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Court at The Hague rules against Japan – revokes its whaling permits

  • March 31st, 2014
  • Posted by EU Australia

Whaling GreenpeaceThe International Court of Justice at The Hague has ruled emphatically against Japan, and in favour of Australia, in their dispute over whaling in the Antarctic region.

The court found Japan was in violation of obligations under the international Whaling Convention , by taking large numbers of whales for commercial use, on a justification that this was for scientific purposes.

The panel of judges determined 12 to 4, that Japan’s whaling permits are to be revoked and no new ones are to be issued to it; the decision binding, no appeals to be permitted.

New Zealand was joined in the case on Australia’s side.


Whales GreenpeaceWhile elements of the judgment carried various qualifications, overall readings of it were clear, as with the dispatch from Reuters:

“Judges at the highest U.N. court ordered Japan on Monday to halt whaling in the Antarctic, rejecting the country’s argument that the catch was for scientific purposes.

“The International Court of Justice sided with plaintiff Australia in finding that the scientific output of the whaling program was modest in comparison with the number of whales killed…

“Japan signed a 1986 moratorium on whaling, but has continued to hunt up to 850 minke whales in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean each year, citing a 1946 treaty that permits killing the giant mammals for research…

“Judges agreed with Australia that the research – two peer reviewed papers since 2005, based on results obtained from just nine killed whales – was not proportionate to the number of animals killed, [since 2005, about 3,600 minke whales].

“While the judgment is an embarrassment to Japan, which has committed to abide by the court’s ruling, Tokyo is free to continue whaling if it withdraws from the 1986 moratorium or the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling…”


Whale-watching-finThe Court noted the lethal sampling of minke whales “on a relatively large scale”, rejecting the contention that those operations reasonably corresponded with the stated research objectives.

It did not take up a definition of scientific research put forward by the Australian side, but considered  “ the actual take of fin and humpback whales is largely, if not entirely, a function of political and logistical considerations.”

That had weakened the purported relationship between sample sizes and Japan’s research objectives under the JARPA II research program – the legal framework based on the whaling treaty.


Arguments of the dissenting judges included, that the Court had established doubt, not certainty about whether the extent of whaling reasonably corresponded with the stated research aims. The competence of the court to judge the science was questioned, also, because it was not itself a scientific body.

The dissenting judges also were persuaded by arguments from Japan over aspects of jurisdiction, a debate over whether contestation over the use of territory, present or future, should affect the responsibility of the parties towards each other’s actions. (The court did determine unanimously that it had jurisdiction to hear the case).

The Japanese operation was seen in one case as a valid way to making up deficiencies in data, for example on the diet of the animals.

whaling-pic.thumbnailAustralia began the case at The Hague in 2010, with hearings commencing eight months ago, after a build-up of years of tension and disputation over the continued whaling; challenged directly by vessels sent out by the Sea Shepherd movement and earlier by Greenpeace.

A week ago the Sea Shepherd vessels, Bob Barker and Steve Erwin, berthed at Wellington and Hobart, declaring an end to their latest campaign – hounding the Japanese whaling fleet to the end of its season’s operations. They’d been at sea for nearly 14 weeks.

Japanese representatives at the Hague have accepted the court’s decision, saying their country was a responsible member of the international community. It respected the rule of law and would abide by the decision of the Court.

More restricted whaling operations remain possible in the Northern Hemisphere, though the court has now suggested Japan should reconsider its activities there in light of its decision this week. Some countries have been known to take whales, predominantly Iceland and Norway where they have a market for whale meat.



Thomas Escritt, World court orders halt to Japan’s scientific whaling, Reuters, London, 31.3.14., (31.3.14).


International Court of Justice, The Hague, Judgment: whaling in the Antarctic, Australia v. Japan: New Zealand intervening, 31.3.14. [FULL TEXT]
__ Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan : New Zealand intervening); Summary of the Judgment of 31March 2014, 31.3.14.
___   Press release, No. 201 4/ 14, 31March201 4, Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan: New Zealand intervening)., (31.3.14).


Pictures  Greenpeace