Aussie bid to end Japanese whaling

By AG staff and AAP 2 June 2010
Reading Time: 3 Minutes Print this page
The Australian government launches an international legal bid to bring a stop to Japanese whaling.

JAPAN SAYS IT WILL defend its research hunt that kills hundreds of whales per year, after Australia filed an international lawsuit arguing that the cull does not qualify for a scientific exemption to a 1986 ban on whaling.

Australia filed its lawsuit with the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Monday. It seeks to stop Japan exploiting a loophole in a 1986 global moratorium which allows whaling for research purposes.

The case maintains that Japan’s hunt is essentially for commercial purposes and that it fails to qualify for the scientific exemption, partly because of “a lack of any demonstrated relevance for the conservation and management of whale stocks”, according to court documents.

Two-year process

Peter Garrett, the federal minister for environment protection told the ABC today that it could take up to two years for the International Court of Justice to rule on the case.  

Hirofumi Hirano, a Japanese government spokesman, called Australia’s action “extremely regrettable”, while a Japanese foreign ministry official in charge of whaling said Tokyo would defend itself before the international court. “We cannot accept Australia’s argument at all,” ministry official Yutaka Aoki said. “We will firmly respond to the lawsuit.”

Between the 1987/88 season and the 2004/2005 season Japan killed 6,800 minke whales for research in the Antarctic alone, compared with 840 worldwide in the 31 years before the moratorium, Australia’s application said. A further 2,595 minke whales were killed between 2005/06 and 2008/2009.

“The scale of killing, taking and treating carried out under this program greatly outweighs any previous practice undertaken on the basis of scientific permits in the history of the IWC (International Whaling Commission),” it said. “Whale-meat caught during JARPA I (a Japanese research whaling program) was taken to Japan where it was placed on commercial sale,” the application added. Australia’s claim asks the ICJ to “adjudge and declare that Japan is in breach of its international obligations in implementing the (research whaling) program in the Southern Ocean.”

Possibility of backfiring

Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith played down fears that the lawsuit could backfire if it fails by giving Japan’s hunts a degree of legitimacy. “Any legal action carries with it a chance or a prospect of success, equally there can be no guarantee of success, so we are confident that the action we have taken is the best action to advance our policy objective which is to see Japan cease whaling in the Southern Ocean,” Smith told reporters in Auckland on Monday.

New Zealand has said it will decide within weeks whether it will file a similar case against Japan. Canberra has long opposed Japan’s annual whaling expeditions in Antarctic waters, and has in recent months hardened its stance, culminating in last week’s announcement of legal action.

Japanese whalers have clashed in recent years with militant activists from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, who harass them on the high seas. One environmentalist, New Zealander Peter Bethune, is on trial in Japan after boarding a Japanese ship in February, and faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Australia’s legal action also comes before the June 21 – 25 annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission, which will discuss a compromise proposal to end years of divisions among its pro and anti-whaling members. The plan would allow Japan – as well as Iceland and Norway, which kill whales in defiance of the moratorium – to hunt the mammals openly if they agree to reduce their catch “significantly” over 10 years. Australia has attacked the compromise, under which Japan’s Antarctic catch would go down to 410 whales next season – from about 500 this year – and then to 205 in the 2015-2016 season.