The 2016 biennial Commission meeting of the IWC will be held at the Grand Hotel Bernardin, Portoroz, Slovenia.
The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (1946) is the legal agreement which establishes the International Whaling Commission. Article VIII of the Convention states that countries are permitted to kill whales for scientific research purposes. Article VIII gives responsibility for setting and regulating these catches to individual governments, not the IWC.
Although the IWC does not regulate special permit whaling, Article VIII does stipulate that any country undertaking special permit whaling should report to the IWC each time a permit is issued. It also states that the scientific information produced by the special permit whaling should be presented, at least annually, to the Commission. This information is received by the IWC Scientific Committee which reviews all special permit whaling proposals and the results of any programmes using a process known as 'Annex P,' The Scientific Committee's findings are reported to the Commission.
The Commission often makes comments on proposals it receives from member Governments to establish or modify special permit programmes. It does this by passing Resolutions. Resolutions may be adopted by consensus or by a majority vote. These are not legally binding although incumbent on all member governments is a duty of cooperation with the IWC and its Scientific Committee, as highlighted in the ruling of the International Court of Justice (see below).
It is well documented that IWC member governments have been unable to reach agreement on special permit whaling. In 2010, the Government of Australia (with New Zealand intervening) brought a case against the Government of Japan at the International Court of Justice regarding Japan’s Special Permit programme in the Antarctic (known as JARPA II). In March 2014 the court delivered its Judgement. You can read the Judgement and related papers here.
As a result of the Judgement, the Government of Japan ended the JARPA II programme. The implications of the Judgement were discussed at the IWC Commission meeting in September 2014. Consensus could not be reached but a Resolution was adopted by vote. You can read a report of the discussion in the Chair’s Report of the meeting here. You can read the Resolution here.
In 2015, the Government of Japan began a new special permit whaling programme in the Antarctic, called NEWREP-A. Following the agreed Scientific Committee procedure (Annex P - see above), the proposal for the NEWREP-A programme was first reviewed by an independent Expert Panel. You can read their report here. The report of the Expert Panel, and a response from the Government of Japan were then considered by the Scientific Committee at its meeting in June 2015. The Committee could not reach agreement on whether lethal sampling was required to fulfil the objectives of the proposed research programme and this was reported to the Commission at its biennial meeting in October 2016.
Also at the 2016 Commission Meeting, a Resolution on improving the review process for whaling under special permit was proposed and adopted by vote. Amongst the measures set out in this Resolution is the formation of a new Standing Working Group of Commissioners to consider special permit-related reports and recommendations arising from the Scientific Committee. You can read the full text of the Resolution here.
In November 2016, the Government of Japan circulated a proposal for a new special permit whaling programme in the North Pacific Ocean, called NEWREP-NP. This will be reviewed first by an independent Expert Panel in January 2017 and the outcomes of that review will be passed to the Scientific Committee in May 2017.