Australia to tackle Japan on whaling at U.N. world court


Australia is to fire the opening salvoes in a legal battle before the United Nations highest court in June aimed at stopping Japan’s whaling operations in the Antarctic Ocean.

“The International Court of Justice . . . will hold public hearings in the case concerning whaling in the Antarctic, Australia versus Japan, from 26 June,” the ICJ said in a statement Thursday in The Hague.

Australia took Japan to court in May 2010 alleging that “Japan’s continued pursuit” of a large-scale whaling hunt, which Tokyo calls scientific research, put the country in breach of international conventions and its obligation to preserve “marine mammals and the marine environment.”

In Sydney, Attorney General Mark Dreyfus welcomed the long-waited opportunity to end Japan’s whaling program “once and for all.”

“Australia will now have its day in court to establish, once and for all, that Japan’s whaling hunt is not for scientific purposes and is against international law,” Dreyfus said in a statement. “Australia wants this slaughter to end.”

Canberra asked ICJ judges to order Tokyo to stop its JARPA II whale research program, the second phase of its so-called scientific research whale hunt in Antarctica under a special permit.

“Australia requests the court to order that Japan cease implementation of JARPA II, revoke any authorisation, permits or licences” allowing whaling under the program, the Australian government said.

Canberra also wants the ICJ to obtain guarantees from Tokyo that it will not undertake any further hunts until it conforms “to its obligations under international law.”

Australia’s lawyers will argue the case on the opening day, followed a week later by Japan, on July 2. A ruling in the matter however, may not be handed down for several months.

The government last week announced that its whaling mission in the Antarctic Ocean culled a “record low” number this year, blaming “unforgivable sabotage” by activists from the hardline Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The hunt netted just 103 Antarctic minke whales, the lowest since Japan initiated its “research whaling” in 1987.

Japan’s annual whale hunt has long drawn criticism from activists and foreign governments, but Tokyo defends the practice, saying eating whale is a culinary tradition.

Australia and New Zealand — which will also make a submission at the ICJ hearings — have been outraged by the hunt, with Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke saying last week that Japan’s latest whale tally “is 103 whales too many.”

Established in 1945, the ICJ is the U.N.’s highest judicial body and settles disputes between states.

  • AnimuX

    First, Japan has a long history of regulatory violations (like many other whaling nations). It is intellectually dishonest to pretend as if Japan is somehow an innocent party conducting its annual ‘research whaling’ programs in good faith with the International Whaling Commission.

    The violations include ignoring species protections, killing undersized whales, hunting in off-limits areas, hunting out of season, exceeding quotas, and more. Some of this is explained by Isao Kondo, a former whaling executive of 30 years experience, who wrote “The Rise and Fall of Japan’s Coastal Whaling” in which some of the methods used to dodge regulations are described.

    However, in a much more sinister and blatantly illegal practice Japan financed poaching operations called ‘pirate whaling’ all over the world. Foreign whalers, at times with direct guidance from Japanese representatives, killed whales with no regard for IWC established restrictions. The meat from these illicit hunts was smuggled to Japan disguised as other products. Investigator Nick Carter spent a great deal of time researching and exposing this illegal trade and was praised later by the UNEP for his efforts.

    Even the abuse of Article VIII of the ICRW (sometimes called the ‘research loophole’) is nothing new. 10 years before the moratorium on commercial whaling went into effect — and 6 years before the final vote to establish it — in 1976 the IWC set Bryde’s whale quotas to zero in order to protect the species from over exploitation. Japan responded by issuing itself a ‘special permit’ and killing over 200 animals from the protected stock.

    These actions do not exhibit good faith adherence to decisions of the IWC or the content of the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

    Nor is good faith exhibited by Japan’s use of development aid money and bribery for the purpose of vote manipulation in the IWC — ranging from cutting off aid to countries like Seychelles as punishment — to building fisheries infrastructure in certain Caribbean countries as a reward — to a more recent scandal uncovered by the UK Sunday Times revealing the exchange of cash filled envelopes and employment of prostitutes (this led the IWC to introduce new rules regarding participation fees).

    The IWC set all commercial whaling quotas to zero in 1986. Since then, in a repeated unilateral act of defiance, Japan continues to issue itself ‘special permits’ to hunt whales for ‘research’.

    In 2002, in an open letter published in the New York Times, twenty-one scientists (including three Nobel laureates) stated emphatically, “We, the undersigned scientists, believe Japan’s whale research program fails to meet minimum standards for credible science.” The letter specifically states there is no compelling reason to kill whales in order to obtain data from them.

    In a 2003 response, published in BioScience, IWC scientific committee members supported the 2002 rebuke of Japan’s whaling programs. The scientists stated, “Japan’s scientific whaling program is so poor that it would not survive review by any major independent funding agency,” and when it comes to misrepresenting commercial activities as science, “there has rarely been a more egregious example of this misrepresentation than Japan’s scientific whaling program.” They also explained that the vast majority of publications resulting from these programs have absolutely no value for the management of whale stocks.

    As a signatory to the ICRW Japan is expected to honor its international obligations.

    From the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties:

    Article 26
    “Pacta sunt servanda”

    Every treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith.

    The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea sums it up nicely:

    Article 300
    Good faith and abuse of rights

    States Parties shall fulfill in good faith the obligations assumed under this Convention and shall exercise the rights, jurisdiction and freedoms recognized in this Convention in a manner which would not constitute an abuse of right.

    Article 65
    Marine mammals

    States shall cooperate with a view to the conservation of marine mammals and in the case of cetaceans shall in particular work through the appropriate international organizations for their conservation, management and study.

    From the text of IWC Resolution 2007-1:

    “CONVINCED that the aims of JARPA II do not address critically important research needs;


    FURTHER CALLS UPON the Government of Japan to suspend indefinitely the lethal aspects of JARPA II conducted within the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.”