IWC 2011 Day Two: time wasting

It didn’t take long this morning, for the slightly rosy glow at the end of yesterday to vanish.  The morning session was supposed to open with the report of the Finance and Administration Committee, but Japan managed to have the “Safety at Sea” agenda item moved forward.  As a result, the first part of the day was taken up with a description of the woes faced by Japan’s “research” whalers in the Antarctic, who year after year, have had to contend with the opposition of Sea Shepherd ships and crews.  A dramatic slide and video presentation, replete with imagery from the whalers’ point of view, was followed by a plea to the Commission to condemn the actions of Sea Shepherd.  Japan will present a resolution to this effect before the meeting ends.  It requested that the flag and port states (Netherlands and Australia) make it difficult or impossible for Sea Shepherd to operate its ships, by denying vessel registration and refusing entry to ports for fuel and supplies; and additionally that the US act against the non-profit Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.  It was clear from the responses that all of these nations think the IWC is not the proper place for such a discussion, as it is in fact powerless to act.  Rather, as has been pointed out repeatedly in the past, the International Maritime Organisation is the appropriate forum for Japan to seek redress in.  The remaining time up to the morning coffee break was occupied with harsh words from numerous delegations who vocally supported Japan’s complaint, and more restrained words from others, like New Zealand, who concur that illegal actions should not be tolerated, but regard protests on the high seas as legitimate, and added that Japan’s actions in killing whales inside a sanctuary themselves skirt the boundaries of legality.  The latter message was clear – if Japan wasn’t killing whales in the Antarctic, Sea Shepherd vessels wouldn’t be there.

Half the morning taken up with an exercise that many thought pointless, it was on to the report of the Finance and Administration Committee (F&A).  Much praise was heaped on Australia for its work on the report, which contains numerous uncontroversial recommendations for changes in the Commission’s procedures.   Among them is a move to biennial meetings of the Commission, which would begin after the 2012 meeting, so the following meeting would happen in 2014.  The work of the Scientific Committee would continue, with meetings held annually, but they would be separated in time from the Commission meetings.  The scientists’ report would be tabled well in advance of the Commission meeting, and available on the IWC web site, thus providing members with a much better opportunity to consider Scientific Committee recommendations than hitherto.   So far so good, but troubled waters lay ahead.

The issue of broader NGO participation in the Commission’s work has been lurking in the background for years, with some members calling for greater inclusion of “civil society” and others deathly afraid of it.  Norway is point blank opposed to NGO participation, so is Iceland, with the other whalers concurring though not quite as vocally.  There is real fear over the thought, heaven forbid, that NGOs might be allowed to speak on virtually any subject, at the Chair’s discretion, despite the fact that NGO participation in CITES and other international organizations has long been permitted, with beneficial results.  The US and many others are open to greater NGO involvement, and believe it would be a positive change.  Such was the recommendation of the F&A Committee, but it clearly didn’t stand a chance and the matter was left open.

Storm clouds matching the skies above Jersey this day were gathering well before lunch, with St. Kitts and Nevis leading a protest over the visa problems some members were having.  The Secretariat had given clear instructions about visa applications months ago, but apparently, the Cote d’Ivoire Commissioner is still stuck in Paris.  Possibly hoping for a swift resolution, the Chair called for a long lunch break.

After lunch, things moved quickly into the war zone that is so familiar from years past.  Monaco gave a brief speech, pointing out that always attempting to reach consensus could have a negative effect, silencing some members and causing others to lose interest; differences of opinion are healthy; everyone coming into the room shouldn’t have to wear the same uniform; there should be a vote from time to time; and besides, he likes world music and world food.  A profound moment of silence followed, and then the F&A report moved on to the matter everyone was waiting for – what to do about cash payments of fees?   The F&A Committee’s recommendation was simple, have dues paid by bank transfer, the explanation in part being that the Secretariat is uneasy about handling large amounts of cash – in 2009, more than $27,000.  The reaction was anything but simple, with St. Kitts & Nevis joining Ghana and Antigua in convoluted explanations of the difficulties inherent in the operations of small countries, where money is scarce.  For a while, it looked like the issue could be settled, with the Secretary agreeing that bank drafts are an acceptable method of payment.  Possibly he should have stopped there, but he added that a draft would have to clear before voting rights could be restored (the Secretariat has been burned before).   If that moment had passed, Poland might  have had its chance to present the EU proposal for reform, but it was not to be.  St Kitts quickly moved on to challenge the legitimacy of the EU proposal, first questioning the timeliness of the submission (there is a 60 day rule) and then when the Chair approved that, demanding that all the member states identify themselves on the document.  Virtual chaos followed, the Chair first calling for a 5’ break which turned into an intense 15′ stand up discussion in the middle of the room, then a long coffee break, and finally an announcement by the Chair that the Commissioners were going into a private meeting.

By 5:30pm, with no sign of the Commissioners emerging, it was clear that the day was lost.  After another hour passed we heard the outcome, though not the details of what happened inside that private room.

The battle will resume at 9am tomorrow.

posted by Paul Spong,

July 13, 2011

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