In 2022, after twenty years, the South American nations Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil looked forward to the passing of a resolution on the declaration of the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary at the International Whaling Commission (IWC-68) conference in Slovenia.
However, the resolution could not move further as Benin, Ghana, Laos, Republic of Guinea, Liberia, Mauritania, Morocco, Cameroon, Solomon Islands, Antigua & Barbuda, Cambodia, Iceland, Kiribati, Laos, Morocco, and St. Lucia disappeared from the room. That meant there were not enough votes for a quorum to take place. The conference proceedings came to a standstill. There was one more day before the conference could conclude.
Based on the calculations done earlier, a sufficient number of countries intended to vote in favor of the sanctuary proposal. This resolution was a clear winner in IWC 68. Hence, this was a premeditated move from the pro-whaling countries to break the quorum so that the resolution was not passed.
There was agitation, anger and frustration in the room.
“We are not in a position to reach an agreement,” said the IWC Chair.
Brazil, in response said, “I strongly reject the decision of assuming that lack of quorum at the meeting in the room itself is a basis for interpreting there is no quorum.”
Response of countries
Countries including India, New Zealand, the United States of America, Australia, along with the NGOs and conservation groups, expressed disappointment. They also said this was disrespecting the other countries who were present in the room. Countries, including India and the United States expressed that there needs to be a stronger definition of quorum to ensure this is not repeated at IWC 69.
“This is not the first time this is happening in IWC. In 2011, this had happened,” says Rebecca Regenry, Senior Director, Wildlife, Human Society International. “Japan was a member then, and this was contentious. They said they may break the quorum and they really did that. It was more dramatic then. Brazil wanted to vote, but then one by one everyone walked out. It was the last day of the meeting. They did not have the quorum; they could not vote.”
Japan is not a member of IWC, but this year, they presented themselves as observers. According to HSI, the sanctuary has always been voted down by countries with a vested interest in killing whales for profit, including those countries that are close allies of pro-whaling Japan.
The South American countries said that it took a lot of effort to be present at IWC and they also need to answer their respective governments on what they really did at IWC. The failure to pass this resolution meant they had nothing concrete to say when they returned to their countries.
Further the country handed over the redefining of quorum to the United States of America which is the financial administrator of the IWC. The country said that IWC cannot be a subjected to blackmail and sabotage. Everyone needed to stand up for this.
India, in response to the situation, emphasized the need for redefining quorum. They said that after three and a half days of the conference, 17 countries withdrawing from the room is undermining the decision-making capabilities of IWC.
Australia, in concurrence, said that the parties purposely excluded themselves from the room and this directly undermines the good faith, governance of this commission. Their actions were clearly motivated to exploit the uncertainty in the interpretation of the rules of procedure. This is not the first time that such poor behavior on this issue has occurred. And they deeply regretted that some parties have chosen to behave in this manner.
Australia said it believes it is a matter of great regret that the Commission finds itself in such a difficult position in debating and deciding upon the creation of a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary which, for the record, Australia strongly supported. This Commission must ensure that this undermining of the IWC decision making procedures cannot happen again.
Australia recommended the first order of business in IWC-69 should be agreeing on new rules and procedures on quorum. The new text must ensure that proper standards of governance and decision making can be maintained.
The United States, a steadfast advocate for the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary, said that they are regretful a small number of delegations are choosing to block decision-making on this issue. The actions are polarizing and the Commission in an unfortunate state. They also expressed clarity on quorum is needed for decision making.
Grettel Delgadillo, Humane Society International’s deputy director for Latin America, said: “This is disrespectful behavior from pro-whaling nations, using such obstructive tactics to stop IWC countries from supporting the creation of a much-needed whale sanctuary. After nearly two decades of voting this sanctuary down, they knew they would likely lose the vote this time and so instead of accepting that democratic process, they stopped a vote from taking place at all. The whales will lose out and so too will local communities that stand to gain so much from booming ecotourism such as responsible whale watching.”
Species such as humpbacks, southern right whales are present in the Southern Atlantic. These whales are still recovering from centuries of intensive commercial whaling. The declaration of this sanctuary would have created a safe space for these species, more so, also with the existing issues like climate change and biodiversity crisis.
This story was produced as part of a Biodiversity Media Initiative travel grant to the 68th meeting of the International Whaling Commission. It was originally published by India Times on 20 November 2022 and has been lightly edited for length and clarity. The Biodiversity Media Initiative is supported by Arcadia — a charitable fund of Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing.
Banner image: A whale's tail breeches the surface of the ocean / Credit: India Times.