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.

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