The Australian government on Monday initiated proceedings [press release, PDF] against Japan in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website], claiming Japan has breached its obligations under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling [text; PDF]. The move was expected [JURIST op-ed] after the Australian government announced last week [JURIST report] that it would file suit against Japan. Australia is seeking an injunction against "scientific whaling" in the Southern Ocean, indicating in the complaint that it has exhausted all possible resolutions available through the International Whaling Commission (IWC) [official website] and must now take legal action. The complaint [text, PDF] alleges that:
Japan's continued pursuit of a large scale program of whaling under the Second Phase of its Japanese Whale Research Program under Special Permit in the Antarctic ("JARPA II") [is] in breach of obligations assumed by Japan under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, as well as its other international obligations for the preservation of marine mammals and marine environment.Australia contends that Japan has specifically breached its "good faith" obligation to limit the killing of whales for commercial purposes to zero. Japanese officials have indicated they are still determining their strategy [AFP report], but called the move "regrettable." Australia's proceedings come just weeks before the IWC is set to discuss a proposal that will allow limited whaling [JURIST report], but decrease the overall number of whales being killed.
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. Last week 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 June.