Today, in handing Denmark and Greenland the victory it sought – the right to kill 27 humpback whales over the next 3 years – the IWC has inflicted a serious blow to the cause of indigenous people around the world. No-one at this meeting doubts that indigenous people have been oppressed for far too long, that they have legitimate claims, needs and aspirations, and should be able to pursue their lives with dignity. In this room, however, there is considerable confusion as to how to honour this view. It has become quite clear, over the past several days, that Greenland’s “need” is complicated. Yes, there are many communities in far flung places around Greenland where life is difficult, but there are also communities in which the standard of living is better than most places in the world. As the Commissioner for Monaco pointed out, the average household income for West Greenland, where the humpbacks will be killed, is 55,000 Euros per year. Moreover, huge harvests of fish and shellfish occur. Added to the legal supply of meat from minke and fin whales, and the illegal killing of more than 3,000 tons of “small cetaceans” annually, the conclusion is easily drawn that there is more than enough food for the people of West Greenland. Well documented commercial sales emphasise the point, and no “needs” statement has been provided. The question arises then, why insist, to the point of causing a possible rupture in the the IWC, on killing humpback whales? There is no need.
The debate that led to the decision today was long and difficult. Thanks to an insulting intervention by the Commissioner for St. Kitts & Nevis, Daven Joseph, a fight almost broke out. Chairman Livingstone twice suspended the open discussion to allow private discussions between groups – one between Denmark & the EU, and another between countries opposed – and eventually got his way, as did Denmark and Greenland. The decision was by “consensus”.
This is a sad day, not just for the humpback whales of the north Atlantic, but for indigenous people collectively, because the decision of the IWC will make if more difficult for other indigenous people to pursue their legitimate claims. When one charade succeeds, others will be tempted. How will future legitimate and illegitimate claims be discriminated? Quite possibly, not easily. Greenlanders may be celebrating this day, but their indigenous brethren may rue it.
Posted by Paul Spong