Archive for July 2011

Everything That Ever Happened, We Knew About in Panama

July 16, 2011

So everything that ever happened, we knew about in Panama.Ruben Blades

The 2012 meeting of the International Whaling Commission will be held in Panama City, Panama, from June 15th through July 5th.  Given what will be on the Commission’s agenda, it seems appropriate for the meeting to be in session on July 4th.

The American Cetacean Society will be there to provide you with all of the highlights, low points, and insight to help you understand the ‘inner workings’ of this complex and at times frustrating, international organization.  ACS believes that you have a right to information that helps you better understand the issues surrounding the safety, welfare, and threats to cetaceans and their habitats.

With knowledge, comes understanding – with understanding, comes care – with care, comes action – with action, comes change!

Be.  The.  Change.

See you in Panama in 366 days… expect plenty of fireworks.

Cheryl

Cheryl McCormick, Ph.D.

Executive Director

American Cetacean Society

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Science? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Science!

July 16, 2011

I cringe when I hear people claim to know all about the IWC and its antics, because after all, they’ve seen The Cove.  Though the film rightfully targets the lowest hanging fruit to illustrate the organization’s absurdity, the IWC is incredibly complex and nuanced, and yes… there is something good – actually exemplary – that comes out of the International Whaling Commission.

Without question, the General Commission is dysfunctional and gridlocked; but the reputation and work of the IWC Scientific Committee remains beyond reproach.  Comprised of the world’s most highly-regarded marine biologists and scientists, the IWC-SC provides sound research and appropriate context to the politicians, policy makers, conservationists, and NGOs like ACS, who seek their objective counsel.

For this reason, it was especially disappointing that, as a result of the Commission spending the final day of the meeting killing the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary proposal, Chair Oosthuizen was forced to ‘bundle’ several reports from the IWC-SC – including environmental and health issues; conservation management plans; whale watching, and Conservation Committee – without a nanosecond of review or comment by the Commission in the interest of time. No doubt, this was a calculated casualty on the part of pro-whaling nations to stave off discussion of whale conservation initiatives, needs assessments, and “non-consumptive use of whale resources.”  These issues barely move the needle on the “Sustainable Use Group” care-o’-meter.  Japan and its minions scored a victory for their efforts, and whales took one for the team…

…again.

But even this didn’t top the list of “Things that make you go, ‘Hmmm…’” at IWC.

No, by far the least awesome moment was when the Chair congratulated the Commission for its stellar effort to bridge differences, negotiate in a spirit of goodwill, and ensuring a productive meeting.  The Commission then joined in a round of self-congratulatory applause and the meeting was adjourned.

Umm…. What?  Clearly, my standards (and probably those of most people) for cooperation, professional courtesy, and productivity differ significantly from that the IWC Commission.  Try running a business a la IWC – you’d fold in a week – and make a lot of enemies in that short time, too.

For all the hand-wringing and eye-rolling during the course of the day, one very good thing happened for cetaceans in the moments before the close of the 2011 meeting.  Commissioners Jean-Phillipe Gavois (France) and Plinio Conte (Italy) announced that they would be contributing to €15,000 and £25,000, respectively, to the Voluntary Fund for Small Cetacean Conservation Research, which will enable full funding of the proposals selected this year and future research proposals to be brought forward.  The Fund was £45,000 short of ‘full funding’.  The American Cetacean Society was also officially recognized for its contribution to the Fund.  I only lament that more IWC contracting governments didn’t offer to contribute to this critical resource.

The Velvet Glove Gives Whales The Velvet ‘Finger’

July 16, 2011

On the final day of the meeting of the IWC, Latin American nations Brazil and Argentina’s joint proposal to establish the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary was presented and debated on the plenary floor, invoking comments from commissioners representing 28 countries (comments can be reviewed in a previous post), setting the stage for a showdown and confirming – yet again – that the IWC is an utterly polarized and irreparably dysfunctional organization that cannot seem to get out of its own way.

