puts Iceland membership on hold
Tuesday, July 24, 2001
LONDON — The International Whaling Commission, after a heated
debate, put Iceland's membership on hold Monday because of its
refusal to sign a commercial hunting ban but gave it observer
Iceland, which applied to rejoin the organization last month after
quitting nine years ago, angrily rejected the move which it
described as illegal.
"Iceland's membership bid has not been rejected, but nor has
it been accepted. It has been given observer status for the next
year so it can talk but not vote," British delegation leader
Richard Cowan told Reuters at the IWC's 53rd annual meeting.
Iceland, which walked out of the IWC nine years ago in disgust at
its anti-whaling stance, applied for membership again last month
while controversially insisting that it be allowed to resume
The vote, on a resolution by the United States and Australia to
condemn Iceland's refusal to sign the anti-whaling clause, stirred
furious debate that revealed deep divisions in the 55-year-old
The 38 nations with voting rights voted 19 in favor, with three
abstaining and 16 describing the vote as illegal and refusing to
Icelandic delegation leader Stefan Asmundsson rejected the outcome
as an illegal
move which it would ignore.
"It is completely illegal. We are full members and we want to
show that by not backing down," Asmundsson told Reuters.
Cowan said the vote and ensuing bickering revealed the fundamental
"It is like a whale, old and toothless," he said.
IWC chairman, Sweden's Bo Fernholm, said the decision not to
reject Iceland's bid outright was a conciliatory gesture and it
was up to Reykjavik to consider its next
"This was a very difficult issue. It was certainly the most
difficult I have had to face, but my IWC experience only goes back
seven or eight years," he said later.
Summing up the tone of the 19 countries objecting to the Icelandic
position, Irish delegation head Michael Canny warned of
"Ireland cannot accept that any country can become a member
without adhering to the fundamental rules and regulations. It
would lead to anarchy in international relations," he said.
Iceland, which said it had not resumed commercial whaling but
would not be bound never to do so, argues that the rising whale
population is consuming its vital fish stocks.
Environmentalists fear that Iceland's refusal to abide by the
IWC's rules will cripple the organization whose only real muscle
"We are relieved that Iceland's blatant attempt to undermine
the IWC has been defeated, but are worried at the closeness of the
vote," a spokeswoman for Greenpeace said.
She accused Japan of having tried to rig the vote by offering
development aid in return for votes.
During a debate on the issue Japan denied attempted vote-rigging,
but delegates from many nations said it had been the practice by
many countries in the run up to the IWC's annual meeting.
Norway and Japan have consistently opposed the 16-year-old ban on
commercial whaling of all species of great whale, and in 1993
Norway unilaterally resumed the practice.
Both countries were in the forefront of efforts to rally support
for Iceland, against equally determined opposition from Britain
and the United States.
Britain, which ceased commercial whaling in 1963 and fully
endorses the ban, last month banned Norwegian whale research ships
from its 200 nautical mile territorial waters to protest Oslo's
resumption of whale product exports to Japan.
Copyright 2001, Reuters
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