Environment/Nature

Australia takes Japan to court over whaling

It somehow slipped by me that there’s a big case coming up in front of the International Court of Justice this week. Actually, I think I knew about it at some point, but these things tend to drag out, and distractions are always coming along. Whatever. In any event, the case starts up this week. What’s the case? Australia, with New Zealand’s help, is taking Japan to court to end its annual practice of “scientific whaling” in the Antarctic. Japan is defending its right to continue to do this. And you can follow this case, it turns out, at the ICJ website. Along with all the other cases that land in front of the ICJ—and there are more of these than you might think.

It’s an interesting case, of course—Japan has been stretching the concept of “science” for years to continue its practice of whaling. Wait, wasn’t commercial whaling banned by the International Whaling Commission back in 1986? Yes indeed, although “banned” isn’t quite the right term. More like a moratorium was declared—which means it can be lifted, and Japan has been packing the IWC with non-whaling countries in the hopes of accomplishing this. Japan is not alone in its opposition to the moratorium—Russia opposes it as well, as do Iceland and Norway.

But there were two exemptions. First, native communities were allowed to continue subsistence hunting. But there was a further exemption made for whaling for “scientific purposes.” Countries can issue permits for “harvests” in the guise of scientific research. And Japan has, in the eyes of many (including me), been abusing that provision for a number of years. There’s a reason why Greenpeace is out there every year trying to stop Japanese whalers. The whale meat almost invariably ends up in Japanese supermarkets. This sometimes occurs with the knowing participation of some other countries—Iceland, for example, which has resumed whaling for export to Chinese supermarkets. So Australia, which of course isn’t exactly faultless when it comes to potential or actual environmental abuses, is leading the charge here. Their more specific charge is that not only is Japan flouting the current convention, it’s doing so in an area that Australia declared a marine sanctuary, in the waters off Antarctica. Good for them. I hope they win, personally. But it may be a difficult case to make, as some observers have indicated. Just consider the comments here—I feel no more enlightened after reading them then I did before.

Of course, not being an international lawyer myself, it’s not clear to be what happens if Japan chooses to ignore the Court’s judgment, if indeed the judgment goes against them. Does the UN send in the troops? That the court has powers is clear—they can clearly slap your ass in jail in The Hague if you’re complicit in or even charged with genocide in Bosnia, for example. I have only a hazy idea of what happens here. Does the Australian Navy get involved, for example?

But the ICJ does a lot. Looking over the cases they’re currently hearing, I’m struck by the breadth of them:

1. Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros Project (Hungary/Slovakia) 
 Read more…
2. Armed Activities on the Territory of the Congo (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Uganda) 
 Read more…
3. Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Croatia v. Serbia) 
 Read more…
4. Maritime Dispute (Peru v. Chile) 
 Read more…
5. Aerial Herbicide Spraying (Ecuador v. Colombia) 
 Read more…
6. Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan: New Zealand intervening) 
 Read more…
7. Frontier Dispute (Burkina Faso/Niger) 
 Read more…
8. Certain Activities carried out by Nicaragua in the Border Area (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua) 
 Read more…
9. Request for interpretation of the Judgment of 15 June 1962 in the case concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear (Cambodia v. Thailand) (Cambodia v. Thailand) 
 Read more…
10. Construction of a Road in Costa Rica along the San Juan River (Nicaragua v. Costa Rica) 
 Read more…
11. Proceedings instituted by Bolivia against Chile 
 Read more…

How many of these, I wonder, would be armed conflicts at this point without the Court? Some are sort of obvious—Ecuador and Colombia and herbicide spraying—what could Colombia possibly be spraying for? OTOH, I don’t even what to think about what some of the Africa cases are about. Especially since some of these probably stem from armed conflicts in the past. We’ve got enough small wars already, god knows. It’s a good thing the Court is worrying about them.

The Australia/Japan case has its own intellectual interests, since it will drag the Court into making some determinations about what “science” is, according to Philppe Sands, who is helping to represent Australia before the court. Australia’s position is simple—Japan isn’t actually doing any research—it’s just collecting data. Japan has taken an intriguing defence—yes, that’s true, but data collection itself is an inherently valuable contribution, and you never know when the data is gong to come in handy. Needless to say, Japan is also contesting the standing of the court to even hear the case. We gather that this is a frequently used defence that sometimes even works. What will get interesting is if it is determined that Japan is indeed abiding by the regulations of the International Whaling Commission (which does, after all, allow for “scientific” whaling,) but those regulations themselves are determined to be invalid in some way. Then what? Just musing.

So we’ll see how this plays out. Fascinating stuff, with some potentially dramatic real world implications for whales.

3 replies »

  1. somewhere i read that whale meat is only eaten by old people in japan. like sea cucumbers in japan, or chitterlins in the u.s., young people are used to better food.