Going out with a whimper and a bang – June 20th 2006

IWC St. Kitts Day 5

Going out with a whimper,
and a bang

Day 5 of IWC 58 began with a leisurely discussion of the pros & costs of formally introducing French as an official language in the proceedings of the Commission. Numerous Francaphone nations have joined the IWC at Japan’s behest in recent years, and France & Monaco are long standing members, so there is logic to the proposal. However, the costs of providing simultaneous translation during meetings, and translating documents, so there is a reluctance on the part of many members to add to their financial burden. At this meeting, simultaneous translation of Japanese & French was arranged by the organizers. The dialogue was noticeably smoother, but the costs were born by individual nations (Japan & Monaco) and there was no shared burden. The prospect of going further had numerous nations in a bind… how to avoid paying more, and simultaneously avoiding insulting actual or potential Francaphone allies.

As the translation debate was winding down, the (whispered) word came that Greenpeace had landed crew from the Arctic Sunrise on the beach in front of the conference hotel, and were conducting a demonstration. Numerous media and a few delegates quickly left the room. On the beach, the protest was already well underway. A small group of Greenpeacers held a banner while a small group of police stood on or near a pile of broken signs the protesters had brought ashore. The signs were shaped as whales’ flukes, painted black, with “RIP” etched in white. Greenpeace’s intention was to plant 853 of these signs in the sand, one for each whale Japan killed in Antarctica during the 2005-6 “scientific whaling” season. Had the authorities not overacted, the protest would probably have ended quietly, with the protesters returning to their ship after making their point. As things turned out, the authorities did over-react, calling in a “Swat” team complete with rifles, shotguns and AK47s, which set about arresting, handcuffing, and in some instances literally dragging the protesters off to jail. It was a fairly typical Greenpeace action, making a point without endangering lives, but because of the official overreaction it quickly became an international story. The protesters are still languishing in jail. Later, just before the final end of the meeting, St. Kitts & Nevis tried to drum up support for some kind of IWC sanction against Greenpeace, but didn’t get anywhere.

Before lunch, St. Kitts & Nevis, which has hosted this 58th IWC meeting, tabled a resolution which called on the IWC to make up the shortfall between its estimated and real costs of holding the meeting, and contribute £386,000 from its reserve fund to make up the shortfall. The proposal provoked a lively debate. In the end, St. Kitts called for a vote, which it lost 30-30-4. The split was pretty much along the same lines as votes which proceeded it at this meeting, i.e. nations for & against whales/whaling, but there were some interesting twists. China voted against the motion, Belize voted for it, and Denmark, India, Kiribati and Morocco abstained. Panama & Cote d’Ivoire were absent. It was the closest vote of the meeting, and in that St. Kitts is Japan’s close ally, it amounted to yet another defeat for Japan. After lunch, Cote d’Ivoire seemed to want the vote taken again, but Chairman Fischer politely refused.

The 58th meeting of the IWC came to an end with consensus (twice) at last. The next meeting is to be in Anchorage, Alaska, and the one after that in Yokohama, Japan. Possibly not coincidentally, the next Chair of the IWC is the US, and the Vice-Chair Japan.

Does this smell of something unpleasant for whales? Probably. 

A small group of Greenpeacers came ashore from the Arctic Sunrise this morning.
Previously, St. Kitts & Nevis had refused entry to the Greenpeace vessel.
  The protesters brought signs in the form of whale flukes with “RIP”written on them. The idea was to bring 853 of them ashore & plant them in the sand, one for each whale killed by Japan in the Antarctic on its last “scientific whaling” expedition.
When the police arrived & ripped up the signs & took down their banner, the protesters sat down on the sand.   Soon, a heavily armed “Swat team” arrived.
Then they were taken off to jail where they still are.
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