone’s responsibility. Currently, we lean on environmental organizations to protect nature as a reaction to a created problem, but when they have their own legal personality nature gets a seat on the table when they make decisions on the importance of its preservation and that of future generations. It will even cause fewer procedures. When nature gets its vote, they are directly involved in decision-making, making procedures unnecessary.

Nature should have rights, and with a definition beyond the scope of our personal gain, which is where we often refer to when we even make these claims. The rights of the Maas should include intrinsic value as well because only then do we create a healthy environment.

A clean environment could never be utterly useless to anyone, and that thought is not just shared among people but also in enterprises.

A movement

Although it is relatively unique in Europe, this is not a new phenomenon. for the first time in the world’s history, New Zealand gave the Whanganui River a long due recognition as a legal person in 2017, after great efforts of the Maori tribes[1]. Thus, there is no question on whether this is possible, the question lies in whether this is possible in the Netherlands. Although it has not happened yet in the Netherlands, the question has already been asked about another area, the Wadden Sea.

“Rules are good, but not enough”

The current objective of this petition is to raise awareness in order to not just become a topic of conversation in parliament but lead to conversations on the shaping of such a law for the Netherlands and potentially reaching the entire Maas region, including an over the border strategy. Nevertheless, this is not with the expectation that a will instantly take its form once it is handed to parliament, but with the aspiration of reaching that point and continue to further focus on a Europe wide policy.

[1] (Warne)

Below the iceberg

Maas in de Wet, and Maas Cleanup in general, are evidently linked with clean water and sanitation, SDG 6, and life below water, SDG 14. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, when you look deeper into the long term effects of when the Maas receives a legal personality, it has a positive impact on zero hunger, SDG 2, climate change, SDG 13, and life on land, SDG 15. It could lead to a better quality of water, which subsequently improves our health and nature’s health, leading towards less hunger.

Curious about their commitment

Take a look at the petition: https://maascleanup.nl/actie/maas-in-de-wet/

Author: Jo-Anne Jaegermann

Pictures: Jo-Anne Jaegermann