The ICRW was opened for signature on 3 December 1946 and entered into force in November 1948. Then also the IWC took up its work. While originally having a membership of 15, currently the IWC counts 88 states as members with Japan having left the organisation in July 2019. Over the last decades, the IWC has made headlines because of its ‘deadlock’ in which different interests collide, which, in the end, was exactly the reason for Japan having to leave the IWC. This is because in 1982 a 3/4 majority of IWC members voted for a zero-catch-quota for commercial whaling, which, despite it originally aimed to be for 10 years, is still in force. This zero-catch-quota is widely known as the whaling ‘moratorium’.
The ICRW recognises three distinct types of whaling: commercial whaling, special permit (‘scientific’) whaling and Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW). It is the latter which is of relevance for our purposes. ASW is carried out in four countries: Inuit and Makah in the United States, the Chukchi of Russia, in Greenland by Greenlanders and in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines by the Bequia Islanders. From the outset, whaling by aboriginal peoples was to be treated differently than commercial whaling as the impacts of opportunistic or single takes were never considered detrimental to the conservation status of a whale stock. Yet, in order to be recognised in the ASW by the IWC, aboriginal peoples are to document that they have a need for whales in order to be given a quota. This documentation occurs through the nation state via a ‘Needs Statement’.
While the interests of indigenous/aboriginal peoples are in principle recognised, there are systemic difficulties concerning their actual inclusion. For instance, there is no mechanism in place that ensures that aboriginal representatives can in fact participate in the bi-annual meetings of the Commission, in intercessional activities or in the IWC’s Scientific Committee. Further, it is up to the nation states to present and endorse the Needs Statement. For instance, when Japan was still member of the IWC, it never presented one at the behest of the aboriginal Ainu even though they have expressed their interest in resuming subsistence whaling. It is also the nation states which determines whether their country delegations are to include indigenous representatives as well. This is to say that just because there might be ASW carried out in one country, this does not automatically mean that aboriginal whalers of that country will have a say. Even though there is an Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling sub-committee, this is not automatically chaired by an aboriginal person. In fact, the current chairmanship is held by a representative from Switzerland.
An even more dire picture is painted when we take a look at the role of youth: neither the Convention itself nor any body that forms the IWC has a policy on youth involvement in place. Consequently, it is, in principle, up to the nation states or, and this is more likely, up to organisations to send youth representatives to the meetings. Given that the IWC has been a battleground of different interests at least since the adoption of the moratorium, it is not surprising that it has not developed a policy for youth involvement: imagining even other stakeholders than nation states to be involved in the debates surrounding whaling is difficult. After all, it is NGOs that push the narrative substantially.
The Whaling Convention itself and its implementing body, the IWC, have thus far managed to move towards indigenous/aboriginal peoples by recognising Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling as a distinct category of whaling. Beyond that, however, the strategic inclusion of indigenous peoples and even indigenous youth shows no movement whatsoever. Even at 75 years, the IWC is a very long way from becoming an organisation that corresponds to state-of-the-art conservation bodies.