Australia v. Japan: Face Off Over Whaling At the UN Criminal Court

Japan and Australia are going head-to-head at the UN International Court of Justice in a case dealing with Japan’s controversial whaling practices. Last month, Australia brought a case before the United Nation’s highest court that seeks to outlaw Japan’s hunting of whales in the seas around Antarctica.

Japan defended its practices, saying that its whaling is for purely scientific purposes, and that the data it collects will be of use to the International Whaling Commission. Australia claims that Japan is merely exploiting a loophole in international whaling laws in order to illegally hunt for commercial purposes.

The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, after years of unchecked hunting brought several whale species to the brink of extinction. A 1946 treaty allows nations to kill whales for scientific purposes; Australian lawyers claim that Japan is exploiting this provision to hunt commercially. Whale flesh is considered a delicacy in Japan, and many of the whales hunted end up on the plates of Japanese citizens.

Japanese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Koji Tsuruoka stood before the court last week. He did not deny that Japan hunts whales, but suggested that Australia is pushing a unilateral ban on whaling.

“It is true that Japan takes and kills whales,” said Tsuruoka, according to the Washington Post. “Should we be ashamed of it? Even if some people believe we should, that does not mean we are in breach of international law.”

According to AFP, he implied that Australia’s complaints stem from a cultural aversion to whaling, and are moral, not legal, in nature: “It falls to the court to rule on the lawfulness of the acts undertaken by states, not on their morality or their ethical value.”

“Men and their cultures perceive animals in different ways,” said Tsuruoka. “We don’t criticize other cultures. If you had to establish the superiority of one culture over another, the world could not live in peace.”

Lawyers for Australia claim that Japan’s research defense doesn’t hold up. “No other nation, before or since, has found the need to engage in lethal scientific research on anything like this scale,” said Australian Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson. The research, they claim, can be done without killing.

Another Australian lawyer, Bill Campbell, pointed out that if every other member state of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling adopted Japan’s practices, 83,215 minke whales would be killed every year.

In spite of these arguments, Tsuruoka remained firm in his defense. He insisted that the data collected by Japan will be instrumental in developing a sustainable way to resume commercial whaling.

Hearings on the case, which is taking place in the Hague, are scheduled to wrap up by July 16, but the court's 16 judges are expected to issue their ruling several months later. Australia is hoping that a judgment in their favor will come before the end of the year, so that Japan is barred from hunting during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer months.