Chief Executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association
Syeda Rizwana Hasan is an environmental law champion. She made headlines when she filed a case against the import of toxin-laden ships destined to be broken down for parts — an industry that can poison its workers and surroundings. The legal battle sparked government regulation of the industry and marked the first time that a polluting company was fined in Bangladesh.
“Every case that challenges inequity and the culture of impunity makes me happy,” Hasan says. “The landmark judgments against a mighty land-grabber; the ruling against the killing shipbreaking industry; the judgement directing the relocation of tanneries; the orders on air pollution, river protection, forest protection – all inspire me for more legal activism.”
Hasan is now the Chief Executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), an organization she first joined in 1993. Over the years, she has used her legal expertise to fight against threats as varied as car pollution, unregulated mining, and deforestation. She believes that lawyers can play a crucial role in connecting with communities and helping those who lack access to legal services find justice. “In today’s world, I would value less a lawyer who is not aware of climate change and is not thinking about playing a role in mitigating it,” she says.
Hasan has won a score of Bangladeshi and international prizes for her work, earning the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2009, the Ramon Magsaysay Award (known as ‘the Nobel Peace Prize of Asia’) in 2012, and the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award in 2022. In 2020, BELA also won the Tang Award for promoting environmental justice and the rule of law. Outside of her litigation work, Hasan serves as a visiting faculty member of several universities, and participates in a wide range of environmental organizations.
All these initiatives are driven by Hasan’s recognition that future generations will suffer from previous generations’ treatment of nature. She’s motivated by “all that is happening around me in terms of environmental degradation – and the very fact that we can address all this with the right motivation,” she says.