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IWC rejects Japan’s proposal to lift commercial whale hunting ban

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IWC rejects Japan’s proposal to lift commercial whale hunting ban

A Japan-led proposal to lift a 32-year ban on the commercial hunting of whales has been rejected by a global body for the conservation of the mammals.

During a bi-annual summit in Brazil, member states of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on Friday voted down the motion by 41 to 27.

Two member states – Russia and South Korea – abstained, while one – Monaco – did not participate.

Norway and Iceland – the only countries to explicitly allow commercial whaling – were among those who backed Japan’s bid.

Tokyo said it would undertake a “fundamental reassessment” of its IWC membership following the vote, which guaranteed the body’s 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling will continue.

Patrick Ramage, a director of marine conservation for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), welcomed the result as “good news for whales”, adding that Japan’s “audacious proposal would have been a big step backward”.

“It [the proposal] could have erased a generation of conservation measures and restrictions on whale hunting,” Ramage told Al Jazeera from the summit in Florianopolis, the capital of Brazil’s southeastern Santa Catarina state. 

“It’s increasingly clear that Japan needs to reconcile itself to the emerging global consensus for whale conservation instead of whale killing,” he added.

On Thursday, the IWC also passed a non-binding “Florianopolis Declaration” stating commercial whaling is no longer a necessary economic activity by 40 votes to 27.

International controversy

Japan’s call for the IWC’s moratorium to be lifted formed part of a proposal for wider reform of the organisation, which it suggested should focus on “resource management” and permit species of whales “whose population is healthy enough to be harvested sustainably”.

In particular, Tokyo was keen to win a concession allowing for the regulated hunting of Minke whales, a species it has claimed are abundant and in no danger of extinction.

Minke whales, comprising of the Common and Antarctic varieties, are not listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“Minke whaling is an integral part not only of our history, but also of our own lives,” the Japanese delegation said in its opening statement to the summit.

“We are proud that Japan’s small-type coastal minke whaling has always been a sustainable fishery. Our fishery has not negatively impacted the ecosystem and it never will,” the statement added.

Whale meat is a popular foodstuff among certain parts of Japan’s population, though demand for it has fallen significantly in recent decades, according to a 2013 IFAW report. 

Japan, the current chair of the IWC, officially observes the body’s prohibition on commercial hunting but continues to capture hundreds of Minke whales each year under an exception to the ban, which permits the killing of whales for scientific purposes.

In 2014, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Japan to halt its whaling programme in the Southern Ocean, also called the Antarctic Ocean, after determining that the hunting permits granted by authorities were not being used “for purposes of scientific research”.

Japan resumed the programme in 2016, under a significantly reduced hunting quota of 333, while Iceland and Norway hunted a combined 637 Minke whales in 2016, the last year for which IWC records are available.

Norway and Iceland are the only countries to explicitly allow commercial whaling [File: AP]

‘Many threats’

Under the terms of the 1986 moratorium, certain aboriginal communities are also allowed to catch and kill a regulated number of whales, in line with their historic cultural practices and the mammals’ nutritional value.

In 2016, aboriginal catches amounted to 361 – comprised of Fin, Humpback, Minke, Gray and Bowhead whales. The hunting took place in Russia, Denmark and the United States.

An estimated 45,000 whales have been killed since the IWC’s 1986 ruling, according to the UK-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, including those hunted under its exemptions (scientific purposes and aboriginal catching).

Claire Bass, director of the US-based animal protection organisation Humane Society International, said overturning the moratorium would have risked “robbing future generations of the opportunity to meet, admire and learn from the ocean’s giants”.

“Japan’s proposal to resume commercial whaling would be like jumping from a plane without a parachute,” Bass told Al Jazeera. 

“Whales are long-lived, slow-breeding animals and this makes them especially vulnerable to over-hunting,” she added.

“Whales face so many threats in our increasingly degraded oceans; it’s critical that the IWC focuses its time and resources on tackling the many problems that we create for whales, such as entanglements in fishing gear and pollution.”

Six of the world’s 13 “great whale species” are classified as endangered, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

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Azerbaijan

Laza, the land of waterfalls – Photo Gallery

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Originally published by Caucasian Knot

The Azerbaijani village of Laza, about 200 km from the capital, Baku, is situated on a high-altitude plateau, Shah Yaylag. At the end of March when the snow starts to melt, tourists flock to Laza to see the waterfalls for which the area is famous. The locals, who are mostly ethnic Lezgins, earn a living by renting out cottages to tourists and offering visitors transportation in all-terrain vehicles in the winter.

Azeri Times presents this photo essay from Laza by Aziz Karimov, republished from Caucasian Knot.

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Opposition activist sentenced to 6 years in Azerbaijan

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On 18 September, the Baku Court for Serious Crimes sentenced a member of the youth committee of the opposition Popular Front of Azerbaijan Party (PFAP), Orkhan Bakhishli, to six years in prison.

