Whales for Sale

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A week from now, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) will meet in Agadir, Morocco, to discuss a "compromise" proposal that would allow Japan, Norway, and Iceland to continue commercial whaling, at supposedly reduced and sustainable levels, for the next ten years – notwithstanding the existence of a 24-year-old moratorium on such whaling.

The rationale being offered by proponents of this deal is that, although banned, commercial whaling continues anyway (under the guise of, for example, "scientific research"), so it makes sense to at least bring it under better control. Additionally, they say, the IWC is at a standstill, an impasse; there is a stalemate among its many members, which are divided roughly equally between pro- and anti-whaling nations.

But an investigation in this weekend's edition of London's Sunday Times newspaper has underlined just how manufactured this "deadlock" really is, that at least some of the countries that attend the IWC and vote for Japan do so because they are financially "encouraged" to do so, and that they would switch sides in a heartbeat if offered sufficient inducement.

Those of us who have attended IWC meetings over the past quarter-century or so have long been fully aware of the "special relationship" between Japan and several other member nations. It began with a couple of Caribbean countries, which overnight became vociferous supporters of Japan's whaling, and whose delegations appeared to be accompanied everywhere by Japanese delegation "minders." One by one, the Japanese-supporting countries increased in number, and almost invariably it seemed their arrival and voting record seemed strangely coincident with a new fish processing plant here or some financial assistance there.

Both sides denied the existence of a quid pro quo, even as evidence popped up to contradict that assertion. In 1993, a Japanese newspaper reported fisheries agency bureaucrats speaking of a "Vote Consolidation Program." In 2000, an Australian TV news show procured a copy of a letter in which an official from Grenada complained that, "Upon review of our accounts, it has been observed that the contributions from the Government of Japan to the Government of Grenada for the International Whaling Commission were not received … for the years 1998 and 1999. However, our internal audit revealed that contributions were received for all other years…"

And now comes the Sunday Times investigation, which appears to show a particular ideological flexibility on the part of several IWC delegations:

Japan denies buying the votes of IWC members. However, The Sunday Times filmed officials from pro-whaling governments admitting: –They voted with the whalers because of the large amounts of aid from Japan. One said he was not sure if his country had any whales in its territorial waters. Others are landlocked. –They receive cash payments in envelopes at IWC meetings from Japanese officials who pay their travel and hotel bills. –One disclosed that call girls were offered when fisheries ministers and civil servants visited Japan for meetings [...] The reporters, posing as representatives of a billionaire conservationist, approached officials from pro-whaling countries and offered them an aid package to change their vote. The governments of St Kitts and Nevis, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Grenada, Republic of Guinea and Ivory Coast all entered negotiations to sell their votes in return for aid. The top fisheries official for Guinea said Japan usually gave his minister a “minimum” of $1,000 a day spending money in cash during IWC and other fisheries meetings.

The number of countries that have joined the IWC in recent years is staggering. When the Commission agreed to establish a Southern Ocean Sanctuary in 1994, there were 31 voting members in total.

Now, according to a colleague who remains closely involved with IWC matters, there are that many voting with Japan (not including Japan itself, Norway, or Iceland). That same colleague said he did not think Japan would be able to sustain such extensive levels of "vote consolidation" for much longer. But if, a week from now, the "compromise" is adopted, it won't have to.

If money has indeed been changing hands all these years, it will have been money well spent.

Image: Stefan Powell

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