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Old ships are towed to the beaches of Chittagong, Bangladesh, where poorly paid laborers break them apart for scrap.  This hazardous job endangers workers and contaminates the coast.

ELAW partner and Goldman Prize winner Rizwana Hasan at the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association has worked tirelessly to protect the human rights of ship breakers and safeguard fragile beaches.

Read about Rizwana’s work in the current issue of Shippingwatch: “The Shipping Industry’s Dark Conscience” (see page 24).

Reporter Katrine Gronvald Raun shares these alarming facts:

  • 70-80 percent of the global fleet ends its days in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India.  During the last three years, 519 ships have been scrapped in Bangladesh, and 70 ships are currently being taken apart on the country’s beaches.

ELAW has worked with Rizwana for more than 16 years.  “She is a champion of the people and the environment,” says Mark Chernaik, ELAW Staff Scientist.

We will keep you informed of our work helping Rizwana seek justice for communities and the environment in South Asia.

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director & Fellows Program Coordinator

Justice has been served!  Earlier today, High Court judges in Bangladesh scrapped a defamation case against ELAW partners Rizwana Hasan and Iqbal Kabir.

Rizwana is the chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA).  Iqbal is her staff attorney.  The defamation case was filed in 2010 by Abdur Rouf Chowdhury, manager of the ship breaking company Mak Group.  Chowdhury’s company had been fingered in a petition BELA filed, challenging the export of a toxic ship.

Rizwana spoke about the plight of Bangladesh’s impoverished ship breakers at the 2003 ELAW Annual Meeting.  Decommissioned ships are towed then dumped on the coast of Bangladesh where poorly equipped laborers are paid little more than $1 a day to tear them apart.  The ships are loaded with extremely toxic materials that endanger the health of laborers and contaminate the environment.  Rizwana won a 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize for her outstanding work defending the laborers and protecting the coast from these toxic operations.

Today’s Daily Star reports:

“The Mak Group manager in the case brought charges against the accused of damaging his company’s image and dignity.  After getting bail from the High Court, Rizwana and Lytton [Iqbal] filed a petition [sic] the court on January 24, 2011 for quashing the case filed against them.  The HC on that day issued a rule upon the government and the plaintiff of the case to explain why the case should not be quashed….  After holding hearing on the rule, the HC bench of Justice AHM Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik and Justice Farid Ahmed scrap the case today.”

Congratulations Rizwana and Iqbal!

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

ELAW partner Rizwana Hasan

ELAW partner Rizwana Hasan has been working for the past 10 years to put an end to shipbreaking.  Shipbreaking, or the dismantling of obsolete ships by hand, is a harmful practice for both workers and the environment.  Workers using little or no protective gear pull the ships apart, and in so doing expose their bodies, and beaches, to harmful substances like asbestos, PCBs, lead, and lubricants.

Rizwana is working to protect laborers in the shipbreaking industry and ensure that Bangladesh doesn’t continue to be a dumping ground for polluted ships.  This extraordinary work led ELAW to nominate Rizwana for the Goldman Prize, which she won in 2009.

While Rizwana has won protections for workers and the environment from the Supreme Court, which ordered all shipyards without environmental approvals to close, the battle continues.  Despite the damages from other shipbreaking operations, the prime minister plans to establish new shipbreaking operations on the bank of the Baleshwar River.

Rizwana has criticized the proposed project, saying: “Does the government want to pollute the coastal eco-system and destroy the coastal forests?  Has it not learnt from the polluted beaches, disappearing mangroves and heavily contaminated land and water of Sitakunda?”

Mark Chernaik, ELAW Staff Scientist, has collaborated with Rizwana for more than a decade. “Rizwana’s courage and determination, taking a stand for laborers and the marine environment, while facing down intimidation from industrialists and their allies in government, is truly inspirational,” he says.

You can find more information about the proposed project here.

Rizwana’s dedication to ending hazardous shipbreaking and charting a sustainable future for Bangladesh is a powerful example for everyone working to promote environmental justice.  We are pleased to stand with Rizwana as she works to protect Bangladesh and its people.

Michele Kuhnle
Donor Liaison

CNN "Green Pioneer" Rizwana Hasan

ELAW partner Rizwana Hasan was featured on CNN recently in a segment entitled “Green Pioneer:  Hidden shame of ship-breaking industry.”  The story highlights Rizwana’s work protecting the human rights of the ship-breakers in her native Bangladesh.  This work led ELAW to nominate Rizwana for the prestigious Goldman Prize, which she won in 2009.

“STORY HIGHLIGHTS” from the CNN website:

  • Each year hundreds of ships are taken to Chittagong, Bangladesh, to be broken up
  • Men armed with hammers and cutters strip the ships for scrap metal
  • Rizwana Hasan works to expose risks to workers, the environment
  • Critics accuse her of wanting to shut down an important source of jobs

Rizwana Hasan

Eugene writer Sriram Khé has a great column in the Register Guard talking about ELAW Partner Rizwana Hasan and her work challenging ship-breaking in Bangladesh.

Khé writes:

“With a twist to an old saying about Mohammed and the mountain, Bangladesh came to me right here in Eugene, in the form of Syeda Rizwana Hasan.

My meeting with Rizwana Hasan is a remarkable testament to the global interconnectedness that characterizes our contemporary lives. Hasan, who is associated with the Eugene-based Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, was in town recently as an invited keynote speaker for the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference.

Rizwana Hasan has a lengthy track record as an activist environmental attorney in Bangladesh. In 2009, she was one of the recipients of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.”

You can read the rest of the column here.

