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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

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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