By the end of the comment session, it was obvious that adopting the proposal by consensus didn’t stand an ice cube’s chance in Hell.  Nevertheless, Chair Oosthuizen implored commissioners once again to set aside their differences and try to reach consensus.  Palau’s commissioner only yesterday boasted that “the Pacific way” of problem-solving was based on a solid foundation of consensus building. So it was more than a little frustrating when the distinguished commissioner from Palau responded to the Chair’s request by stating that, (if there is a vote) “still we will vote ‘no’, but will not stand in the way of consensus”, sending a message to a nameless maestro that he awaited direction and was ‘on standby’.

On cue, the opposition made their stand.  Commissioner Valentin Ilyashenko (Russian Federation), never one to dance around an issue, stated, “We said that this proposal was destroying the process of the “Future of IWC”.  We do not want to break the consensus, but we would not like to vote.”  Tomas Heidar (Iceland) followed suite with all the subtlety of a bulldozer, making it abundantly clear where he stood on the issue – “We spoke clearly about our opinion.  We will block efforts of consensus.  We would prefer not to vote.”

Such a charmer.

Commissioner Devan Joseph (St Kitts and Nevis) must have exhausted himself from the previous day’s histrionics.  His astute observation on this important proposal was simply, “Our views are the same as Iceland’s” – the IWC equivalent of “What he said.” Cameroonian  Commissioner Baba Malloum Ousman gave the North African countries their cue by adding, “We believe that this item should remain open and support Iceland’s statement.”

By now, the tension in the room brought on by this display of international brinksmanship was palatable.  The strategy was calculated and clear; the stage was set and lines were drawn from the bottom of the pro-whaling ranks to the top.  Up to this point, Japan made no opposing statements – it wasn’t necessary; other pro-whaling nations were doing the heavy-lifting, and that would have been to0 coarse and boorish; Japan’s delegation is much too savvy and calculating to show its  hand so early in the game.

But now the time had come…

In a calm, professional, and almost apologetic tone, Japan’s Alternate Commissioner Joji Morishita made the statement that killed the rest of the day, and sunk a deal for whales in the South Atlantic.

“I ask for the floor not as a delegate of Japan, but I believe I am speaking on behalf of countries advocating the sustainable use of whales and explain our position, so that there will be no surprise and no complication.  I would like to ask your indulgence if I take more than two minutes.  We do understand the importance of the proposal in front of us and the significance of the proposal to the proponents because we have had the same situation in our small-type whaling program for a long time.  Yesterday, we achieved a wonderful, positive outcome, and today we passed a resolution by Japan on “Safety at Sea”.  We think it’s important in this organization to keep this trust-building exercise.  One thing different from their position is that we believe that voting will damage the very good atmosphere we have established, and might trigger a landslide of many votes for next year which might disrupt the progress we have made.  But there are some votes that have significant histories and background.  We see that if a vote takes place, there will be unfortunate, negative effects.  We would like to avoid voting as much as possible.  And, we don’t like to take any hostile action, but the Sustainable Use Group is thinking about breaking the quorum if it’s called for a vote.  It’s better not to vote.  I understand that the quorum is a simple majority of the Commission.  If my calculation is correct, when the Sustainable Use Group counties leave this room, the quorum will be broken. This is not a hostile act, just a way to avoid voting.”

And with this, the always cool-under-duress Morishita slapped Brazil, Argentina, and other members of the ‘Buenos Aires Group’ (*) with his velvet glove, and gave whales the ‘velvet finger’.

In response to Morishita’s challenge, Brazilian Commissioner Marcus Henrique Paranaguá stated that, “Brazil, and the entire Buenos Aires Group, feels strongly about this issue.  I see no other way than to request a vote.  If requesting a vote in an international forum is perceived as ‘destroying the IWC’, then there is something seriously wrong with this process.”

Finally, somebody had the cheek to speak truth to power.

Chair Oosthuizen ruled that consensus could not be reached and directed Secretary Simon Brockington to prepare for the Commission’s first vote since 2008.  And with that, the delegations of twenty-two countries voted with their feet and left the Commission floor, breaking the simple majority quorum required for a vote.

