Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) has received the 2020 Tang Prize in 'Rule of Law' for its "efforts in furthering the rule of law and its institutions through education and advocacy".
Two other NGOs -- Dejusticia: The Center for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia) from Colombia, and The Legal Agenda from Lebanon -- were also named joint winners of the award, according to a press release.
Reacting to the award, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of BELA, said, "This recognition surely proves that despite odds, our country is making good progress in ensuring rule of law. It has increased our responsibility to be more persistent and rigorous in pressing for good governance, accountability and transparency for defending people's right to sound environment."
"Utilising innovative strategic litigation, informed by rigorous scholarship, these organisations have shown exemplary perseverance in promoting greater individual, social and environmental justice, in milieus where the foundations of the rule of law are under severe challenge," the press release said.
For the first time since its establishment in 2012, the Tang Prize was awarded to organisations.
They share four key features --first of all, they are under the conditions where the foundations of the rule of law are under great challenges; secondly, they are committed to promoting, to improving and to furthering the rule of law and its institutions; thirdly, they utilise strategic litigations that are based on solid academic research, pushing for governmental actions to serve the law's purpose to protect; finally, they are all dedicated to advancing the general public's understanding of the rule of law through education and advocacy, pushing forward the idea that everyone can contribute to the realisation of the rule of law.
Established in 1992, BELA works under adverse conditions where poor environmental quality and corruption continue to ravage the country. While the general public reflects a distrust of legal authorities, BELA promotes the rule of law and environmental justice through public interest litigations, legislative advocacy, research and publication, as well as capacity-building for actors both in the public sector and civil society.
Their innovative approaches to the Bangladesh constitution has enabled them to interlink environmental pollutionswith the threats to people's well-being. By successfully persuaded the domestic courts to recognise its legal standingson behalf of the people afflicted by environmental degradation, BELA established the path for public interest litigations in Bangladesh. Its initiative has a far-reaching effect of setting a goal for other social activists in Bangladesh to strive for.
Ever since the first public interest litigation in 1994, BELA has conducted more than 250 public interest lawsuits and advocated for legislative reform for environmental justice. Issues drawn within its ambit ranged as widely as river pollution, industrial pollution, vehicular pollution, illegal construction, labour welfare, illegal mining, reduction of plastic use, wetland protection and prevention of pollution from ship breaking.
In 2017, BELA filed a petition with evidence and argued that pollution and encroachment of the canals are the main causes of the growing water-logging problem in the capital Dhaka. As a consequence, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh ordered the governmentto submit a plan for therecovery and restoration of Dhaka's 50 canals. Furthermore, the court issued a rule stipulating that the respondent authorities should explain their inaction to protect the canals. It has since become a classic case in Bangladesh's legal history.
Established by Taiwanese entrepreneur Dr Samuel Yin, the biannual Tang Prize consists of four categories, namely Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology and Rule of Law, with NT$ 40 million (approximately US$1.3 million) in cash prize and a research grant of NT$ 10 million (US $0.33 million) allocated to each category.
It aims to promote the interaction and cooperation between culture and technology so as to find a 21st century path to the sustainable development of the world. For more information, please visit the prize's official website at https://www.tang-prize.org/en/first.php