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Whaling Commission Meeting Opens in a Swirl of Corruption Claims
AGADIR, Morocco, June 21, 2010 (ENS) - The worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling that has been in place since 1986 could be overturned this week as the 88 member governments of the International Whaling Commission hold their annual meeting in Agadir amidst accusations of corruption and vote buying.

The IWC is expected to vote on a proposal by the Commission's chairman and vice-chairman that would allow a resumption of commercial whaling in exchange for pledges by three whaling nations - Japan, Norway and Iceland - to reduce the numbers of whales they kill each year.

Minke whale hoisted onto Norwegian whaler
Kato in the North Sea. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)

Under negotiation for three years, the proposal would allow limited commercial whaling, giving the three whaling nations permission to take almost 13,000 whales over the next 10 years, including several threatened species.

The proposal would allow hunting in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary around Antarctica and approve the killing of whales for commercial purposes by Japan around Antarctica and in the North Pacific.

It would add new rights for Japan to hunt whales in its coastal waters and allow continuing whaling by Iceland and Norway, but no other nations would be permitted to begin whaling.

Hotly contested by anti-whaling nations such as Australia and Germany, the proposal has attracted the tentative support of Japan and its allies, mostly small island and African nations.

The meeting opened this morning behind closed doors without the leadership of IWC Chairman Ambassador Cristian Maquieira of Chile, who has pulled out of the meeting in Morocco due to ill health. The nature of his illness was not specified by the IWC.

The meeting is being led by IWC vice-chairman Anthony Liverpool of Antigua and Barbuda, who co-wrote the proposal with Maquieira.

But Liverpool's authority as acting chair and the entire IWC process have been compromised by accusations of corruption which appeared in the "Sunday Times of London" yesterday and June 13.

According to the reports, Liverpool and the IWC commissioners of 15 other member countries had their flights, accommodations, per diem, and other meeting expenses paid by representatives of the government of Japan, a conflict of interest that undermines their ability to be fair to both sides.

The IWC convention states that, "The expenses of each member of the commission and of his experts and advisers shall be determined and paid by his own government."

But a Sunday Times reporter posing as a British lobbyist willing to pay IWC member governments to vote against the proposal recorded admissions that those governments feared to lose aid payments from Japan if they did so. Cash and the services of prostitutes were also used to gain their support for Japan on IWC votes, the undercover reporters learned.

Such vote buying has long been alleged, but Japanese government representatives have denied employing the practice.

The June 13 report prompted a call by a whistleblower to the Greenpeace office in Tokyo to tell the campaign group about his role in Japan's vote buying operation.

A minke whale on the deck of a Japanese "research" whaling vessel (Photo courtesy Institute of Cetacean Research)

The whistleblower revealed that Liverpool's bill at the Atlas Amadil Beach hotel in Agadir from June 13 to 28 was being paid by Japan Tours and Travel, a firm based in Houston, Texas and linked by a Sunday Times reporter to a Japanese businessman named Hideuki "Harry" Wakasa, who also lives in Houston.

The whistleblower last week identified Wakasa as the middleman who paid cash and checks to five east Caribbean island nations, including Antigua.

Junichi Sato, program director of Greenpeace Japan, said today, "Whistleblowers have come forward to confirm what we have known for years - that Japan actively engages in vote-buying at the IWC."

"Scandals surrounding Japan's whaling industry continue to emerge," Sato said. "Two years ago, I exposed the embezzlement of expensive cuts of meat, smuggled off Japanese whaling ships and sold on the black market. I was arrested, prosecuted and now face up to 18 months in prison, all for revealing the true face of my government's whaling program."

"I urge the negotiators meeting here in Agadir to take political risks, for which they will not be jailed, to improve the current proposal, end the decades of IWC deadlock and bring it into the 21st century," said Sato. "The meeting in Agadir can and must save whales, not whaling industries reliant on bribery and embezzlement for survival."

Patrick Ramage, Global Whale Programme director with the International Fund for Animal Welfare said, "Of the countries paying their own way here, the vast majority favor permanent protection for whales. However, procedural manoeuvres are being used to prevent them from presenting their views in an open session."

"The acting chair has ordered two further days of closed-door meetings to limit time for open debate, with a view to fast-tracking the proposal when the formal session re-opens on Wednesday," said Ramage.

"Whatever one's view on the proposal," he said, "its adoption under the present circumstances will destroy any remaining credibility of the Whaling Commission."

Humpback whale in Neko Harbor, Antarctica (Photo by Justine Carson)

Wendy Elliott, species manager at WWF International, called the decision to exclude the civil society and media is "a scandal."

"The unprecedented decision to start discussions at this year's IWC behind closed doors is fundamentally unacceptable," Elliott said. "The issues discussed at the IWC are of enormous public interest. We already had two years of closed doors negotiations leading up to this point, and now is the moment to open up a transparent and honest discussion."

Captain Paul Watson, founder and president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which for the past five years has sent ships to the Southern Ocean to block Japanese whaling, called the IWC, "Irrelevant, Wearisome, and Corrupt."

"It has become increasingly clear that Japan has been bullying, buying, and threatening nations to vote in favor of ending the global moratorium on whaling," said Watson. "The IWC no longer has any credibility, it is an irrelevant organization. Many of the nations voting for Japan have zero interest in the issue of whaling. They vote the way they are paid to vote."

Watson says he will again send ships to the Southern Ocean to intercept Japanese whalers during the next whaling season.