Which countries collected their toys and stomped off the playground? 

Cambodia, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, the Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guinea-Bissau, Iceland, Japan, Kiribati, Korea, Mauritania, Mongolia, Morocco, Nauru, Norway, Palau, the Russian Federation, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, Togo, and Tuvalu.

And so began nine hours of waiting, while commissioners hunkered down behind closed doors in a Special Commissioners Meeting in an attempt to reach an acceptable compromise.  It didn’t happen.

When the Commission reconvened at 8:15 p.m. local time, the only definitive point that could be agreed upon was that the delegates “recognized the diversity of views within the Commission on the issue” – an understatement, to say the least.  The Commission did, however, agree to continue discussing the proposal and will likely be the first agenda item at next year’s meeting.

I imagine this last item will result in more than a few sleepless nights for U.S. Commissioner Monica Medina, judging by a comment she made to a BBC reporter that the potential vote “put a hand-grenade” under next year’s meeting.” (http://bc.in/oPXFdq).  The bowhead whale quota for Alaskan Native American subsistence hunts, so vigorously defended by the U.S., is scheduled for renewal during the 2012 meeting, and in the past it has been low-hanging fruit for Japan and the “Sustainable Use Group”, who use the occasion to gain concessions by threatening to hold the bowhead quota hostage by breaking consensus for passage.  Now, there will be a second contentious, high-stakes issue on the table during next year’s meeting.  The Latin American countries may very well press the issue – “No Sanctuary, No Quota!”

Everybody stands to gain something…. but at what price?

All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.”  – Mohandas Gandhi

I am often asked by environmentally-conscious travelers about the most “cetacean-friendly” countries whose progressive marine conservation initiatives should be rewarded with tourists’ hard-earned holiday money.  You can bet I’ll be printing small cards with the names of the twenty-two census-blocking nations as a means of raising awareness among travelers about where NOT to spend their tourist dollars.  I hope you will join me in raising awareness about this important issue in international whale conservation.

*The Buenos Aires Group is a a coalition of 14 Latin American countries with “pro-whale” sentiments, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Them’s Fightin’ Words!

July 15, 2011

If your impression of the International Whaling Commission is that of a hopelessly contentious, immature, Machiavellian theater of drama, then the final day of the General Commission of the 2011 International Whaling Commission did not disappoint.

The day began “promptly at 9:00 a.m.” – 9:40 a.m. IWC time – with a proposal by the Governments of Brazil and Argentina to establish the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary, in accordance with Article (V)(1)(c) of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (“Convention”: http://bit.ly/o9zK9G).

Before I describe the details of the day and the impending scrum that resulted, I think it’s useful to provide details regarding the statements made by the 28 IWC member nations that provided comments on Brazil’s proposal – for context – and also to shed light on where your country stood on this very important stride in the direction of international whale conservation.  Whales don’t generally care much for the political boundaries we’ve delineated to distinguish international and jurisdictional waters, or non-whaling from whaling nations.  So it’s very likely that the whales you enjoy frolicking and breaching during holiday whale watching trips may be the same whales hunted and harpooned by whaling nations months later.  This is why we should all care about sanctuaries for whales – the “out of sight, out of mind” principle does not apply to international whale protection.

So, read on… it may help to have Advil or a cocktail handy.  The next post will describe what happened after the proposal comment period.

BRAZIL: “Brazil introduces the South Atlantic Sanctuary proposal, and hopes for consensus on the issue.  However, if consensus cannot be achieved, Brazil would like to suggest a vote on this proposal, which will very clearly express the position of contracting governments on the issue.”

ARGENTINA:  “Argentina fully endorses the non-consumptive use of whale resources, such as whale-watching.  We, like Brazil, have a long-standing tradition in non-lethal research.  The identification of Southern Right Whales project is now 40 years old, and contributes research to support the establishment of the Southern Atlantic Whale Sanctuaries.  The proposal encourages the development of responsible whale watching activities all along the perimeter of this region.  We have been patient over the years to find a consensus-based solution; we hope to have consensus now.  For the past five years, the Buenos Aires Group has brought forth this proposal.”

