Monday, August 22, 2011

Up the Norse!

Dr. Sidney Holt is ASOC's representative at meetings of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and has decades of IWC experience. The following guest blog by Dr. Holt provides information on the topic of transparency in international meetings, which can sometimes be hard to come by. 

It is nice to be able to write something good about Norway. Let me explain.

A few days ago the Standing Committee (31 pf 175 Parties) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was discussing the threats to elephants from the ivory trade, involving especially China. Kuwait proposed that representatives of ‘Civil Society' (code for NGOs) be excluded from the room. A vote was taken, giving seven votes to Kuwait’s proposal and six against, with two abstentions – a half of the members of the Committee didn’t show up, apparently. The NGO Observers were thrown out.  This naturally caused a huge row, on a matter of principle. That led to another voting round, and apparently Norway changed its position from ‘throw out the NGOs’ to ‘let them back in’, and several more countries abstained. In trooped the observers, smiles all around.

I have no idea why Norway shifted. Maybe the delegate was told by Oslo that ‘This very democratic country supports transparency’. Or he – or maybe a she – had doubts, couldn’t sleep, suffered a crisis of conscience...Qui sa?

Several things about that event are more worrying. The Latin American members of the Standing Committee voted with Kuwait, against transparency, yet the same Latin Americans in the International Whaling Commission say they strongly favour transparency and NGO involvement.

Anyway, in the IWC we are used to the weirdness of Norway’s voting actions. – like its invention of the position of ‘not abstaining but not voting’. I have yet to find any old hand who understands the difference. But my hope is that if and when the Latin Americans’ proposal for a South Atlantic whale sanctuary is voted upon in Panama next June Norway will have the sense to break from Japan’s demeaning stranglehold, and deep hatred of what the IWC calls ‘closed waters’, and support it.

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