But the government of Japan, in a briefing note issued in advance of the IWC meeting in Agadir, again denied that it buys the votes of IWC member governments. "This accusation is false. Japan is one of the world's largest donors, providing aid to over 150 countries. This aid is not linked to the policies of recipient nations on specific issues. In fact, Japanese aid is provided to a number of countries including Argentina, Brazil, India and Mexico that are opposed to whaling," Japan said through the Institute of Cetacean Research.

"Accusations of vote buying are part of a campaign of threats and intimidation by extremist NGOs against Caribbean nations that have supported the principle of sustainable use of all marine resources including whales," said the briefing note. "No one should be surprised that nations dependant on the resources of the sea would vote in a similar manner to Japan in the IWC."

Acting Chair Liverpool has long declared himself as a supporter of whaling. As Antigua and Barbuda's IWC commissioner at the 2005 meeting in South Korea, he argued that some IWC members of lack respect for cultural traditions and fail to accept the position of coastal communities and small island states to utilize whales for food.

"It is no secret that communities in countries like St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Norway, Iceland, Greenland and Japan have been hunting and eating whales for generations," Liverpool said then. "This failure on the part of some developing countries to support the proposal by Japan for small type coastal whaling is about 'big countries' trying to direct, dictate and determine how people in smaller countries should live."

IWC Chairman Chilean Ambassador Cristian Maquieira at an international meeting on oceans, 2009. (Photo courtesy ENB)

However, support for whaling is eroding in some IWC governments, including IWC Chairman Maquieira's own government, Chile.

Two Chilean senators have requested Maquieira resignation because, they said, his "unbalanced role is affecting the international image of Chile by supporting the resumption of commercial whaling."

"This position is totally against the Policy of State of Chile, openly committed to the protection and non-lethal use of whales," said Senators Guido Girardi of the Party for Democracy and Juan Pablo Letelier of the Socialist Party.

They say Maquieira's position shows "a lack of coordination" with that of Chile's Minister of Foreign Affairs Alfredo Moreno, who recently stated that the position of ambassador Maquieira does not represent the official position of the Chilean government.

Some nations named in the Sunday Times as targets of Japan's vote-buying bribes denied the accusations. On Wednesday, the Pacific island nation of Kiribati "strongly" denied the allegation.

The Marshall Islands foreign minister accused the newspaper of "falsifying" and "distorting" information. The Marshall Islands' vote at the International Whaling Commission "is not for sale," Foreign Minister John Silk said in a statement Wednesday.

The Marshalls Foreign Ministry acknowledged its "long-standing diplomatic relationship with Japan," and confirmed it "has received tremendous bilateral assistance from Japan through grants, trainings, economic development projects," including a new $8 million fish market and a $4 million solar energy project.

In the Pacific island nation of Palau President Johnson Toribiong said earlier this month that he is "reconsidering" his country's vote in favor of Japanese whaling. His statement prompted Japan's ambassador to Palau to inform Toribiong that a special envoy will be visiting Palau "to educate me on the Japanese policies and scientific research."

And on June 16, the German parliament declared that in order for Iceland to be granted membership in the European Union, it must abolish its whaling industry.

Monica Medina, the U.S. IWC Commissioner and the Commerce Department's principal deputy under secretary for oceans and atmosphere, takes the position that the proposal needs improvement.

U.S. IWC Commissioner Monica Medina and IWC Chairman Cristian Maquieira brief reporters at the U.S. State Department, May 27, 2010. (Photo courtesy U.S. State Dept.)

At a May 27 briefing at the U.S. State Department, held jointly with Maquieira, she said, "We, the U.S., agree with his assessment that the IWC is fundamentally broken and must be fixed."

"The goal of the United States in this process has been, and will continue to be, to conserve whales," said Medina. "The administration recognizes that there are significant benefits outlined in the proposal that has been put forward by the chair and vice chair of the commission. And we will continue to work with them on the proposal, but we don't believe it's in a place where we can accept it yet."

Medina said the United States continues to support the moratorium. "In fact, one of the key elements of the proposal that makes it possible for us to even consider it is that the moratorium would not be lifted or waived, changed or amended."

Yet, she also said, "The essence of this agreement would be recognizing that some whaling has been able to continue in the face of a moratorium. And the idea would be to cap that whaling and to get it under the IWC's control so that it can be monitored."

Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett said, "Australia will not be voting for a bad deal for whales and I will be prepared to work as long and as hard as necessary to ensure that the moratorium on commercial whaling does not end up in tatters on the Commission floor."

"A bad deal driven through the Commission on a split vote is unlikely to achieve reform or a reconciliation between IWC members," Garrett said. "We will be working closely with conservation-minded countries, including countries from Europe and Latin America, New Zealand, the United States and others, to achieve an outcome that genuinely improves protection for whales globally."

Japan's position is that, "the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling is about properly managing the whaling industry, that is, regulating catch quotas at levels so that whale stocks will not be threatened. The Convention is not about protecting all whales irrespective of their abundance," the Institute of Cetacean Research said in its briefing note.

"Japan's objective is to resume sustainable whaling for abundant species under international control including science-based harvest quota and effective enforcement measures," the ICR said. "At the same time we are committed to conservation and the protection of endangered species. This is the purpose of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling."

Click here for previous ENS coverage of the 2010 International Whaling Commission meeting.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2010. All rights reserved.



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