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Photo: Golli.

Iceland Among Nations to Boycott Vote on South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary

Iceland’s delegation to a meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) joined 14 other nations in walking out on a vote on whether to establish a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic, Vísir reports. The mass walkout took place at the end of Friday’s session and meant that there were not enough member nations present to vote on the initiative. The Icelandic government has since commented on the walkout, saying that it objected to the vote on grounds of protocol and fairness to absent member states.

A proposal to establish a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic has been circulating amongst members of the IWC for years—20 years, according to a representative of Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) Germany.

A simple majority of the IWC member states has already voted in support of the proposal, but a 3/4 majority is needed to ratify it.

“Pro-whaling nations…holding Commission hostage”

Iceland’s delegation to the IWC consists of four delegates, including one representative each from the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute. The fourth representative is Kristján Loftsson, CEO of the whaling company, Hvalur, hf.

A recap of the Friday meeting on the IWC website described it as “challenging,” starting, on a more positive note, with the fact that it “ended with a consensus Resolution on Marine Plastics” which “highlights the transboundary nature of the threat and need for collaboration at international and multi-disciplinary levels.”

Transboundary collaboration was stymied at the next agenda item, however, although the IWC recap struck a rather diplomatic tone when describing it: “Absence of some governments from the room and subsequent debate regarding quorum and handling of the Schedule Amendment on the South Atlantic Sanctuary prevented a vote taking place and resulted in Commission agreement to develop proposals to clarify the rules related to quorum and attendance. This will be the first agenda item at the next meeting in 2024 and will be discussed before the Commission is asked to take any decisions.”

Matt Collins, the president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), was more vocal in his critique of the proceedings, however, tweeting:

“breaking news: pro-whaling nations at #IWC68 refuse to join sessions, breaking quorum required for any decision-making. This is all because they fear losing a vote on establishing a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary (where none of them hunt or want to hunt whales)”

According to Collins’ later tweets, Iceland joined 14 other nations in the walkout: Antigua & Barbuda, Benin, Cambodia, Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana, Iceland, Kiribati, Laos, Liberia, Mauritania, Morocco, Nauru Palau, St. Lucia, and the Solomon Islands. The meeting chair elected to adjourn for lunch to see if the absent nations would return, but none of them did. “Same countries still absent, holding the Commission hostage…” tweeted Collins, a state of affairs that continued even after a second adjournment and “passionate pleas from Latin American countries for those absent to show respect to those who have remained.”

Ministry says Iceland objected out of fairness to absent members, protocol

Dúi Landmark, the PR officer for the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries, confirmed that the Icelandic delegation walked out of the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary vote. In a written statement issued to the media about the incident, the Ministry stated that fewer than two out of three IWC member states were present at this year’s meeting in Portoroz, Slovenia, for a variety of reasons. The statement noted that it was the opinion of representatives of developing nations in Africa and island nations in the Caribbean that a vote should not be held under such circumstances. A number of present nations tried to proceed with the vote, but the Icelandic government agreed with the objectors, saying that holding a vote would be a breach of protocol according to the IWC’s Articles of Association.

“Consequently, Iceland believes that it would be irregular to vote on such a proposal when the requirements of the [IWC’s] Articles of Association have not been fulfilled and a number of member states are unable to substantively comment on the proposal in question through participation in, and discussions at the annual meeting,” concluded the Ministry’s response.

The vote on the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary will be the first agenda item at next year’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission.

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