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Syeda Rizwana Hasan Takes on Ship Breaking

In the impoverished country of Bangladesh, ship breaking has become a boom industry.  Ship breaking is the act of dismantling decommissioned ships.  In Bangladesh this is done by laborers on a beach with hand tools, who get paid less than one dollar a day for the task.  These ancient ships are full of toxic chemicals, such as asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), lead and arsenic.  These toxins pollute the enviorment while causing health maladies in the over 20,000 men, women and children involved in the trade.  The ships broken down in Bangladesh are mostly from foreign countries, including the United States and Europe.

This problem of importing toxins from foreign countries through dismantling came to the attention of Syeda Rizwana Hasan.  This young women grew up in a politically active family to become the a lawyer and Executive Director of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), a public interest law firm.  Hasan now oversees a staff of 60 in six diffrent offices and is a leading young attorney enrolled with the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.  It was in this ship-breaking industry that Hasan found a cause that became her own and a class of client, the laborers, to advocate for.

Syeda Rizwana Hasan began her fight in 2003 by filing a petition with the Supreme Court sto stop decommissioned ships from entering Bangladesh unless certified to be free of toxic substances as required by the Basel Convention, and to prohibit further ship breaking activities unless the relevant government agencies enacted and enforced standards for protection of the environment and workers.  Ms. Hasan moved onto more specific legal means in the case of two ships, MT Alfaship and the SS Norway.  In January of 2006 Hasan requested that the government prevent both ships from entering the country due to their toxic nature.  The ministry of enviorment forced the MT Alfaship to leave Bangladeshi waters and a stay order of the Supreme Court prevented the SS Norway from ever entering Bangladeshi waters.  Most significantly, the Supreme Court requested the government form rules to govern the ship breaking of hazardous crafts.

In 2008, Hasan succesfully argued for the first compensatory fine due to the ship breaking of the MT Enterprise.  It was from the building pressure of these three decisions by the courts that the Bangladeshi government began to create rules to govern the dismantling of ships.  In 2009, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh issued a sweeping ruling imposing new regulations on the entire ship dismantling industry.  First, it closed 36 ship breaking yards operating without environmental clearance. Second, the Court restrictied import of Greenpeace listed contaminated ships.  Third, the Court directed pre-cleaning, at origin or before entering Bangladesh, of all ships to be imported for breaking.

These remarkable changes in a financially lucrative industry was only possible because of the advocacy of Syeda Rizwana Hasan.  It was through her skill as a lawyer and steadfast determination that she was able to convince the most powerful court in the land to stop some of the most reprehensible and damaging activities of this industry.  This great humanitarian and enviormental scucess is only made that more extraordinary because of the timeline, a mere three years.  Syeda Rizwana Hasan is a worthy reciepent of the Goldman Award and an example our readers interested in public interest law.