COSTA RICA: “We really support the resolution by our colleagues from Argentina and Brazil.  By approving this proposal, this gives a chance for whales.”

COLUMBIA:  “The government of Columbia supports the establishment of the Southern Atlantic Sanctuary.  This area has been most affected by commercial whaling.  It will be a tool for economic, cultural, and social development in very poor areas, particularly with whale watching and ecotourism to fight poverty in the area, and aiming at long-term sustainability.  The Buenos Aires Group hopes that the Commission can achieve consensus on this area.”

UNITED STATES:  “Our support for the whale sanctuary is unqualified.  The IWC should work toward establishing sanctuaries as necessary.”

AUSTRALIA:  “Our position on sanctuaries is well-known to ensure the recovery of whale populations; it’s a complementary measure to the moratorium, and Australia thanks the governments of other Buenos Aires Group countries for their support and patience over the years.  We’d like to see consensus on this issue.  We have established sanctuaries around our own Economic Zone to protect breeding grounds for our cetaceans, and recognize economic benefits, but the most important issue is conservation – sanctuaries have an important role, not only to the countries surrounding these areas, but to the whales.”

POLAND:  “Poland and other EU counties thank Brazil and Argentina for submitting this proposal.  We strongly support the conservation of whales and hope for consensus.”

MEXICO: “We do not understand why approval of this proposal wouldn’t be attained by consensus, just like the previous ‘Safety at Sea’ resolution.”

ECUADOR:  “The Government of Ecuador fully supports the proposal; it is very important for our country because it’s aligned with non-lethal use of whales and we recognize the importance of conservation and also the importance of economic development for countries in this area.”

PALAU:  “In May and September of 2002, a joint proposal to establish a whale sanctuary in the South Pacific was proposed by Australia and New Zealand.  Palau was not confident that whale populations in that area of the South Pacific was threatened, and therefore the sanctuary was not warranted on the basis of science.  We will also exercise our right to vote against the measure if it comes up for a vote.”

So much for the Pacific Way

AUSTRALIA: “Sanctuaries give protection for the breeding and feeding grounds of whales.  Australia’s views are in line with the comments submitted by Poland, on behalf of all EU states.”

HUNGARY: “Sanctuaries are one area of protection in the long-term conservation of whales.  HUNGRARY strongly supports the measure and hopes for consensus.”

CHILE:  “The Government of Chile thanks Brazil and Argentina for their presentation and defense.  This proposal gives us hope that this draft resolution will be adopted by consensus and we give our full support for the proposal.”

INDIA:  “Being the champion of all wildlife, and all cetaceans, we fully support the resolution and hope that the Commission can approve the measure by consensus and not by a vote and asks that Palau reconsider its position.”

RUSSIAN FEDERATION: “The position of the Russian Federation is very well-known on this issue.  It supports the creation of a sanctuary in areas needed on a case-by-case basis.  The proposal submitted by Argentina and Brazil was originally bundled as a part of the process of the “Future of IWC”, which was recommended to us to adopt as a package.  We do not agree on the establishment of global sanctuaries where the moratorium is enforced.  The Russian Government asks Brazil and Argentina to withdraw their proposal, lest they jeopardize progress on “The Future of IWC.”

PANAMA:  “Panama supports the proposal of a sanctuary in the South Atlantic, and associates its opinions with other countries in Latin America.  We consider that approval by consensus would be a step forward for the IWC, and do not agree with the Russian position.  We also believe that his resolution would be a significant advance for the IWC.”

URAGUAY:  We express our full support for the proposal as expressed by Brazil and Argentina.  We would like this proposal to be accepted by consensus, but if we have to go to a vote, I want to clarify that since my country will not be able to exercise voting rights due to lack of coincidence with other countries’ budgetary cycle, we will not be able to give our vote on the issue.  However, we fully support the proposal.”

GERMANY: “ We support the sanctuary proposal and hope that we can reach consensus on this item.”

