Sunday, July 10, 2011

Courts, kangaroos and justice

The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) starts Monday. Sidney Holt, ASOC's representative to the IWC, has written a series of blog posts to provide context for this meeting and the issue of whaling in the Southern Ocean. This post, the third in the series, is also cross-posted on the IFAW blog.

For some reason that is not terribly clear the proceedings of the IWC Scientific Committee are supposed to be kept very secret until 10am on the opening day of the Commission meeting, and even then nothing must be said in public about what has been said in Committee unless it is in the Report that the Head of Science has carefully edited. But these days being as they are, there are WikiLeakers scattered through the SC's ranks. One soft-spoken Deep Throat told me that up in Tromsø someone accused Dr Bill de la Mare, on the Australian Delegation, of having me as a 'mentor', specialised in giving advice on how to exploit scientific uncertainty. Now that would be flattering if it were not a lie. Come to think of it, it is flattering even though it is a lie. Bill is my mentor! It is from him that years ago, during my long incarceration in the SC, I learnt the basic rules of engineering, such as: Don't mend it if it ain't broke; do the calculations and then treble the numbers for safety; never give a sucker an even break; never hesitate to kick a man when he's down. Precious knowledge, and all reminding me of the time when the Commissioner for Japan labelled Bill, Justin Cooke, Kees Lankester, me and a couple of others as "The Holt Faction". I am unreasonably proud of that appellation and have a signed baseball cap to prove it.

Let's get serious. The International Whaling Commission has a very nasty habit: it runs kangaroo courts from time to time. Well, we called them that before we British were told we had to be nice to Aussies. As a matter of fact the term came from California and Texas and is associated with argument by leaps and bounds. Basically the judgment precedes the hearing and he who is being convicted has no access to legal advice or counsel, nor allowed to defend himself. It was useful for stringing up ethnically incorrect men who were accused of having dared to look at a white woman. In the IWC it begins with an accusation, usually by the Commissioner for Japan, that someone has either used a ship to interfere with legitimate whaling operations or has dared to assert somewhere in public (not usually inside the hallowed halls of the IWC congregation) that his country is in the business of bribing other countriy's governments to vote appropriately. Worldwide Fund for Nature nearly got into trouble for this latter sin but at the meeting in Sorrento some years ago IFAW really got into trouble for issuing a press release that made a slight hint of misbehaviour. A special gathering of Commissioners and their legal advisers took up a bit of time of the entire Commission, and we on the IFAW delegation spent a great deal of time drafting a response to an angry letter from the Chairman - I think we made 15 drafts during one horrendous night. But at no time was our group invited to address the Commissioners to explain our position or defend ourselves. Eventually our polite letter let us avoid the indignity of being thrown out of the meeting, as Japan was demanding.

Harassment of the Nisshin Maru is regarded as much more serious than allegations of libel. (By whose law - that of the Host Country? Good job for IFAW that we were in Italy and not, for example, the UK!). Greenpeace used to get into trouble when it began to send its ships down to the Antarctic to 'observe' Japanese 'scientific' whaling. Japan's efforts to cancel their Observer status failed. But recently the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has become the main target. Twice the Commission has had to suspend its real work in order to watch propaganda videos (highly edited) of the Sea Shepherd ships and listen to PowerPoint presentations. These antics at most lead to harmless Resolutions saying that everyone should behave safely when moving about with ships, especially near other ships. The reality is, of course, that such problems are supposed to be dealt with by the flag states of the ships involved, perhaps by IMCO, by Lloyds or other insurers and eventually perhaps even by international courts of justice. But not by the IWC, which is entirely unequipped to act responsibly, and whose delegations seem to have no idea of what common justice procedures are all about.

As WikiLeaks has revealed the government of Japan has even asked that of the USA to nullify the SSCS charitable status in the USA simply on the basis of its unvalidated and un-tried accusations of bad behaviour at sea. And, amazingly, the US Commissioner to the IWC has apparently said she would be able to do that - an action she has absolutely no authority to offer.

It is sure that the government of Japan will try, at the IWC meeting in Jersey in July, to get Sea Shepherd spanked by the Commission; they can't do what they used to try with Greenpeace, IFAW and even WWF - to throw them out of the meeting - because Sea Shepherd isn't allowed into IWC meetings anyway. What they can try to do is waste everyone's time again by forcing us to watch their videos and listen to vituperative speeches. I hope that the Commissioners will this year say "Enough is enough. Take your complaints to the proper authorities". Of course, we are sure that will not happen because Japan has no case. It's all rather sad.

-Sidney Holt, Paciano, Italy

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