UN orders Japan to stop whaling in Antarctic waters

The International Court of Justice, the main judicial organ of the United Nations, ordered Japan to temporary hold whaling activities in the Antarctic. The order comes after Australia filed a lawsuit questioning the 'scientific' nature of Japan's whaling program.

Issei Kato/REUTERS
A captured short-finned pilot whale is measured by fishery workers, including Fisheries Agency employees, at Taiji Port in Japan's oldest whaling village of Taiji, 420 km (260 miles) southwest of Tokyo, in this picture taken on June 4, 2008.

As it's currently practiced, Japanese whaling in Antarctic waters isn't science, a United Nations court ruled on Monday. 

The Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN's main judicial organ, has ordered Japan to temporarily halt its whaling program in the Antarctic, ruling that whaling conducted in the name of science was actually being conducted for the purposes of selling whale meat and other commercial purposes

After commercial whaling was banned in 1986, Japan continued whaling under the Japanese Whaling Research Program under a Special Permit in the Antarctic (JARPA II), which permitted scientific whaling. 

In May 2010, Australia challenged Japan's program, arguing that it was actually engaging in commercial whaling under the guise of science. The Australian government submitted an application to the ICJ that asked the court to order Japan to “end the research programme, revoke any authorizations, permits or licences allowing the programme’s activities; and provide assurances and guarantees that it will not take any further action under the JARPA II or ‘any similar programme until such programme has been brought into conformity with its obligations under international law," reports the UN News Centre.

The four-year legal battle came to an end on Monday, when the court noted that JARPA II is “not in accordance with three provisions of the Schedule to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW)," the UN News Centre reported.

"In light of the fact that JARPA II has been going on since 2005 and has involved the killing of about 3,600 minke whales, the Court considers that the scientific output to date is limited," states the ruling.  

In a 12-to-4 judgment, the court also cited the open-ended time frame of Japan's whaling program, and Japan's lack of cooperation with other Antarctic research programs. The court has ordered Japan to  "revoke any extant authorization, permit or licence to kill, take or treat whales in relation to JARPA II, and refrain from granting any further permits" for the program.

The Japanese government has agreed to abide by the orders of the court, but Japanese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Noriyuki Shikata said the country "regrets and is deeply disappointed" by the ruling, The Associated Press reported.

Japan also says that the lawsuit by Australia "was an attempt to force its cultural norms on Japan, equivalent to Hindus demanding an international ban on killing cows," according to the AP.

Whaling indeed is very much an integral part of Japanese culture and has been carried out in Japan "for more than 400 years to provide whale meat on a sustainable basis," Masayuki Komatsu, then-executive director of the government-funded Marine Fisheries Research and Development Department, told the BBC in an interview. "The Japanese people, not just in whaling towns but in Tokyo and Osaka where many consumers are based, really appreciate whale meat as part of the riches from the oceans."

But not everyone agrees with Komatsu.

Jeff Kingston, historian and author of the book "Contemporary Japan," says that the issue is more nationalistic in nature. "To advocates, eating whale meat is an issue of national identity, an identity that is under siege on many fronts. They also argue that science is on their side, citing studies that show a strong recovery among certain whale species that would permit a resumption of managed whaling," Mr. Kingston wrote in The Japan Times.

Environmental institutions and conservation groups have welcomed the decision of the court. Howard C. Rosenbaum, director of Wildlife Conservation Society's Ocean Giants Program, advocates nonlethal methods, such as satellite tagging, to study whales in order to protect and conserve them. "The ICJ’s ruling is welcome, which hopefully leads to the end of whaling for scientific purposes," he told the Monitor.

Former Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett, who played a major role in the lawsuit, called the decision "historic."

He tweeted, "It means that so called scientific whaling is no more!"

Other countries that have been criticized for whaling include Norway and Iceland.

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