by Rod Marining
A psychic message had gone out to all eco-warriors who had ever fought for whales: “Get your body over to Agadir, Morocco, now!” As we say on the Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace ships, “All hands on deck!”
So there I was at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the International Whaling Commission (June 21-25), walking through loads of security into a room where the fate of the great whales would be decided for one more year. There were 88 representatives from various countries – people who would make the ultimate decisions – and more than 240 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Everyone was very nervous and there was no clear indication of the fate of the whales, one way or the other. There were powerful forces at play, both good and evil.
Sex was one of the forces working against the whales. Flights, Girls and Cash Buy Japan Whaling Votes read a Sunday Times headline on June 13. A stack of Xeroxed copies of the article sat on the NGO media table and I picked one up. The jokey comments included, “Hookers for harpoons? ‘What do you mean?’ asks the diplomat. ‘You give me harpoons to kill the whales with your vote and I give you hookers, really “good girls” for you. What do you say? We have a deal?’”
It is common knowledge among enviros that a huge block of small nations –surrogates as they are called – have been bought off by the Japanese foreign affairs department and the Sunday Times article provided definitive proof of the corruption. Journalists with hidden cameras and micro-phones had set up a sting operation, posing as anti-whaling lobbyists with very deep pockets, wanting to buy votes.
The Times piece accused Japan of systematically bribing nations with sex, aid, cash and flights in return for their vote to overturn the 1982 ban on commercial whaling and end the hard won Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary – two huge environmental milestones in the battle to save the last of the whales. The journalists spoke extensively to officials from St. Kitts, Nevis Island, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Grenada, Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Guinea, offering multi-million pound aid packages if they stopped supporting Japan at the IWC.
For example, within the last two years, Japan had given Tanzania the sum of $88 million pounds (about $160 million Canadian) in fisheries aid. Five Tanzanian government officials at the IWC were given $22,000 pounds for tuition fees and living expenses while they studied in Japan – that’s more than $40,000 Canadian per year times five officials – to get their fisheries degree at a Japanese university.
A Tanzanian official revealed that Japan “secretively” paid for the tickets and hotels for the IWC delegates from different countries. They were also taken on all-expenses-paid visits to Japan where “good girls” would be available.
The Sunday Times reporter asked the Tanzanian official, “So you think the other countries’ representatives are set up with prostitutes from Japan?” The official answered, “Yes, you know, yeah… it starts by… ‘You want massaging? It’s going to be free massaging. Are you lonely? You don’t want any comfort?’”
Both the Associated Press and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation have previously aired stories in which Japanese officials have stated there is nothing wrong with using overseas development aid to buy votes. However, this is the first time prostitution and cash payments have been added to the list of bribes.
I learned the present Chair of the IWC has also received money from the Japanese. The Chair actually confirmed his flights and hotel were paid for by them, yet the NGOs would not call for his resignation. I noted to the NGO that this Chair was obviously in a compromised position and that he controlled the entire conference. When I asked why they would not ask for his resignation, the answer was, “It is better to know the devil you know than to get a new devil that you don’t know.”
After only two hours on Monday morning, the Chair stated, “We are now breaking into secret sessions to discuss the consensus proposal and we will be adjourning to Wednesday morning.”
The consensus proposal called for the approval of commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and other places at a fixed limit of about 1,300 whales per year for 10 years – a harvest of 13,000 whales. A whaling phase-down would follow, (not a phase-out). In other words, kill whales now for 10 years, in the hope that after 10 years we would start saving whales. Kill whales to save whales, sort of like fighting for peace. All this was happening behind closed doors with media and NGOs waiting for the verdict.
On Wednesday morning, it was clear the “deal” was dead. Chairman Livingstone, in his opening remarks, which reviewed the 10 intercessional meetings held since the Commission met in Alaska three years ago, as well as the work completed over the last two days, quickly revealed that many differences between parties remained unsettled, trade and “scientific” whaling among them. The process had been useful in that exchanges had been cordial and frank, but no consensus had been reached. Japan led off the commentary, saying it was willing to compromise to some extent, but unwilling to commit to zero after 10 years of legal whaling in the Antarctic.
On the edge of the Sahara Desert, the great whales were given one more year of reprieve. Japan is again in the position of violating the ban on commercial whaling and killing whales within the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. The Japanese state they are killing whales for scientific purposes, yet not one peer review scientific paper has been published. Furthermore, they have never answered the question why it is necessary for them to kill whales for research when the world’s scientific community has been employing non-lethal DNA research for more than 20 years.
Despite an international moratorium on commercial whaling established in 1982 and a huge whale sanctuary surrounding Antarctica, roughly 2,000 whales are killed each year, including endangered and vulnerable species. More than 35,000 whales have been killed since the moratorium began.
Australia is preparing its court case against Japan in the International World Court in The Hague, for whaling within a sanctuary and selling their whale meat. If it wins, it will have the moral right to slap tariffs on Japan. Japan may have a bigger navy than Australia, but Japan’s economy is on the ropes; the prime minister likens Japan’s economy to Greece. A trade war would definitely increase the cost to defend Japanese whaling to a $2 billion+ enterprise. Economics will play a significant role in abolishing whaling industry.
I hope the United Nations creates a navy to enforce the many laws in place for the protection of the great oceans. There is also a need to enforce governance issues, such as buying votes. Diplomats should fear jail sentences in cases of bribery. The IWC, in order to maintain credibility with the world, must investigate and take action to stop such blatant usurpation of the Commission’s integrity.
As for the age-old question of whether or not mankind is an instrument for good or evil, a real battle ensued at the IWC and the profoundest changes took place within a short time frame. Yes, we beat back what amounted to a ridiculous proposal to legalize commercial whaling. Meanwhile, more than 20,000 dolphins and porpoises and 2,000 large whales are slaughtered every year. Many other eco-battles lie ahead and I hope that all good people step forward and take an active role in saving our natural world from greed.
Let’s make mankind an instrument for good. There was a real battle here, where profound changes took place within a reduced time frame. Whales are a symbol of life on this planet. If we save the whales we save the humans. Fortunately the good side has won for now. Lets keep it that way. Get involved.
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Rod Marining is a co-founder of Greenpeace International. He has sailed into nuclear test zones and has disrupted Antarctic whaling on the Sea Shepherd.