Bakhishli was detained by men in plain clothes in downtown Baku on the evening of 7 May. On 10 May, the Yasamal District Court in Baku charged the youth activist with drug possession and ordered his detention for four months.

The PFAP has claimed that the charges against Bakhishli are trumped up and politically motivated. Several days before his arrest, on 3 May at a World Press Freedom Day event at the grave of journalist Elmar Huseynov, who was shot and killed in 2005, Bakhishli accused the Azerbaijani government of Huseynov’s murder.

Human rights activists consider Bakhishli a political prisoner. Previously, he served 30 days of administrative detention after being arrested ahead of a 31 March opposition rally.

In recent years, activists Ahsan Nuruzadeh, Murad Adilov, Bayram Mammadov, Giyas Ibrahimov, Elgiz Gahramanov, blogger Rashad Ramazanov and others have also been jailed on charges of drug possession.

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Azerbaijan a year after the LGBT raids: has anything changed in Europe’s most homophobic country?

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Azerbaijani society has never been tolerant toward sexual minorities, but no one expected the cruel and large-scale violence that occurred last year. At least a hundred people were humiliated, beaten and raped. People who were suspected of being gay were blackmailed and warned not to walk in the central streets of Baku. Meydan TV investigated the possible reasons for the police violence immediately after it happened last year and we now return to this topic to find out what has changed in Azerbaijan over the past year.

I felt like I had done something terrible

“I was absolutely desperate. I was leading a repulsive life: I drank a lot, I used drugs,” Ali recalls September 2017 (all names have been changed). He says that the “repulsive” life he led seemed to help him forget what he had experienced for a while: like many other gay Azeris, Ali was detained in a surprise raid in downtown Baku. He spent several days at a police station. It still is not easy for him to talk about what he experienced – in response to every questions he says that many people, for example, transgender people, had an even harder time than he did. “Not only did they call them the filthiest words and beat them, they also shaved their heads, which was the most humiliating thing for them,” Ali says.

Ali had never advertised his sexuality but it became obvious for people around him after police detained him. “I felt like I had done something terrible and that I was persecuted for it. My landlord kicked me out of the apartment I was renting, and my friends and loved ones turned away from me,” Ali recalls.

Ali gradually did manage to return to normal life – there were kind people who helped him while he was looking for a job. Unlike Ali, another gay man who was detained, Murad, had a certain amount of money which helped him flee the country. Murad left immediately after he was released from the police station and now lives in Turkey: “I wanted to move to Norway, but I was denied a visa.”

Murad has not been successful in finding a job and it seems he will have to go back home soon. “Of course I’m afraid, of course I don’t want to go back. I’d stay here if I could. At least there’s an LGBT community in Turkey, and they help each other,” Murad says.

 

Four brave lawyers

According to official statistics, police detained 83 people during the LGBT raids in Baku in September 2017.

“Thirty-three people filed lawsuits for illegal arrest and cruel treatment after they were released,” said Gulnara Mehdiyeva, a representative of the human rights organization Minority Azerbaijan and a member of the local LGBT alliance Nefes (Breath). Gulnara says that apart from physical and moral damages, those detained also incurred material damages:

“They were jailed for different terms, some for 10 or 15 days and some for 20 or 30 days. Many lost their jobs because their employers refused to take them back after their long absence,” Gulnara Mehdiyeva says.

Four lawyers agreed to defend the rights of the LGBT people affected. One of them, Samad Rahimli, says that judges rejected all the complaints. The same 33 people sent complaints to prosecution agencies, but prosecution agencies did not find any criminal wrongdoing.

Azerbaijani rights activist Kamala Aghazadeh believes that lawsuits will not produce results while the country has no law defending LGBT people from discrimination. “Society absolutely needs a law that would guarantee the protection of LGBT rights,” she said. Perhaps, the adoption of such a law would remove Azerbaijan from the list of the most homophobic European countries which Azerbaijan has led for four consecutive years now.

A month after the raids, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks sent a letter to Azerbaijan’s Interior Minister in which he called for “thorough investigations into serious allegations of human rights violations of LGBT persons recently arrested and detained in Baku”.
No reaction followed from the Azerbaijani government.

 

Four suicides and five murders

Samad Ismayilov, the director of Minority Azerbaijan magazine, said that four LGBT people committed suicide in Azerbaijan in 2017. Ismayilov said that specialized organizations recorded five murders which presumably were anti-LGBT hate crimes over the year. He said those were average annual figures.

“However, these are only cases that we have managed to learn about. In reality, there are many more crimes of this kind,” he said. According to Ismayilov, activists were not able to find out even an approximate number of members of the LGBT community in Azerbaijan because most people hid their sexual orientation.

Samad said no raids or large-scale assaults on gays had been recorded in Azerbaijan in 2018, but several trans people were at the police station the other day. “They were summoned to the police, asked several questions and released. However, we do not understand the reason for this interest, nor did we understand it last year,” Samad said.


Produced with the support of the Russian Language News Exchange

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