Whaling commission puts Iceland membership on hold

Tuesday, July 24, 2001
By Reuters

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 status.

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 commercial whaling.

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 organization.

The 38 nations with voting rights voted 19 in favor, with three abstaining and 16 describing the vote as illegal and refusing to take part.

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 weakness of
the IWC.

"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 international anarchy.

"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 is consensus.

"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.

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