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Inspiring new environmental champions and winning landmark cases in Bangladesh: Nazrul Islam and Rizwana Hassan

In Bangladesh, Professor Nazrul Islam is creating a new generation of environmental law champions while Goldman Environmental Prize winner Seyada Rizwana Hassan and her team of environmental defenders file and have won landmark cases.

Since 1999, Professor Nazrul Islam has promoted the study and teaching of environmental law. At the time this was an elective subject in law schools and classes were poorly attended. For over 20 years, Professor Nazrul used every opportunity to promote environmental law. He wrote newspaper articles, gave televised talks, published research, and gave training courses.

His efforts inspired other educators and together they raised the awareness of environmental law all over Bangladesh. Today, environmental law is mandatory in many law schools with classes often filled to capacity.

These classes nurture new champions like Seyada Rizwana Hassan.

Rizwana joined the Bangladesh and Environmental Lawyers Association, or BELA in the early 1990s as a fresh graduate. She rose through the ranks, she and now leads BELA and its 60 environmental defenders. Who have filed and won several landmark cases, among the most noteworthy cases was against Bangladesh's notorious ship breaking industry.

Ship breaking companies purchased decommissioned ships. using unskilled workers, including children, to break up and scavenge the ships by hand. This causes severe contamination of shores and waters and lead to deaths, injuries and diseases for the impoverished laborers. Rizwana and her team filed petitions and cases to stop ship breaking, bringing it to the Supreme Court.

What began with temporary injunctions became the first case in Bangladesh that fined polluters. In 2009, Rizwana and her BELA team won a judgment that temporarily closed 37 ship breaking yards. Their cases led to new, more stringent regulations for the entire industry. BELA's legal victories grew with each success, these include an amendment that enshrines environmental protection in Bangladesh's constitution.

Prof Nazrul and Rizwana are two of the many environmental law champions across Asia who are fighting and winning battles for people and the environment. These champions are making positive change that echo for generations.