Australian Environmental Protection Minister Peter Garrett [official profile] announced Friday that the Australian government will file suit against Japan [press release] in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] seeking an injunction against "scientific whaling" in the Southern Ocean. Australia claims that it has exhausted all possible resolutions available through the International Whaling Commission (IWC) [official website], an organization set up to monitor whale conservation under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling [text, PDF], and is now forced to take legal action:
Recent statements by whaling countries in the Commission have provided Australia with little cause for hope that our serious commitment to conservation of the world's whales will be reflected in any potential IWC compromise agreement. The Government has always been firm in our resolve that if we could not find a diplomatic resolution to our differences over this issue, we would pursue legal action. The Government's action fulfils that commitment. Australia will remain closely engaged in the IWC process and will continue to work hard in the lead up to and at the IWC meeting in June to pursue our objectives. ... Australia and Japan share a comprehensive strategic, security and economic partnership. ... The Government's action today reflects a disagreement in one element of a relationship that is deep, broad and multi-dimensional. Both Australia and Japan have agreed that, whatever our differences on whaling, this issue should not be allowed to jeopardise the strength and the growth of our bilateral relationship.Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs [official website] called the timing of the lawsuit "regrettable" due to a proposal being developed by the IWC that will allow limited whaling [JURIST report]. Japan defends its scientific whaling activities stating the "lethal research" is allowed under whaling convention. Japan's motives have been heavily criticized by the international community though as the majority of meat from the hunt is sold at supermarkets and restaurants.
Commercial whaling was banned by the IWC in 1986, but Japanese whalers defend their whaling as scientific research because they collect data on the whale's age, diet, and birthing rate, before packaging and selling the meat. The Japanese mostly hunt for minke and finback whales, but have begun to hunt humpback whales, which have reached sustainable levels since being placed on the endangered species list in 1963. On Wednesday, the Tokyo District Court [official website] began the trial [JURIST report] of New Zealand anti-whaling activist Peter Bethune on five criminal charges in connection with boarding a Japanese whaling vessel as part of a protest in the Antarctic. The Japanese court system does not accept pleas before trial, but Bethune has made admission of guilt for four of the charges including trespass, destruction of property, illegal possession of a weapon and obstruction of business. He has denied the assault charge filed against him which stems from allegations that Bethune threw cartons of rancid butter at the vessel and injured a Japanese crewman in the process. If convicted, Bethune could face a prison term ranging from 15-25 years [TVNZ report], but his lawyer has indicated that the prosecutor may seek a sentence of two-and-a-half to three years. A verdict is expected [Daily Yomiuri report] as early as next month.