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Greasing the Wheels to Get At the Whales

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It's an old story, but it never fails to shock -- trading cash and equivalents for votes at the International Whaling Commission, the international convention that sets rules about the treatment of whales in the world's oceans.

Even though young people in Japan are hardly interested in eating whale meat, the government is still committed to killing whales, and seeks each year greater validation from the IWC for its currently unauthorized whale-killing gambits. The upcoming meeting, the 62nd annual gathering, starts in a couple of days in Agadir, Morocco. This year, the run up to the IWC meeting has been intense and fraught with controversy. The participating nations have been deliberating for some months already on the merits of a proposal that would suspend the commercial whaling moratorium, and allow Japan, Norway, and Iceland to hunt whales openly, under a system proponents claim will feature monitoring by the IWC and a schedule for reduction in catch over ten years.

Undercover investigators for London's Sunday Times, posing as representatives of an unnamed billionaire conservationist, reported videotaping officials from six countries who were willing to talk about selling their votes. The point was to set up a bidding war between the "conservationist" and the government of Japan. The newspaper identified representatives of the governments of St. Kitts and Nevis, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Grenada, Republic of Guinea and Ivory Coast all as willing participants in negotiating the preferred price for casting a pro-whaling vote--including foreign aid to their countries and personal matters such as generous per diems for government officials, and even call girls for those who would attend the IWC meeting and vote accordingly.

A civil and democratic society cannot function with rampant corruption. So it's extremely disturbing to see an international gathering infected with this sort of venality, especially when you consider that the votes really do count at IWC, an 88-member body in which a three-quarter vote could, for example, overturn the commercial whaling moratorium. One has to wonder what kind of corruption permeates the domestic government there if it's behind this kind of nonsense at the IWC.

It's bad enough that this kind of sleazy bartering takes place where the lives of animals are at stake. But the United States and other nations seem to ignore it, or at least tolerate it, saying and doing nothing to challenge or overcome this corrosive abuse of the political process. It's not a small matter at all for the world's leading democratic power to stand by while the democratic process is so shamefully subverted, and routinely so, at IWC, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and in other forums where the fate of animals can turn so decisively for the better or worse.

We'll see how the proposal fares in the days ahead, and will have more to say about it. But right now it's hard to imagine the benefit of any deal emerging from a forum so plagued by dishonest practices.

This post originally appeared on Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.

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