A loss in international court Monday caused the suspension of Japanese whaling activities in the Southern Sea, a change some believe will be only a small hurdle for the industry. Australia brought a case of misconduct against the Japanese government in May 2011 to the International Court of Justice, an entity which aims to solve disputes between nations.
Australia and Japan are both active members in the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. The ICRW was created in 1946 in an effort to end commercial whaling, which brought many species near extinction in the 19th and 20th centuries. The ICRW now has 88 member nations and in 1986, set a global moratorium on commercial whaling for its members.
Australia and Japan are two of the numerous nations which accepted the terms of the moratorium, only allowing for the hunting of whales for science. The 2011 accusation by Australia said Japan was unlawfully taking advantage of the scientific exemption from the moratorium.
To make headway in the case, Australia subjected their criticism only to activities in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, a body of water defined in the 1986 moratorium. Other nations like Norway and Iceland have come under fire for small whaling operations. However, these countries bluntly rejected the moratorium while Japan accepted it.
In a written submission to the International Court of Justice, Australia articulated what they consider Japan’s abuse of the exemption. An opening statement read, “Notwithstanding Japan’s acceptance…of the moratorium…it was determined to continue…whaling activities by…[any] means.”
This statement references Japan’s 1987 creation of The Japanese Whale Research Program under Special Permit in the Antarctic, or JARPA. Australia said it was “no coincidence” Japan began a large scale “scientific” program exactly one year after the moratorium was set in place. While JARPA was discontinued in 2005, a new and larger project called JARPA II was initiated.
Japan fired back in a statement to the international court in 2012, insisting their whaling activities in the Southern Sea were legally within the ICRW’s guidelines. The statement reminded Australia that,”article VIII [allows] the right of each Contracting Government to ‘grant…special [permits] authorizing that nation to kill, take,and treat whales for purposes of scientific research.'”
Japan’s statement also questioned the legal jurisdiction of the international court to entertain the case, arguing such a process was inappropriate. It called the accusation a “multilateral marine resource management [issue] …disguised as a bilateral legal dispute.” The statement requested the case be taken by the “proper forum,” referring to the International Whaling Commission, which functions as a buffer between nations in disagreement about whaling activities.
Nevertheless, the case was brought before and accepted by the International Court of Justice. The ruling was handed down Monday 12-4 in Australia’s favor, indicating the abuse of the scientific exemption by Japan. Presiding over the case was Judge Peter Tomka who confirmed, “the special permits granted by Japan…are not ‘for purposes of [science].'”
The ruling is a serious victory for Australian officials and animal advocacy groups. “I’m…over the moon,” said Peter Garrett, former environment minister for Japan. New Zealand activist Pete Bethune said, “The court dissected their…program…and…proved that the amount of science [was] tiny relative to [its] commercial aspects.”
Noriyuki Shikat, a spokesman for the Japanese Foreign Affairs Ministry represented Japan’s response saying the country was “deeply disappointed” by the ruling. While dismayed by the suspension, it may be only a small hurdle for the industry to overcome. JARPA II was in fact only postponed pending reconstruction.
Japan also has a slightly smaller, but very similar ongoing project in the Pacific Ocean which continues. While the project in the Southern Sea was said to have killed 173 whales annually, the Pacific Ocean project killed 105 between April and November. Of the 1,211 tons of whale meat that went to the Japanese auction in 2012, the market was only able to sell two thirds, leaving 908.8 tons of unused, unsold meat.
A member of the Environmental Investigation Agency, Clare Perry, said, “Next…[we need] to focus…attention on whaling in the North Pacific…using the same ‘scientific’ clause that has now been condemned…by the international court.”
While the suspension of JARPA II by the International Court of Justice may be simply a small hurdle for Japan, activist groups around the world continue the fight against the immoral killing of whales.
By Erin P. Friar