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Rizwana Hasan

Rizwana Hasan

The Rana Plaza factory collapse has brought attention to the low-cost formula that has made Bangladesh the world’s second-leading clothing exporter. Jim Yardley quotes ELAW partner Rizwana Hasan in this report in the New York Times:

Bangladesh Pollution, Told in Colors and Smells

“All of the natural resources have been severely degraded and depleted,” says Rizwana, a Goldman Prize winner and Chief Executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA).

Amidst the doom and gloom, ELAW is inspired by Rizwana and her organization’s fortitude challenging polluting factories and protecting wetlands. ELAW has worked with BELA for 15 years.

The Daily Star reports on BELA’s latest victory, protecting the Savar wetlands on the outskirts of Dhaka. A developer had filled the wetlands to make way for a luxury housing development. The Supreme Court ordered the wetlands restored within six months.

ELAW Staff Scientist Mark Chernaik submitted an affidavit describing how filling these wetlands would exacerbate flooding in Dhaka and runs counter to international best practices put forward by the United Nations Inter-Agency Secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.

Congratulations Rizwana, and everyone at BELA, for your hard work and perseverance under extremely challenging conditions.

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

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.

ELAW partners summit Mt. Pisgah last spring

Every year, many of our partners travel for hours and hours on planes, trains and automobiles to reach the Eugene office just in time for the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference.  This year, we have visitors from six countries on five different continents who will be speaking at the PIELC!

Rizwana Hasan of Bangladesh is a keynote speaker at the PIELC (Sunday at noon). Rizwana is a 2009 Goldman Prize winner for her work challenging human rights and environmental abuses in the shipbreaking business in her home country of Bangladesh.  She was also a 2009 Time Magazine “Hero of the Environment.”  You can read more about her on the PIELC website.

Agnes Gajdics has been in Eugene since January, studying English at the American English Institute at the University of Oregon — and blogging about her experiences!  She will speak at the PIELC on Friday afternoon on a panel entitled “Giving the Public a Voice:  Procedural Environmental Rights.”  Joining her on that panel is Merab Barbakadze, who just missed a Lufthansa pilot’s strike to make it to Eugene.  He is an environmental attorney in the Republic of Georgia.

Calvin Sandborn will take the train to Eugene, arriving Thursday afternoon (if Amtrak is on time!). He is the Legal Director of the Environmental Law Center at the University of Victoria in Canada.  He will be speaking Friday afternoon on the topic of “Collaborative Partnerships for Livable and Sustainable Communities.”

Francis Colee works with Green Advocates in Liberia helping to amplify local voices as they speak out about environmental issues, especially those involving mining and forestry.  He is working to ensure that Liberia creates and maintains sustainable practices as those industries develop.

Kwesi Intsiful is a public interest environmental lawyer in Ghana.  He works with ELAW partners at The Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) in Accra on environmental and forestry issues.

Kwesi and Francis will speak on a panel at the PIELC on Saturday morning entitled “Liberia, Ghana and the U.S.: Collaborating for a Clean Environment.”  ELAW Staff Scientist Mark Chernaik will be the moderator for this panel.

And, attending from the fifth continent, is Andrés Pirazzoli, a partner from Chile who worked with ELAW as an extern during his LL.M. program at the University of Oregon.  Andres will also speak on Saturday morning, discussing “The Energy Trilemma:  Environment, Costs and Reliability,” a panel that will be moderated by ELAW Staff Attorney Jen Gleason.

ELAW Staff member Rita Radostitz will moderate and speak on a panel Saturday morning with Kelly Matheson of and Kelli Mathews of Verve Northwest.  The panel will address “Communications that Move People to Act (or Give).”

We are thrilled to welcome these ELAW partners to Eugene and look forward to hearing them speak.  The entire schedule, including exact times and locations, is available on the PIELC website.  We hope to see you there!

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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