ICELAND: I wish to recall that the proponents of this proposal were not anxious to advance this resolution under the “Future of IWC”.  We note that there is no scientific justification for the formation of a sanctuary in this area, and cannot support the proposal.”

NEW ZEALAND:  “The Government of New Zealand thanks the members of the Buenos Aires Group for their patience in putting this issue back on the table.  We call on all Commission members to work toward consensus on this issue.”

DENMARK: “On previous occasions we have exercised support for the formation of marine sanctuaries in certain areas.  I would like to note that the Danish Parliment has decided that Denmark should approve this measure.  Note, however, that  in the future, we will require more information from the Scientific Committee for the establishment of a sanctuary.”

ISRAEL:  “We fully support the proposal and hope that we can adopt the measure by consensus.”

MONACO:  “Monaco has expressed its full support whale sanctuaries for at least 12 years.  Scientific  research fully supports the reality of recovery of whale stocks in sanctuaries.  Monaco therefore unreservedly supports this proposal.  With regard to consensus, the question for us is, “how to deal with getting a majority in this way?”  I hope that wisdom, will overcome the reservations of those countries who have expressed their objection to the proposal by Brazil and Argentina.”

SWITZERLAND:  “I know about the importance of the whale watching industries to the people in that area and the importance of sanctuaries for the protection of whales.  However, it may take some time for the Commission to reach consensus.  Now I fear we have not enough time to fully discuss this issue thoroughly.  Therefore, I propose that we leave it open for another time.  WE don’t feel it’s possible to fully discuss the issue and achieve the consensus that we seek.”

SAINT KITTS AND NEVIS:  “We cannot accept the proposal ‘as is’, and reject the emotional response to a marine resource, given the importance of marine resources to island nations.  Sanctuaries should only be used in extreme circumstances.  This proposal is contentious in nature because it is not supported by science.   I support the views of Switzerland – we need to engage in a lot more discussion and debate before seriously considering this issue.”

PORTUGAL:  “We fully support the proposal and hope to pass it by consensus; we hope there is no need for a vote.”

SPAIN:  “Much time has passed since the original proposal was made in 2007.  At that time we didn’t have the information needed to pass the measure.  Now, we think it’s time for this proposal to be approved.  We hope for consensus and not for a vote.”

CAMAROON:  “We think, like the Russian Federation, that this topic has been part of the package started in Santiago, and we wish to keep this item open at this time.”

IWC Takes Baby $teps Towards Reform, Hopes it Doesn’t Trip

July 14, 2011

Today’s plenary centered around the seemingly innocuous and boring heading of “Financial and Administrative matters”.  Under consideration was UK’s resolution, “On Improving the Effectiveness of Operations within the International Whaling Commission”.  You may be thinking, “That ought to be a snap; who wouldn’t want to improve the organization’s effectiveness?”

But you would be wrong.

Issues of money – collecting it, paying it, transferring it, owing it, and using it to buy votes (oops… I said it again) –  all are very sensitive issues for the Commission.  UK Commissioner Richard Pullen stated that the UK-proposed reforms related to conducting business at IWC were very modest – the bare minimum, actually – and ones we would expect to see practiced among other international organizations.  He went on to state that the fact that proposals to reform the IWC generated such great attention among the delegation “says a lot about this organization.”

The first item up for discussion and debate was a revisit of the proposal requiring payments of IWC fees and dues arrears to be made exclusively by bank transfer – not cash, not check, not credit card – not even a banker’s draft.  (What’s the difference?  With a bank transfer, each party must be identified by the bank. It is difficult to send or get money anonymously, so it’s harder to pull off a scam with a bank wire transfer. In addition, payments are more certain – banks only send money if the sender has available funds, and it is difficult for the sender to pull the money back.  In contrast, a banker’s draft is a type of check where the payment is guaranteed to be available by issuing bank (essentially, a certified check).

How offensive!  What utter cheek! 

As if on cue, Commissioner Daven Joseph (St. Kitts and Nevis) implied that the proposal was ‘discriminatory’.  Argentina, Germany, Sweden, Columbia, Brazil, New Zealand, Poland, Monaco, and Chile immediately lent their support for the proposal, reminding the Commission that the credibility of the organization was at stake.

