Australia: Attorney-General wants Japanese whaling outlawed before next hunting season

ABC News 23 Jun 13;

Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus wants the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to outlaw Japanese whaling before the start of the next whale hunting season.

Australia has challenged Japan's right to conduct its whaling research program in the Southern Ocean in the ICJ.

Public hearings are due to start this week.

The Attorney-General says Japan's whaling is in breach of international law.

He says Australia has tried numerous times, unsuccessfully, to resolve its dispute with Japan outside the court.

"Australia and Japan have both filed very lengthy legal argument and factual argument with the ICJ," he said.

"Australia's case is that Japan is in breach of its obligations under international law and should stop these so-called scientific whaling activity that it's carrying on in the Southern Ocean."

He says Australia and Japan remain strong friends, despite their dispute over whaling.

"Australia and Japan agree that the ICJ is the best place to resolve a dispute between friends," he said.

"Australia values its very long standing and important relationship and friendship with Japan."

Australia and Japan in court battle over whaling
Thomas Escritt PlanetArk 26 Jun 13;

Australia will try to persuade judges that Japan's scientific whaling program is commercial whaling in disguise in a case between the countries that opens in The Hague on Wednesday.

Japan introduced scientific whaling to skirt a commercial whaling ban under a 1986 moratorium. It argues it has a right to monitor the whales' impact on its fishing industry.

But Australia, which filed its case at the International Court of Justice in 2010, says Japan's scientific program in the Southern Ocean is a cover for commercial whaling.

"More than 10,000 whales have been killed as a result of Japan's so-called scientific whaling program since the moratorium commenced in the mid-1980s," Mark Dreyfus, Australia's attorney general, told reporters this week.

"We do want the whaling to stop, and we say that Japan's whaling program is in breach of its international obligations," added Dreyfus, who will present Australia's opening arguments at the court on Wednesday.

Japanese diplomat Noriyuki Shikata said the Japanese Whale Research Programme yielded essential information about the age distribution and proportion of males to females in the Antarctic whale population, helping decide if stocks were recovering.

"There are about 515,000 minke whales in the Antarctic, and Japan's research is taking only about 815 a year," Shikata said.

"This is below the reproductive rate and ... very sustainable."

Nonetheless, environmental campaigners condemned the practice.

"Commercial whaling, whether conducted openly or under the guise of science, is a cruel and outdated practice which produces no science of value," said Patrick Ramage, director of the whales program at the International Fund for Animal Welfare in London.

"All necessary research on these whales can be done by non-lethal means," said John Frizell, a whales campaigner at Greenpeace. Neither group is involved in the case.

Both countries have agreed to be bound by the court's ruling. Japan's court filings are not yet public.

While Australia has many backers - New Zealand has filed a brief in support of its case - support for a complete whaling ban is not unanimous.

Norway, which never agreed to the whaling moratorium, continues to whale commercially and has declined to intervene in the case.

Its fisheries minister Lisbeth Berg-Hansen told has parliament it was up to Japan to decide how it wanted to conduct research into whales.

(Additional reporting by Alister Doyle in Oslo and Lincoln Feast in Sydney; Editing by Sara Webb and Alison Williams)

Whaling's day in court is a sea change for conservation
Representatives from the Australian government are facing their Japanese counterparts to end 'scientific whaling'. The survival of the species depends on it
Georgina Kenyon 26 Jun 13;

It’s been a long, tenacious, 20-year fight by lawyers and conservationists to get to this point. Today, representatives from the Australian government are facing their counterparts from Japan in the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague to end Japan's so-called "scientific whaling".

Japanese accounts are unconvincing as to what "scientific whaling" in fact means, but it is understood to be related to food security – in other words, supporting a trade in whale meat for food. As such, "scientific whaling" may be little more than a cover for the continual slaughter of thousands of whales in the Antarctic each year, feeding a commercial industry behind an unnecessary culinary habit - similar to killing sharks for shark-fin soup.

Despite the intergovernmental International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) ban on commercial whaling since 1986, Japan has continued to slaughter whales, having been granted a special permit from the United Nations to do so. Since 1986, Japan has killed 14,000 of them.

Over the past 20 years, many campaigners have been frustrated by the IWC. Indeed, it has had a fraught history, where Japan and a few other countries have continually been accused of "buying" support to continue whaling from developing world countries.

However, wildlife campaigners such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) are upbeat about the outcome of the court case. They say that while the IWC may have let Japan continue to kill whales, Japan has in fact been breaking compliance with at least seven international treaties to do with protecting marine life. As a result, environmentalists largely believe Australia has a good legal case, and the outcome will mean the end of the right for Japan to continue the mammals' mass slaughter.

This court case is just one example of the "sea change" in environmental campaigning – and how legally savvy conservationists have had to become. Largely gone are the days when a demonstration or a petition could sway governments to behave differently.

Further, over the past decades campaigners have become skeptical of intergovernmental organisations and their power to act effectively or quickly to save precious species and the environment. The slaughter of whales is just one example; others are the poor efforts by governments to agree on an effective climate deal to control carbon emissions into the atmosphere, or to prevent the ongoing slaughter of elephants and rhinoceroses to sell trinkets and so-called medicines.

Many conservationists believe that environmental law will become increasingly important to hold countries to account over environmental crimes. Some lawyers foresee court cases involving developing world countries taking wealthy countries to court, for example, over their failure to keep promises about reducing carbon emissions.

The ICJ, however, is not a criminal court. Each party will present its case and judges can ask questions of the parties. It is expected that the court will come to a conclusion within six months of this case. Australia hopes that the ICJ will demand that Japan ceases whaling in the Antarctic. If that is the case, it is expected that Japan will abide by such a decision. If not, the United Nations Security Council could enforce a judgement of the ICJ.

This whaling case, however, starkly shows Australia’s inconsistent morals when it comes to protecting wildlife and wilderness areas. While Australia has the moral high ground over Japan in this case, it can hardly be proud of many laws that are truly damaging to the environment and wildlife. Indeed, Australia seems to have a better track record of protecting species in international waters than those on our own soil.

For instance, it is currently legal in Australia to mine and log in state forests and also in some national parks. There have been few campaigners who can stand up to mining companies successfully. We may criticize Japan over its cruelty to whales, but we pick and choose our battles when it suits us. For in a culture focused on profits, the mining industry is winning over wildlife.

However, despite its poor record on wildlife on its own soil, you can’t help but hope for Australia to win its day in court. The future of the survival of whales depends on it, and there is no place for this brutality in the 21st century.