(Bangkok, Thailand) – In a decision that flies in the face of United Nations commitments to openness, transparency and accountability, a protracted, highly technical and sometimes ill-tempered debate on the use of secret ballots ended with Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) deciding to maintain the current minimal threshold for secret ballot voting.
Originally designed to be used sparingly and specifically on matters relating to the election of officers and other, similar procedural issues, a rule change (proposed by the UK government) was adopted many years ago that allowed for any vote to be conducted by secret ballot with the support of just 10 Parties.
“CITES Parties had an opportunity today to bring some sanity to the secret ballot process,” noted Will Travers, President of the Species Survival Network and CEO of Born Free Foundation. “Instead, they struck a blow against the very transparency that modern international Treaty deliberations demands.”
At the CITES meeting in Bangkok, two proposals were submitted concerning amendments to the secret ballot process, which would have made the meeting’s work more open. An EU proposal would have required a simple majority of Parties voting to approve the use of a secret ballot; a second proposal from Mexico and Chile would have required one-third voting in favor.
Travers continued: “The decision-making process on the secret ballot debate was rife with confusion and controversy, stalled the agenda of the meeting, and the result will undermine efforts to ensure accountability in CITES. Sadly, the decision to continue allowing secret ballots with only ten Parties in support strikes a blow against transparency and SSN hopes that CITES Parties will review this issue expeditiously with a view to making the use of secret ballots the exception, not the rule.”
- A review of significant aspects of the secret ballot debate: Japan (on a point of order) called for a vote on whether any change to the Rules of Procedure needed to be passed by a simple majority or by two thirds. Japan prevailed (71 in favour and 56 opposed) making it far more difficult to make changes to the rules.
- Next, a Proposal from Colombia that 40 supporting Parties would be required in order to have a secret ballot was conducted by secret ballot and was defeated: 67 in favour, 60 against and 4 abstentions.
- Then the EU proposal (requiring a simple majority in order to vote by secret ballot) was conducted, again by secret ballot and was defeated: 62 in favour; 62 against and 5 abstentions.
- Up next, Mexico and Chile proposal, already weakened by a US amendment requiring just 25 supporting Parties in order to have a vote by secret ballot, conducted by secret ballot, was defeated: 41 in favour; 91 against and with 1 abstention.
- Penultimately, Mexico and Chile tried to secure support for the original proposal requiring one third of the Parties to support a vote by secret ballot but, in a secret ballot, this also failed with 66 in support; 64 against and 2 abstentions.
- Finally Mexico and Chile tried for a revote vote on the use of the secret ballot (this time in an open vote!) but this was also doomed with 67 in favour; 50 against and 11 abstentions.