Commissioner Tomas Heidar (Iceland) was next in line with an objection, not only insisting that there be ‘exceptions’ to the requirement of bank transfers for payment of IWC fees, but that paying arrears might also be difficult for some IWC member nations.  Huh?  The total amount of back dues owed by defaulted nations is in excess of $400,000.  Is Iceland suggesting that defaulted nations should continue the privilege of attending IWC and expect their voting rights to remain intact?

In keeping with predictable principles of ‘mob mentality’, St. Kitts and Nevis rushed in with the following statement with all the subtlety of a jackhammer: “If we’re moving towards consensus, we will have to refrain from the pointed accusations that the UK is making!  He is making a pointed accusation that with regards to developing countries, their votes are being bought.  Refrain from these insinuations!  St. Kitts will not be able to support this resolution.”

As if on cue, Joji Morishita (Japan) then coolly deflected the Commission’s attention away from his ill-behaved Caribbean lapdog, which had just peed on his distinguished colleague’s leg.  Veering the discussion in a different direction, he expressed concern about listing delegates’ contact information and email on the IWC public website.  This practice had, regrettably, resulted in  Morishita being the target of continuous attempts by ‘cyber-hackers’ to ruin his life.

Truly lamentable.

In response, Commissioner Joanne Massiah (Antigua and Barbuda) wished to register the same complaint (damn whale-loving hackers!) and insisted on playing ‘language cha-cha’, substituting ‘environmental’ for ‘marine resources’ and  ‘conservation’ for ‘resource management’ in the UK proposal.   Not to be left out in the Icelandic cold, Heidar associated himself with the comments made by Japan and Antigua and Barbuda –  so cozy!

Commissioner Il-Jeong Jeong (Korea) chimed in to agree that there should be exceptions to the requirement of payment by bank transfer – what if hackers infiltrate his bank account?  Hey, it could happen!  Heidar concurs, as does Massiah who, suddenly very offended by the idea that anyone should question her integrity, proposes to add that payment by banker’s draft should be sufficient, since it “guarantees that funds are available”.  To imply that there may not be available funds in her account is insulting.  Apparently, the distinguished Commissioner from Antigua and Barbuda has missed the point entirely, which is to ensure a legitimate and legal source of funds, not simply that ‘sufficient funds are available’.  Wait… no, she has not missed this point.  In her ‘real’ job, Massiah is a Senator and Minister of Legal Affairs; she is very sharp.

…she’s just not, shall we say, entirely beyond reproach.

No matter, she can always rely on like-minded commissioners like Justin Rennie (Grenada) and Jarden Kephas (Nauru), who practically trip over themselves in a rush to associate with her comments.

By now, the situation is heating up – factions are digging in, voices are raised, and Daven Joseph becomes untethered from reality.  He’s from a developing country, as he so often reminds us, where absolutely anything might happen to foil his honest attempt to conduct a bank transfer.  Not just hackers, but last minute finance ministers and even…natural disasters!   His colleagues who enjoy vigorous economies just don’t understand his situation.

Really?  Did he just say what I think he just said?… yup. 

Finally, Commissioner Ana Alban (Ecuador) weighs in with a much-needed reality check by pointing out that both St. Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda enjoy economies that are thriving, relative to that of Ecuador, and yet… they have never experienced difficulties in paying their IWC fees using a public account and bank transfer.  Mexico concurs with Ecuador’s comments.

Checkmate.

Having had quite enough nonsense and IWC filibustering, Commissioner Pullen (UK) draws a proverbial line in the sand by stating, “This is non-negotiable for us, for our co-sponsors, and for many contracting governments in this room.  It seems that we cannot reach consensus with regard to this point.”

What?…no consensus?    That would require calling for a vote – the first such occurrence since 2008.

In a high-stakes game of high-stakes ‘chicken’, St. Kitts and Nevis cannot seem to help himself and states that he, too, finds the proposal for payment by bank transfer to be unacceptable – the IWC equivalent of ‘double-dog-dare.’

