Interviewer: Mohammed M. Aljamal
Rizwana Hassan, an international environmental justice activist from Bangladesh
One of the pitfalls of our current civilization that we take the environment for granted; urbanizations has long been eradicating green areas while spewing pollution to the environment and subsequently tipping the eco-balance and depriving the current and upcoming generations from enjoying a beautiful environment and what associates with it; clean air and water and a source of living.
In the that little notebook of totalitarian regimes, small-scale producers; farmers, fishermen and others, always lay down under the feet of the statue of justice and equitable living, as their farms and barns get transformed into dreadful concrete jungles, while the oligarchy attracts questionable investors and business men to add insult to injury and hasten the pace of environmental annihilation.
In the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, people and the environment are the least of the government’s priorities; a country occupied by the West’s hypocrisy through the trademarks’ sweatshops and disorganized ship dismantling industry and so on and so forth. A country subjugated by a totalitarian regime with no goal but to exploit nature and turn it into stones, just like the mythical gorgon Medusa. As in the tales of old, a hero like Perseus must come and rid the country of this malignant beast, and so he, or let us say, she comes; a coalition of Environmental Lawyers formed the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, shortly knowns as BELA, which came with a goal to put governmental officers under accountability through activating laws that were made only to accumulate dust, but here it is serving a noble cause to provide the people of Bangladesh a dignifying, clean and safe life.
This honourable coalition is now led by Sayeda Rizwana Hasan, an esteemed environmental lawyer who received numerous awards for her efforts towards protecting the environment through petitions, advocacy campaigns and lobbying efforts, including the Goldman Environmental Prize for Excellence in 2009 and Ramon Magsaysay Prize in 2012 for her courage and leadership towards bolstering environmental advocacy in Bangladesh.
In this interview, we demonstrate some of the most important milestones in Sayeda Rizwana’s career to inspire the generations to come.
Sayeda Rizwana began her career after graduating with a BA in Law and was one of the first group of freshly graduated lawyers to be recruited in BELA. At first, she didn’t find the work with BELA satisfactory, as she was aspiring for a different track. However, getting exposed to the hardships suffered by her country men and women inspired her to stick with this path. Her rationale was that even though working as a lawyer in a reputable law firm may provide money, but it won’t guarantee living in a clean and safe environment. On the contrary, a lawyer may find him or herself on the other side of the table; defending those who defile nature.
It should be noted that 80% of the people of Bangladesh live on the scarps of what was once lush green forests and rural areas; as over 60% have no other source for animal protein but in the rivers, which are heavily polluted.
In terms of matters that restricts her work as a lawyer, Sayeda Rizwana stated that the false governmental rhetoric and deceitful propaganda is one of the most potent weapons against her work as an environmental lawyer. People are still captives to the archaic notion of development, which was associated with the urbanization of rural and green areas in favour of factories and trading centres. What makes this rhetoric even worse is the fact that it works in favour of the government and its lackeys who would protect themselves through demonizing advocacy campaigns.
Luckily, the blindfold is removed and the government’s silver-tongue is no longer affecting the people the way it used to; with a country that forests only cover 9% of its total area, or 11% according to the government’s statistics, in addition to the pollution and high population density, things are not as it used to be. It should be noted that forests must cover no less than 25% in a country in order to guarantee a safe and liveable environment on the small scale and to reduce climate change on the larger scale.
In the interview, it was pointed out that the government of Bangladesh actually have set some environmental laws and even specialised environmental courts in an attempt to look progressive. Still, there is a huge gap between theory and practice, as those laws has been set for political purposes only and not for activation. A simple example is her efforts in exposing the ship dismantling industry, as this industry is responsible for a great portion of the rivers pollution, which happens with the government’s endorsement. This industry is highly pollutant and the West seems not to bother with it since they care about their environment and its safety hence they export it to countries that may not matter to them. It is a matter of equity, and the same applies when the government provides no support to farmers and leave them sell their produce for meagre prices hence forcing them to work in industries that harms the nature, such as tanning, pharmaceuticals and so on.
In the end, Sayeda Rizwana mentioned that as much as she loves her work, she doesn’t deny that it came with a hefty price, starting with attempts to tarnish her reputation as an anti-development and sending malicious phone calls to kidnapping her husband who was later released after international pressure was exerted. Still, hope is never lost and she aspires that Ecocide becomes a term of which countries and governments are held responsible for. Democracy and environmental protection go hand in hand and both aim towards protecting people’s right in safe and dignifying life.
To read the full text of the interview (in Arabic), please click on the following link: