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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

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

As promised, here are some of the fabulous photographs of Thuli Brilliance Makama from the Goldman Prize ceremony.  Thanks to ELAW Staff Attorney Liz Mitchell for all photos (except the photo of Thuli with the Ouroboros – which was provided by the Goldman Prize organization.)

Goldman Prize CeremonyThuli & ELAW staff

Thuli Makama with Goldman Prize

On this Earth Day, we invite you to join us in congratulating Thuli Brilliance Makama on winning the Goldman Prize!

Thuli is the only public interest environmental lawyer in Swaziland and is the Director of Yonge Nawe (SiSwati for “you too must conserve the environment”) an organization committed to environmental justice.  She has done fantastic work and risked everything to give citizens a voice in protecting Swaziland’s environment. You can read more about her great work here.  We are gathering messages of congratulations from around the world and will present them to Thuli before she returns to Swaziland next week.  If you wish to add a message, please  click here.

If the above link doesn’t work with your browser, just post a note in the comments section below and we’ll forward it on to Thuli.

What a great way to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day!

ELAW partner Thuli Brilliance Makama of Swaziland has been awarded the 2010 Goldman Prize!  The Goldman Prize is the highest honor a grassroots environmental advocate can receive — sort of like a “green” Nobel Prize.  ELAW is thrilled to have nominated Thuli and is thrilled that now the rest of the world will learn about her fabulous work.

Thuli told the Goldman Prize organizers:  “I defend the rights of local communities to participate in environmental decision-making so that future generations may benefit.”

The Goldman Foundation selected Thuli for the Prize because of her courageous efforts to fight Big Game Parks — a private corporation that owns and operates two game parks and has been granted authority to manage one of Swaziland’s national parks.  Thuli and her organization have been working to  ensure that local community members have a voice in the management of their environment.  Goldman notes that Thuli’s “success in challenging malpractices in environmental management is a huge step forward in the struggle to include local people in conservation efforts in Swaziland.”

ELAW staff members Lori Maddox, Jen Gleason and Liz Mitchell will attend the ceremony tonight — and have promised to send photos.


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

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