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July 13, 2011

IWC 63 Day Three

Governance reform, NGO participation, and a measure of progress for whales

Humane Society International

  • A protestor holds an inflatable orca. Rebecca Regnery/HSI

  • HSI's Becky Regnery with the head of the Colombian delegation. HSI

  • A seagull watches over the NGO reception. Rebecca Regnery/HSI

by Bernard Unti

After a day and a half of chaos that threatened to scuttle recent momentum toward enhancement of the body’s governance practices, the assembled delegates at IWC 63 found the consensus that had eluded them for several years. Late Wednesday, after some stops and starts that had stalled the meeting, progress was finally achieved on a bravely advanced proposal from the United Kingdom that laid the foundation for institutional reform. Moreover, by the time the session closed, Japan had withdrawn its proposal to engage in commercial whaling along its coasts.

UK governance proposal passes by consensus

The historic breakthrough on governance came late on IWC Day Three, after nearly two days of truncated public and hastily called private commissioners’ meetings and lots of polite parry and thrust between the whaling and anti-whaling factions. The usual suspects plumped for Japan, while several EU nations, the United States and key members of the Buenos Aires Group strongly advocated for passage of the UK proposal. The focus on was on the issue of proper payment of dues by bank transfer instead of cash.

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The agreement emerged after a small working group met at lunch and the commissioners met in private. Just a few hours earlier, boldly meeting the continuing challenges of Japan and its allies, the UK’s commissioner laid down the marker. “This is not negotiable for us,” he said. “We can’t reach consensus on this point and there is a real disparity of views.” But the proposal was necessary, he said, both for the UK as well as for other nations, “in the interests of improving the effectiveness of the operation of this commission and to bring this organization’s operations beyond reproach.” In addition to its specific requirements concerning dues payments, the proposal charges the Secretariat to identify mechanisms for funding stronger participation by developing nations, and for improving the avenues of participation for non-governmental observers.

ASW working group proposal shelved after discussion

Aboriginal subsistence whaling remained a high-level concern on Day Three, as the commissioners approved a proposal to establish a small working group on ASW issues, sponsored by Denmark, the Russian Federation and the United States.

Two lunchtime presentations focused on the basics of ASW under the ICRW and Arctic conservation work, and concerns being carried out under the auspices of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) and scientists from the North Slope Borough.

India’s intervention calling into question the viability of ASW quotas and raising the question of whether the IWC should acquiesce to them without considering a gradual reduction prickled Valentin Ilyashenko, Russia’s gravelly-voiced commissioner, right out of Cold War central casting. Ilyashenko has been especially busy this year doing damage control in the face of charges that ongoing oil and gas exploration in the Sakhalin Islands of the Russian Far East is threatening an already critically endangered population of gray whales. But his response to the Indians was a reminder that the IWC has a busy and challenging year ahead of it, with ASW quotas on the agenda for 2012 in Panama.

The session went late into the night, ending at 8 p.m. It was a day on which many of the classic IWC tactics of delay, high dudgeon, and drama played out in the forum. But at the end of the night, the body had taken a strong forward step. The kind but steady hand of the new chairman, the presence of many new commissioners, fresh and engaged, and the strong push of the Buenos Aires and EU blocs all helped to shape the outcome. Many countries praised the ability to find consensus as a clear sign of progress and cooperation which has eluded them for so long. It was a historic juncture in the history of an embattled organization.

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Bernard Unti, Ph.D, is senior policy advisor and special assistant to the CEO/president of The Humane Society of the United States.

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