By this time, it’s 2:00 p.m. – everybody’s cranked out, tired, hungry, and frustrated.  Iceland calls for a “three hour working lunch”, during which commissioners could negotiate a mutually palatable proposal.  UK counters with one hour, maximum.

Typical of IWC adherence to time, 60 minutes turned into 90, and Chair Herman Oosthuizen (South Africa) announced that the commissioners could not resolve their differences during that time, and were subsequently to meet in a Closed Commissioners Session in an attempt to reach consensus.

Four hours later

… the commissioners returned, and the proposal was passed by consensus, narrowly escaping what may have been  the most important vote in IWC history since the establishment of the Moratorium in 1982.

Upon the Chair’s announcement of passage, the commissioners applauded their efforts and one in particular indulged in a moment of public self-aggrandizement.  Seemingly unable to prevent himself from speaking and keeping his comments to an inner monologue,  Daven Joseph noted, “I would like to congratulate myself for a very difficult compromise.”

Such humility from the distinguished commissioner from St. Kitts and Nevis.

And so, beginning in 2012, it will become increasingly difficult to veil the source of funds used by delegates and commissioners of IWC member nations to pay annual fees and arrears – one small –but extremely important step in restoring the integrity of the International Whaling Commission, increasing transparency and accountability of operations, and addressing allegations of corruption.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  – Lao Tzu

And what did the U.S. have to say on this most modest of efforts to disassociate the IWC from its stigma of corruption?  Commissioner Monica Medina states, “We are glad that this organization has a diversity of nations; we support the resolution on its efforts in this regard.  We strongly support this effort to bring the IWC’s payment system into the 21st Century, but there may be some issues associated with bank transfers and we should be patient and understanding of those for whom this is a problem.”

Transparent and accountable payment seems only to be an obstacle for those nations on Japan’s payroll.  That is the problem.

“Can’t Buy Me Love… Or Can I?”

July 12, 2011

Today the Commission had a golden opportunity to advance reforms to the IWC, beginning with the lowest-hanging fruit:  prohibiting cash payments of IWC fees, and instead requiring bank transfers.  This was a very important reform to adopt, not only for pragmatic purposes of financial transparency and accountability, but also symbolically.  The perception of IWC is that the organization is rife with corruption and plagued by vote-buying scandals.  So what better way to address that issue head-on than by eliminating the cash option altogether?  As one colleague so aptly stated, “If you were a government employee, you wouldn’t pay a $10,000 contract with a stack of cash in small bills, would you?”

It makes a lot of sense to start with the lowest common denominator point of reform on which consensus can be reached, right?  Not so fast!…This is, after all, IWC.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Togo, Ghana, and Nauru objected to proposals to increase financial transparency by prohibiting IWC fee payments with cash.

Can you believe it?  Well, of course you can, if you recognize these countries as being on the payroll of the Japanese Government.  Did I say that?… I meant, IWC nations belonging to the “Sustainable Use Group”.

I would like to suggest to commissioners of the so-called “Sustainable Use Group” for whom payment of IWC fees is a challenge that they adopt a strategy that many NGOs employ to cover their IWC fees – hold a fundraiser.  The American Cetacean Society is in attendance this year because I ran 50 miles to raise the necessary funds for the privilege of being here.

I rather like the idea of the St. Kitts and Nevis delegation holding a bake sale… corruption cupcakes, anyone?

Safety at Sea, IWC Style

July 12, 2011

As is their standard practice at IWC, Japan requested an intervention under the IWC agenda item “Safety at Sea” to give their “We Hate Sea Shepherd” presentation.  I naively expected that after two years, delegate Joji Morishita (now infamous for his appearance in “The Cove”) would at least change up the presentation even a little for those of us who have seen the presentation at least three times… but no.  Even the title was the same – ‘Escalating Violence against Japanese Vessels by the Sea Shepherd’.  Mr. Morishita reviewed the arsenal of weapons used against the “research vessel and researchers” (no, I’m not kidding) – Butyric acid (fancy term for rancid butter), beer bottles, laser pointers, prop lines, etc.  We also saw – again – video footage of the collision between Sea Shepherd’s “bat-mobile” boat, the Ady Gil and Japan’s whaling vessel, the Shonon Maru II.

