The Future of the IWC: Postponed

What many expected to begin with a bang ended with a fizzle.  The 62nd plenary meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) started today with one thing on everyone’s mind: whether the future of the IWC means the adoption of a proposal to legalize commercial whaling.  But here’s the catch – the Commission didn’t actually talk about the proposal.  Instead, the Commission talked about the need to privately talk about it.

The meeting kicked off with an opening ceremony featuring traditional Moroccan music and dance.  The deputy mayor of Agadir welcomed the IWC to Morocco, followed by a statement by the Minister of Agriculture and Marine Fisheries.  After the opening ceremony, the Vice Chair of the IWC – the Chair is ill and could not attend – welcomed the IWC and promptly recessed the Commission for a half hour coffee break.  After the break, the IWC addressed administrative matters.  The Chair then called for a two day recess so that countries could meet in private to negotiate a deal.

While the Chair acknowledged that suspending the plenary meeting is “certainly unusual,” the Commissioners decided that it is an “essential approach” to negotiate a consensus decision.  

But the IWC has already conducted two years of secret negotiations – closed to civil society participation or any other oversight – aimed at reaching a deal.  To continue these private negotiations at a plenary meeting contravenes the ideals of participatory democracy and transparency. 

The Chair asked the room to “trust that we will seek a very positive outcome.”  Unfortunately, trust is in short supply at the IWC.  The Commission has been plagued for years of allegations of corruption and bribery.  The latest allegations appeared in yesterday’s London Times, which reported that Japan paid for the airfare and luxury hotel bills for the IWC Delegates of six countries, including IWC Vice-Chair Anthony Liverpool. 

These allegations simply underscore the need for credibility within the IWC.  And credibility is nurtured by openness and transparency – not closed door meetings.  I will continue to blog with any new developments and will certainly write once the plenary meeting resumes on Wednesday.