Bahrain accused of Cop26 ‘greenwashing’ as it continues Saudi-led war in Yemen

Six British politicians have written to Bahrain’s crown prince claiming it has helped cause ‘irreperable damage’ to Yemen’s environment

Bel Trew
Middle East Correspondent
Wednesday 03 November 2021 16:45 GMT
Bahrain’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa speaks at Cop26
Bahrain’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa speaks at Cop26 (REUTERS)
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A group of UK politicians have accused Bahrain of “textbook greenwashing” as the Gulf state promoted its green credentials at COP26 while continuing to participate in the Saudi-led war in Yemen they say is causing “irreparable damage” to the environment.

Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa attended the UN’s annual climate conference this week in Glasgow, where he met British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on the sidelines.

In the meeting, he highlighted Bahrain’s commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2060, to tackle climate change and to protect the environment.

But six peers and members of parliament,  including former Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett, said in a joint letter sent to the crown prince and seen by The Independent that this commitment was undermined by Bahrain’s continued participation in the Saudi-led “reckless bombing campaign” in Yemen. They said the war had destroyed ecosystems and contaminated the soil and water, leading to unprecedented impoverishment and disease.

“The war in Yemen has devastated Yemeni society and its unique and fragile landscape and heritage. Boasting about your green credentials while backing a coalition that bombs agriculture and water resources is textbook greenwashing,” Baroness Bennett, a signatory, told The Independent.

“Until concrete steps are taken to bring the conflict to an end Bahrain’s claims of work towards a green vision should not be taken seriously.”

The politicians also urged Bahrain to release all political prisoners, including opposition figures, death row inmates and journalists, saying holding these people contradicted Bahrain’s aim of promoting sustainable development that “supports future generations”.

According to the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)  there are approximately  1,400 political prisoners behind bars in Bahrain. The letter zeroed in on academic and human rights activist Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace who has lost over 20kg, after more than 118 days on  hunger strike against his ill-treatment in prison and the confiscation of his research.

Bahrain has vehemently denied accusations that it is holding political prisoners who are treated poorly, and has repeatedly rejected claims that crimes are being committed during the war in Yemen. The Independent reached out to the Bahraini authorities for comment but has yet to receive a reply.

Lord Scriven, a Liberal Democrat peer who also signed the letter, added that in the COP26 meeting with the Bahraini crown prince the British foreign secretary should have demanded the release of Dr Al-Singace.

“However, true to form she is more bothered about posing for photos with Bahrain’s Crown Prince at Cop26. This unhealthy relationship is only empowering Bahrain’s leaders as they trample on human rights and abuse prisoners,” he added.

In the past, Bahrain has spoken about ongoing reform of its criminal justice system that includes an ombudsman to independently investigate allegations of mistreatment. Part of this was funded by the UK that has given £6.5 million in technical assistance to the kingdom to improve its human rights record over the years.

Sighters loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed government man a position near al-Jawba frontline facing Iran-backed Huthi rebels, in the country's northeastern province of Marib (AFP via Getty Images)

In Tuesday’s letter, the six politicians said they were concerned by the “systemic medical negligence” in Bahrain’s “notoriously unsanitary and overcrowded” jails. They urged Manama to immediately secure the unconditional release of Dr Al-Singace whose blood sugar levels dropped to dangerously low levels since going on hunger strike at the start of July.

Dr Al-Singace, 59,  a prominent human rights defender, was sentenced to life in jail in 2011 on charges of plotting to topple the government. He alleges he was subjected to prolonged solitary confinement and physical and sexual assault including being forced to stand despite being wheelchair-bound because of suffering from post-polio syndrome.

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director  of BIRD told The Independent that the policies of the Crown Prince’s government “have seen thousands thrown in prison and torn families apart, including my own”.

He added: “By cosying up with Bahrain’s Crown Prince at Cop26, UK ministers are helping rehabilitate Bahrain’s tarnished reputation while continuing to supply the weapons they are using to destroy Yemen and training they using to oppress citizens at home”

The letter also urged Bahrain to end its engagement in the Saudi-led military coalition waging a war in Yemen, saying that the country’s ecosystems were being destroyed, while toxic dust was causing soil and water contamination.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies including Bahrain launched a bombing campaign in Yemen in 2015 after the Iran-backed Houthi rebel group seized control of the country ousting recognised president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Six years on there is little hope to an end to the fighting with battles still raging in the central province of Marib.

More than 20,000 civilians have been killed or wounded in the fighting, according to monitoring groups. Water, agricultural and fishing infrastructure have been targeted by both sides. It has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in terms of numbers. The United Nations warned last month that 16 million people in Yemen were facing starvation.

The subject of the Yemen war is a contentious one in the Gulf. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait recently expelled Lebanon’s envoys to their countries and banned all Lebanese imports after Lebanon’s information minister criticised the Yemen conflict.

In an interview George Kordahi said was recorded on 5 August, before the formation of a new Lebanese government, he called the Yemeni war futile and said Yemen was subjected to an aggression and that its Iran-aligned Houthis were defending themselves.

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