Australia said today that it will take Japan to the International Court of Justice to argue that its “so-called scientific whaling” in the Antarctic violates international obligations.
The decision to take legal action against an important trading partner underlines the Australian government’s commitment to end Japan’s annual programme in the southern seas.
Japan harpoons hundreds of whales each year despite an international ban on commercial whaling, arguing that it is conducting scientific research allowed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
The Australian government has said the hunt is in breach of international obligations, but has declined to release any details of how it will argue its case before the court in The Hague.
Japan’s foreign ministry said it was regrettable that Australia was bringing the issue before the court while negotiations continue within the IWC on a proposal that would effectively allow commercial whaling for the first time in 25 years.
“We will continue to explain that the scientific whaling that we are conducting is lawful in accordance with Article 8 of the international convention for the regulation of whaling,” said ministry deputy press secretary Hidenobu Sobashima. “If it goes to the court, we are prepared to explain that.”
Mr Sobashima said the issue “shouldn’t jeopardise the overall good relations between Japan and Australia”.
Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith echoed that sentiment, saying the two countries have agreed to treat the matter as “an independent legal arbitration of a disagreement between friends”.
The IWC has proposed a plan that would allow whaling nations to hunt without specifying whether it is for commercial or other purposes – but under strict quotas that are lower than the number of whales they currently kill.