So, we have now had a little sleep (and some fresh air), enjoyed some daylight and we have been reflecting on this momentous meeting of the whaling Commission.
Sunday July 17th.
Most IWC delegates have now left the island of Jersey and are scattered across the globe again. A few of us linger on. Jersey is too pleasant for some not to tarry here! The herrings gulls are still crying overhead and occasionally sneaking easy meals amongst heavy crockery that offers these muscular birds little challenge. The British Booze Hounds still roam wild too but they can be easily avoided. Just a few minutes drive away from the many bars and seductive night life of St Helier, are quiet leafy avenues, picturesque sandy coves and, of course, green fields hosting the handsome eponymous cows.
The Great Hall and the corridors of the Hotel de France now only hold memories of what occurred there over the last two weeks. These include the numerous interventions on science and conservation that were never spoken; the faded promises of non-governmental interventions; the ghosts of commitments from nations that never reached the record; and great whirling gyres of marine debris briefings that failed to generate a single helpful word during the public plenary of the whaling commission. But all is not lost, indeed far from it, bear with us and we will explain.
Media attention of course focused on the dramatic mass-walk out of the pro-whaling block and this clearly served its purpose. It stopped the meeting in its tracks and attempting to get it back on the rails used up all the remaining time available to the annual meeting. Because of this the excellent conservation work being done within the various bodies of the IWC went un-aired. And this surely is what the whaling nations wanted. For example, no one was able to highlight and praise the excellent conservation work on ship-strikes led by the Belgian Commissioner, Alexandre de Lichtervelde. Similarly, nations were largely unable to probe the arcane but vitally important report of the IWC’s Scientific Committee; and we know that many questions were poised but never aired. Hence as a strategy, if the whaling nations wanted the public discussion of these matters to be blocked, and we think they did, they were successful.
It is also likely that they were to some extent punishing the conservation block for the passage of the UK/EU proposal on governance which many of them would have been very bitter about. We will come back to this.
However, there may be a significant price for the use of a tactic that stopped an international treaty body from functioning. Many legal experts will now start to meticulously analyse what happened in Jersey. Some are already suggesting that the Chair should have moved to a vote the first time this was proposed (which was actually by Russia) under the IWC’s own rules and, if he had done this, the matter might have been resolved in a few minutes. However, this is probably only a small issue and the Chairman was in a very difficult position. Of much greater significance are the wider consequences of this action by a number of democratic countries with commitments to the rule of international law, including Iceland, Norway and Japan. International law would grind to a halt if this tactic of walking out part-way through a meeting to destroy its quorum was an acceptable mechanism. Voting and agreeing by qualified or other majorities is the normal mechanism. This is not just about the whales but about the fundamental principles underpinning all international agreements. These principles were undermined by the actions of the whaling nations.
Returning to governance and, as we hope we explained in the blog, the passage of the UK’s proposals makes the 2011 Jersey meeting of tremendous importance. The acceptance of the package was an enormous success and we predict that some of the problems that have dogged the IWC for many years will now start to fade. ‘This was huge!’ as we said in the blog.
Something else of great importance also happened this year. For sometime we have raised concerns about the conduct of some subsistence hunts by indigenous people. This year the Commission finally agreed to initiate a programme that might tentatively be called ‘the road to reform of ‘Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling’, including working to ensure that indigenous whalers improve the humaneness of the hunts, address growing commerciality of products intended to meet subsistence needs, and provide adequate data in support of their requests for a whaling quota.
Whilst the whalers killed any public discussion of a priority issues for WDCS this year – the threat posed by marine debris to whales and dolphins – we did receive considerable support from many countries in the margins of the meeting. It was also highlighted in the Scientific Committee and has become a permanent agenda item for the Conservation Committee. Equally importantly the US plans to hold a special planning meeting on this theme in Honolulu in the coming year, and we thank them for this.
The UK, especially their legal expert (and Vicky’s minder) Jolyon Thompson, handled the whole complex issue of the governance proposal in the most exemplary manner. This was despite the fact that UK was ‘batting’ a largely new team this year, including their Commissioner, Richard Pullen. What an excellent start to his tenure in this role! We are grateful to the UK for the access that they gave to the NGO community both during the plenary, which was obviously very difficult during such a tense meeting, and before. We are also very grateful to Richard Benyon, MP, the British Minister, for coming to Jersey and bringing his passion with him. It is no secret that when he had to leave (on the second day of plenary) he was angry. He should now be feeling satisfied and pleased. There is still more to do but this was a leap forward.
We also salute our good friends Lorenzo and Yolanda on the Mexican delegation; the excellent Belgians, led by conservation-champion Alexandre, the outspoken and yet compellingly thoughtful Frederick Briand; the softly-spoken but formidable Donna Petrachenko; the determined Austrians, and also the many people who worked hard in the now largely forgotten meetings of the Scientific Committee back in Tromso including Naomi, Chris, Pierre of Luxembourg, Michael, Fabian, Uncle Frank, Bob, Justin, Jen, Russel, Miguel, Caterina and many more.
Last, but in no means least, in WDCS’s evaluation it is the Latin American countries that are now leading the conservation side for whales, along with Australia. Our compliments to you all in the BAG!
A special thanks this year to the many people, both within WDCS and outside, who helped ensure that a particularly stressful meeting for many of us, was filled with hugs, snacks, kind words and support. It is an honour to call you friends and colleagues.
Mark of WDCS (on the left) congratulates Richard Pullen, the no-longer-new UK Commissioner
The Belgian delegation, Els, Alexandre and Fabian
And finally - here is a very rare sighting indeed! Pictured below is the alternate Commissioner for Argentina, Miguel Iniguez, here accompanied by Carmen Asencio, the Spanish Commissioner (Carmen is on the left.)
Here ends the reporting from IWC 63.