Acrimony continued to dominate the proceedings on the second day of the 2005 IWC meeting in Ulsan, South Korea. The Danish chairman, Henrik Fischer, who has had a difficult time keeping the meeting on track, had barely begun to review the day`s agenda when one of Japan`s supporters, St. Lucia, asked for the floor and called for a private Commissioner`s meeting. Such meetings are fairly commonplace at the IWC, but the reason is usually apparent. In this instance, St. Lucia refused to explain its request, insisting on its right to the private meeting. Chairman Fischer reluctantly acceded to St. Lucia`s request, but was immediately challenged by Australia on the grounds that openness had been agreed to the previous day when the issue of secret ballots was decided. Australia pointed out that even St. Lucia`s reason for having a secret meeting was a secret! The issue was decided by a vote on the Chairman`s ruling – Australia lost, and the meeting broke up while the Commissioners met behind closed doors. Over an hour was consumed for no apparent reason – St. Lucia had nothing of substance to discuss in private. The exercise was apparently aimed at buying time so that Nauru, one of Japan`s latest supporters, could join the meeting. Nauru had not taken its seat by day`s end, so the St. Lucia gambit was pointless.
The substantive issue of the day was discussion of the Revised Management procedure (RMS). Two intercessional meeting had been held during the past year, in an attempt to reach agreement on a “safe” scheme for re-opening commercial whaling. No real progress was made, so Japan proposed its own version of an RMS, stating that it was doing so because of extreme frustration with the refusal of anti whaling nations to agree to its “reasonable” requests. In presenting its plan, Japan threatened, not for the first time, to leave the IWC and join another forum for whaling if it did not get its way. Japan`s proposal, which would end the moratorium on commercial whaling that has been in place since 1987, was enthusiastically endorsed by Norway and Iceland, as well as Japan`s votes-for-aid supporters, but met a wall of opposition from a clear majority of the meeting. The USA, which has been very quiet, made its first substantive comments of the meeting, pointing out that Japan`s proposal would not only lift the moratorium, but would eliminate all whale sanctuaries, and still allow unlimited “scientific” whaling. New Zealand bluntly stated its view that Japan`s intransigence on basic issues such as observer coverage and verification of whales killed, was the main obstacle to “progress” on the RMS. At one point in a passionate speech, New Zealand Commissioner Chris Carter stated that Japan`s proposal would see a “return to the dirty deals of the past”. The vigourous debate continued, and eventually a vote was taken in which Japan`s proposal was soundly defeated, falling short of a simple majority by 6 votes, and far short of the three quarters majority it needed to succeed. No one was surprised at the outcome, but Japan`s expressed anger was met with an offer by Sweden to draft a compromise resolution which could win substantial support in the days to come. The fear here is that “mushy-minded” nations such as the USA will agree to an RMS that gives the whalers a green light at the same time as it sells the whales out.
Welfare issues used up the rest of day two. The UK`s proposal to hold a workshop on whale killing methods prior to next year`s meeting was met with considerable scepticism by Japan and its allies. Norway accused Australia of using the welfare issue as a means of sabotaging the whaling nations` efforts to achieve an agreed RMS. Australia was offended by Norway`s remarks, countering that it had been fully engaged in helping to sort out time-to-death issues, and brought up a shocking case (documented by the Environmental Investigation Agency) in which a minke whale killed by Norwegian whalers took an excruciating 14` to die. Apparently, 2% of the whales Norway kills meet a similar fate. Proof of inexcusable cruelty, say opponents of whaling.
For more about this year`s IWC meeting, see ECO stories at www.earthisland.org/immp.