Rizwana Hasan – Environmental and Human Rights Advocate

Bangladeshi attorney and environmentalist Syeda Rizwana Hasan was one of the six Ramon Magsaysay Award winners for 2012 for her ongoing work in advocating for the rights of her fellow citizens, particularly relating to the hazardous occupation of ship-breaking. Rizwana Hasan received her award at a ceremony at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City on August 31, with a commendation for her “uncompromising courage and impassioned leadership in a campaign of judicial activism in Bangladesh that affirms the people’s right to a good environment as nothing less than their right to dignity and life.”

Rizwana Hasan was born in Dhaka on January 15, 1968, and obtained her bachelor and master’s degree in law from Dhaka University. Her education also included an Eisenhower Fellowship in the United States in 2009. She joined the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) in July 1993, and became the organization’s CEO in 1997. In 2003 she brought a suit against the ship breaking yards in Chittagong for a number of violations, including hazardous working conditions and improper waste disposal, resulting in stricter controls for an industry infamous for its environmental pollution and health risks for workers. Hasan has also successfully sued and deterred organizations for deforestation, filling of lakes to build on, shrimp farming and building unsanctioned establishments on St Martin’s Island in the Bay of Bengal.

Other awards received by Rizwana Hasan include the 2007 Environment Award from the Government of Bangladesh; the 2008 Celebrating Womenhood Award from the Creative Statements and South Asia Partnership based in Nepal and the 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize. Under her leadership, BELA received the 2003 Global 500 Roll of Honor Award from the United Nations Environment Program.

Established in April 1957, the Ramon Magsaysay Award honors the former Philippine President’s fine example of integrity in government and his outstanding service to the people he served. Considered to be the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize, the award is made to individuals who have excelled in the following six categories: Government Service; Public Service; Community Leadership; Journalism, Literature and the Creative Communication Arts; Peace and International Understanding; and Emergent Leadership. In addition to Rizwana Hasan, the other five award winners for 2012 are Ambrosius Ruwindrijarto of Indonesia, Chen Shu-Jiu of Taiwan, Yang Saing Koma of Cambodia, Kulandei Francis of India, and Romulo Davide of the Philippines.