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IWC 2006: Secret ballots to be pursued again in 2007

Caribbean Loses Drive For Secret Ballot At Whale Meet

By Tony Best - Special To HBN

Hardbeatnews, BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, Sat. June 17, 2006: After losing a close vote yesterday afternoon at the International Whaling Commission, Caribbean nations are vowing to continue their campaign to get the IWC to use the secret ballot in voting on key matters.

As occurred last year in South Korea and in 2004 in Italy, Caribbean states were narrowly defeated by a coalition led by most of the world's rich nations, joined by a handful of developing countries, which opposed the idea of using secret balloting instead of open voting on matters dealing with the sustainable use of the world's marine resources in general and commercial whaling in particular.

Of the 63 votes cast at the IWC's 58th annual conference in St. Kitts-Nevis, Caribbean states garnered 30 ballots in support of its cause while its opponents collected 33. Surprisingly, Belize which in previous years backed its Caribbean neighbors, broke rank and threw its backing to New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, the U.S. and several other rich nations which campaigned for open voting.

"We are really very disappointed," Lloyd Pascal, Dominica's IWC Commissioner and a former Minister of Agriculture, said afterwards. "But we are going to be back with it again next year when the IWC meets in Alaska. Hopefully by then we would have been able to convinced two or three more countries to support our efforts."

The Caribbean received wide support from the African nations, including Mali, Cameroon, Benin, Mauritania and Gabon, as well as from the Russian Federation, Japan, Norway, Iceland, Nicaragua, Morocco and China, countries which believe that small states must be protected from attempts at victimization.

Why is secret balloting considered so important to the Caribbean, especially the Eastern Caribbean? "We have been threatened with economic boycotts because of our votes in the IWC and we are convinced that secret ballot would remove the threat which hangs over our heads," said Pascal. "You know, it's hypocritical for some countries to come before the meeting and oppose the Caribbean's proposal because the IWC itself uses secret ballots to elect a Chairman and Vice Chairman. It also uses secret ballots to decide a simple thing as where the next meeting should be held. As a matter of fact we are convinced that it was because of a secret ballot that St.Kitts-Nevis was able to defeat France in 2004 in Italy for the right to host this year's conference in Basseterre."

Colin Murdoch, Permanent Secretary in Antigua's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, shared Dominica's disappointment. "Antigua & Barbuda is disappointed that the vote on secret ballot went the way it did," he said minutes after the decision became known. "But all of these votes in the IWC are very narrow, won or lost by one or two. There has been some narrowing but not enough to take us over the hurdle."

During the debate, several rich countries ranging from Italy, France, New Zealand, the U.K., Germany and the U.S. to Sweden Australia, strongly criticized the idea of secret balloting, charging that countries were behaving as if they had something to hide. New Zealand was particularly bitter, charging that vote buying and selling had become apparent in the IWC.

But the Caribbean received strong backing from Japan, which introduced the resolution calling for secret balloting, complaining that the Caribbean and other small countries had been victimized by international environmental organizations and other international which threatened with economic reprisals if they continued supporting sustainable use of whales as food.

In 1994, for instance, a U.S.-based NGO attempted to launch a tourist boycott against Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, St. Kitts-Nevis and Antigua citing their voting patterns in IWC Meetings.

Joji Morishita, a top Japanese representative to the IWC, said that talk about openness and democracy was irrelevant in this case because of the continuing threats directed against the small islands.

Cedric Liburd, St. Kitts-Nevis, Minister of Agriculture, struck back at Australia, Britain, the U.S. and New Zealand by name accusing them of hypocrisy, contending that while they use secret ballots in meetings of CITES, the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species, the developed countries were ignoring the harsh realities faced by small islands and coastal states.

"There is hypocrisy within this body," Liburd told the meeting before the vote. "Internationally, in CITES and other bodies we have the same countries, New Zealand, Australia, the United States, England, all of them are part of CITES and the ballot there is secret. Now at this level (within the IWC) they are speaking about transparency, saying that because some of our votes are up for sale we want secret ballots."

Nothing could be further from the truth, he insisted.

South Africa, Panama, India, Brazil and Chile were among the developing nations, which opposed the Caribbean. – Hardbeatnews.com

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