TANG PRIZE/Tang Prize-winning NGOs seek justice using public interest litigation(Focus Taiwan)

  • The Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) opened the Tang Prize Laureate Lecture series with a discussion on the impact of public interest litigation.
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Taipei, Nov. 22 (CNA) Representatives of three NGOs from Bangladesh, Colombia, and Lebanon that received the 2020 Tang Prize for rule of law shared their experiences of speaking up for the marginalized and pursuing environmental, social and judicial justice through public interest litigation online Saturday.

The Tang Prize Laureate Lecture series for the rule of law opened with Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) discussing the "Impact of PIL (Public Interest Litigation)."

It was followed by the Legal Agenda from Lebanon with a lecture on "Public Interest Litigation in Undemocratic Arab Contexts: Lessons from The Legal Agenda Experiences."

Colombian-based Dejusticia: The Center for Law, Justice, and Society provided the finale with their presentation on "Strategic Litigation, Democracy and Social Justice: A Perspective from Dejusticia and the Global South."

Syeda Rizwana Hasan of BELA pointed out that the vast majority of people in Bangladesh depend on unpolluted fisheries, agriculture, and forest environments to survive but these are also the dominant sectors in the country's industry.

By conducting public interest litigation, BELA has successfully extended the interpretation of the "constitutionally recognized right to life" to include the "right to environment," Hasan pointed out.

As a result, the government has been instructed by the courts to protect wetlands, restore canals and stop allocating forestland for development purposes to safeguard people's rights and interests and strike a balance between economic development and environmental justice, Hasan said.

"We have challenged unregulated urbanization. This has created tension between us and the mighty realtors," Hasan said. "We have got landmark judgments that have directed realtors to move sand dumped on wetland and fertile agriculture land."

Samer Ghamroun, co-founder of the Legal Agenda, further advocated for the rule of law and explained that on occasion its spirit has been twisted to fit the narrative of a rule of law system.

Hence, public interest litigation became an effective means to initiate public debate and social change as well as promote political engagement, Ghamroun said.

The Legal Agenda hopes to generate fresh political and cultural momentum in society to build a sound political system and to open up space for public discussion to create conditions for possible reforms, Ghamroun said.

"The litigation that can be created through these conditions that I talked about is a strong politicizing, and vitalizing drive in societies like Lebanon," Ghamroun said.

Vivian Newman Pont from Dejusticia said strategies have to be laid out clearly to bring about effects that can facilitate social transformation and the defense of human rights.

She reviewed cases Dejusticia filed in the past as examples, including one about a referendum proposed by supporters of then popular Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in an attempt to remove presidential term limits.

Dejusticia collaborated with several civil society organizations to launch strategic litigation and succeeded in preserving democracy and preventing Colombia from becoming a dictatorship, she said.

Another speaker from Dejusticia, Rodrigo Uprimny Yepes, said civil society organizations that intend to utilize public interest litigation should continue to defend judicial independence by making sure judges honor their commitments to human rights.

The NGOs were rewarded "for their efforts at furthering the rule of law and its institutions through education and advocacy," according to the Tang Prize Foundation.

The organizations have shown exemplary perseverance in promoting greater individual, social and environmental justice in areas where the foundations of the rule of law are under severe challenge, the foundation said.

The Tang Prize is a biennial award established in 2012 by Samuel Yin (尹衍樑), chairman of the Ruentex Group and founder of the Tang Foundation, to honor people who have made prominent contributions in four categories -- sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, Sinology, and the rule of law.

(By William Yen)