Unquestionably, maintaining high standards and expectations for safety at sea are very serious matters, and situations that compromise mariner and vessel safety should be investigated.  However, the International Whaling Commission is definitely not the appropriate forum for pursuing such allegations – that is the pervue of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations specialized agency that has responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships.

Mr. Morishita concluded his presentation by requesting that port states “prevent and suppress Sea Shepherd attacks” by:

●  Increasing enforcement and inspections at port;

●  Investigating allegations of criminal activity, and;

●  Providing protection for Japan’s “research vessels” in the Southern Ocean.

How was Japan’s presentation and requests received?  Here’s what some key IWC contracting governments had to say:

RUSSIA: “ This is not the first time we have received such a presentation regarding behavior at sea. Russia is definitely is against such pirate activities of that organization. We are very much interested to hear the opinion of the countries under whose flag Sea Shepherd is undertaking such activities as well as those ports to which Sea Shepherd is registered. When you watch the film on television, you do not see the actions of violence that we have seen today.”

NETHERLANDS:  “I would like to recall this body’s earlier concerns about this item being on the agenda of the IWC.  This item should more appropriately be discussed in the IMO.  We disagree on the item of whaling, but we agree on safety of sea.  We respect the right of individuals and organizations to protest, as long as such demonstrations occur within the limits of the law.  We have consistently expressed this view.  We also underscore that any unlawful activities should be dealt with under appropriate domestic and international law.”

KIRIBATI:  “We strongly condemn the illegal and violent activities of Sea Shepherd toward the Japanese vessels.  We are concerned that these violent activities are continuing, and seem to be recurring and escalating in their violence.  We understand that any difference in views or opinions regarding whaling should not be resolved in these dangerous and criminal activities.”

AUSTRALIA: “Our position on safety at sea is actually shared by the Japanese Government. Nothing less than full compliance with international laws governing safety at sea is acceptable. What is also asked in Japan’s presentation refers to ‘legitimate’ research – AUS cannot hold this view. The presentation also asks Australia to do more than what our obligations are under the International Maritime Organization. We cannot provide a higher level of safety to a whaling vessel than we would for any other vessel on the high seas. This is not a reasonable expectation for safety at sea.”

KOREA: “ We regret to hear this sort of report over and over again, and we are deeply concerned over any grave consequences over this sort of violence. I must say we all do recognize different views on whaling. And the law provides the right to disagree. As you know, as a student of international law, I see the issue of whaling as a question of utilizing marine resources, not a question of political or moral correctness, from a legal point of view. As long as it is sustainable, from the perspective of science, (whaling) is okay. For this reason, I think that recent demonstrations at sea in the Antarctic Ocean have politically charged motivations. There is no heroism to play here.”

NEW ZEALAND: “We understand Japan’s recent develops in the Southern Ocean. We have called upon Sea Shepherd to act responsibly. NZ is not the flag state of any Sea Shepherd vessel. NZ investigated the incident involving the incident between the Ady Gil and the Shonan Maru II and found that both captains departed from the international collisions regulations and engaged in conduct that resulted in the collision and sinking of the Ady Gil. We must also stress that we are not surprised that Japan’s activities in the Southern Ocean continues to attract such attention, and it is likely to attract such attention as long as it continues.”

ICELAND: “I strongly believe that the focus on our discussion should not be focused on the terrorist group, but on the port states supporting such acts. We don’t find the political will to enforce such terrorist actions. The right of peaceful protest in our view doesn’t have any place when we are discussing violent acts.”

NORWAY: “We express its unconditional sympathy for Japan’s scientists, and stress the obvious legal and moral responsibility of the port states in this matter.”

UNITED STATES:  “We associate our comments with those of Australia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and others.”

Are you satisfied with the position your country has taken?…