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July 12, 2011

IWC 63 Day Two

Whale wars on Jersey’s shores

Humane Society International

  • Welcome to the meeting. Rebecca Regnery/HSI

  • HSI's Kitty Block and Bernie Unti. Rebecca Regnery/HSI

  • The Japanese presentation. Rebecca Regnery/HSI

by Bernard Unti

The curtain fell on IWC 63 Day Two with objections that forced the commissioners into private session and hearkened back to more troubled days of deadlock and dispute. Poland, which holds the EU presidency, was stymied in its effort to introduce a much-anticipated proposal on transparency and governance on behalf of the European Union bloc.

At day’s end, IWC Chair Herman Oosthuizer indicated that the proposal would be discussed early in the Day Three session on Wednesday, and would be introduced by the United Kingdom,. Tuesday’s Day Two session also included Japan’s latest complaint and PowerPoint presentation on the harassment of its vessels by protesters at sea, a series of comments on participation and speaking privileges for non-governmental organizations, and another spirited exchange concerning cash payments as a means of settling dues and arrears.

Transparency and governance

After some preliminary objections from Denmark early in the week, the UK proposal in support of transparency and governance received the commitment of the whole European Union bloc. Poland attempted to submit the document on Tuesday afternoon, but objections by Russian commissioner Valentin Ilyashenko and perennial gadfly and Japan ally Davin Joseph of St. Kitt’s and Nevis threw procedural wrenches into the machinery.

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The commission ended its day without the proposal being introduced, as commissioners went into private session to argue the technicalities of submission and address the objections. During the last several years, the European member nations of the IWC have customarily honored the principle of consensus and unanimous consent in relation to all IWC proposals, and Denmark would not support the provisions for speaking rights for non-governmental organizations. In the interests of advancing the proposal, this provision was sacrificed, leaving the issue of observer participation to be taken up through other means.

But the objections of Ilyashenko and Joseph threw a curve ball that most observers were not expecting.

Observer participation

As IWC 63 opened, the highly charged issue of observer participation quickly became a topic of intense conversation both within and outside of the meeting hall. IWC has not permitted the kind of non-governmental observer participation that has become common in similar bodies, and several years of qualified experiments in permitting NGO speakers to address the assembly left some nations ambivalent about normalizing such arrangements.

The proposition received strong affirmation from a number of like-minded nations, and as the day’s proceedings closed, it appeared that Chairman Herman Oosthuizen had successfully brokered an agreement to permit NGO comments on sanctuaries, whale watching, and environmental and health issues during the course of the proceedings. But two days into the conference, no NGO representatives had yet had a chance to speak.

Safety at sea

After not pushing the subject for several years, Japan came out swinging, in private and in public, in its demand for action to halt harassment of its whaling vessels by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. While many like-minded nations showed sympathy with Japan’s basic claim that protests at sea should be non-violent in their nature, they also restated their longstanding view that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) would be the proper forum of protest and action.

Several parties referred to a May 2011 resolution concerning safety at sea within the IMO as evidence of IMO’s jurisdiction in the matter.

An even better response, polite, matter-of-fact, and succinct, came from a New Zealand commissioner who observed in his brief intervention that Japan’s whaling program in the Antarctic is a controversial activity which has attracted great criticism and comment since it began, and that it is likely to invite scrutiny and protest so long as it continues.

Governance and participation

The best part of the day, from the perspective of progress within the IWC, was the report of Donna Petrochenko (Australia) of the Finance and Administration Subcommittee. Petrochenko’s report laid out some of the options for ensuring developing country participation through voluntary contributions, a central budget allocation, and other mechanisms.

But Petrochenko’s presentation did not assuage the discontent of a number of nations in the Japan bloc, whose delegates strongly objected to proposals that would require bank check and verification of payment, with established deadlines, for membership dues to the IWC. Together, they seemed poised to make IWC 63 look more like the past few year’s meetings and less like the meeting that so many hoped it would be.

The evening ended with a reception hosted by the Australian government to present the non-lethal research program they are conducting in the Antarctic.

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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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