Rizwana Hasan - ELAW Partner &* TIME Hero of the Environment

Rizwana Hasan - ELAW Partner & TIME Hero of the Environment

TIME Magazine has honored ELAW partner and Goldman Prize Winner Rizwana Hasan of Bangladesh with a 2009 Hero of the Environment award!  Rizwana was honored for her fight to protect workers in the shipbreaking industry and for helping to ensure that Bangladesh doesn’t continue to be a dumping ground for the world’s polluted ships.

Krista Mahr wrote:

“Every morning on the beaches of Chittagong, some 15,000 men go to work knowing that they could die that day. For 16-hour shifts, workers in Bangladesh’s largest shipbreaking zone are sent with little protection or guidance into other nations’ aging vessels to pull their hulls apart by hand. Inside the ships they face a haze of thick, black smoke from the torches used to cut the metal, unstable gases, asbestos, lead and mercury. By some estimates, one shipbreaker is killed every day by the explosions, fires, or falling metal of South Asia’s shipyards. Those who survive face a high risk of cancer and other illnesses. Most shipbreakers work five or six years before they return to their villages, young old men, too worn out or sick to make a living.

Syeda Rizwana Hasan, 41, is one of the few advocates for these men — and the beaches where the contaminated ships end up. As chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) for the past six years, Hasan has struggled to bring better environmental and labor regulation to Bangladesh’s 36 shipbreaking yards, where, she says, “nobody is present” to ensure labor laws are followed or international guidelines against toxic waste-dumping are met.”  To read the full article, click here.

Congratulations to Rizwana!

belaELAW partners at the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) contributed to Sandy Tolan’s moving story about child workers in the shipyards of Bangladesh, “Babu’s Story: A Child Worker In The Shipyards Of Bangladesh.”  ELAW Staff Scientist Mark Chernaik provided background information to the reporter for the story.


“Did anybody ever tell you,” I asked the child worker sitting on the cement floor, “‘You’re only 13, you shouldn’t have to work like this’?”

Ismael “Babu” Hussein paused to reflect on the question. All around him were other kids, sitting in the small airless room that was shared by several worker families who sleep there in shifts. Like Babu, these boys, some as young as 12, do the risky, often terrifying work of breaking down ships by hand on the beaches of Chittagong, Bangladesh. The boys are apprentices to older “masters” who operate the blowtorches that cut the steel walls into six-by-ten-foot plates, and thus turn useless old tankers and cargo ships into usable scrap.

Read the full story on the Huffington Post.

Rizwana Hasan - ELAW Partner Wins a Goldman Prize!

Rizwana Hasan - ELAW Partner Wins a Goldman Prize!

Rizwana wins a Goldman!

We are thrilled to learn that Rizwana Hasan from Bangladesh will receive a Goldman Prize for her work challenging abuses of Bangladesh’s exploitative and environmentally-devastating ship breaking industry. Rizwana is an environmental attorney who led a successful legal battle against rogue ship breaking operations. She has collaborated with ELAW for more than a decade.

ELAW Staff Scientist Mark Cherniak has traveled to Dhaka to work with Rizwana and her colleagues at the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, and Rizwana has made several trips to Eugene. ELAW is a “nominating” organization and nominated Rizwana for this year’s prize.

Finding a free minute in her busy day, she spoke to me from San Francisco yesterday:

“Mark sent us the U.S. guidelines on ship breaking. The judge used a page from those guidelines when he made his ruling. ELAW provided us with the scientific information we needed and helped us understand international law and its implications. It put the whole issue into a global perspective. Lessons from our victory have been shared through the ELAW network with lawyers in other countries where wastes are being dumped.  This is a great help.”

After Monday’s award ceremony, Rizwana will travel to Washington, D.C. to meet members of Congress and the press. “Will you meet President Obama?” I asked.

“I bought a new sari for the occasion, but we’re not sure.”

I asked Mark: What makes Rizwana a rock star?

He said: “In 1997 Rizwana was a young lawyer with little experience, when BELA’s founder died. Rizwana filled the leadership vacuum and not only kept the organization going but turned it into South Asia’s most powerful public interest environmental law organization. She is an inspiration for ELAW partners around the world who are working to protect communities and the natural environment.”

Mark and ELAW scientist Meche Lu have worked closely with Rizwana and her colleagues on issues ranging from pollution in tannery ponds, to the health risks of toxic chemical spills, to evaluating an environmental impact assessment for gas field exploration.

Rizwana is one of nine  ELAW partners who have won the prestigious Goldman Prize: Pablo Fajardo (2008, Ecuador); Anne Kajir (2006, Papua New Guinea); Olya Melen (2006, Ukraine); Vera Mischenko (2000, Russia); Samuel Nguiffo (1999, Cameroon); M.C. Mehta (1996, India);  Albena Simeonova (1996, Bulgaria); and Harrison Ngau Laing (Malaysia, 1990).

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

Rizwana Hasan

Rizwana Hasan

ELAW partner Rizwana Hasan has won a stunning victory for environmental justice, for the people of Bangladesh who labor to break down retired ships, and for the coastal habitats of Bangladesh. The Supreme Court of Bangladesh has ordered that all shipyards operating without environmental approvals must close within two weeks!

Like many countries, Bangladesh has been plagued by low budget, unregulated ship-breaking operations that import toxic ships and tear them apart on coastal beaches. This victory will help end this scourge and protect the laborers who tear apart ships with little or nothing to protect them from PCBs, asbestos, lead and other toxic substances. It will also protect coastal habitats that have been contaminated by toxic wastes from abandoned ships.

Rizwana, who is the Chief Executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Law Association, has been battling to end these ship-breaking abuses for eight years. She called on ELAW for the scientific help she needed to make the case against rogue ship-breaking and ELAW lawyers helped craft her petition.

We congratulate Rizwana for this stunning victory, which will echo around the globe!

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