Under a new whaling plan, Japan intends to kill nearly 4000 minke whales over the next 12 years. Photo: Tim Watters, Sea Shepherd
Japan has moved suddenly to fence itself off from any future challenge to its Antarctic whaling in the International Court of Justice.
After its last whaling program was ruled illegal by the court in a case brought by Australia, its latest plan to restart whaling within weeks has come under strong scientific attack.
Now the Japanese government has told United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in a special declaration that it will take a sweeping exception to the court’s jurisdiction.
It says the court’s jurisdiction «does not apply to … any dispute arising out of, concerning, or relating to research on, or conservation, management or exploitation of, living resources of the sea».
The declaration was made by Japan’s ambassador to the UN, Motohide Yoshikawa, earlier this month, and disclosed in Australian political circles on Sunday night.
Under the latest whaling plan, called NEWREP-A, Japan intends to kill nearly 4000 minke whales over the next 12 years, beginning with 330 this summer.
«It would appear that Japan has taken some pre-emptive steps to ensure NEWREP-A cannot be challenged before the ICJ,» Don Rothwell, a professor of international law at Australian National University, said.
«This is surprising, if only because Japan has previously indicated a strong commitment for the international rule of law,» he said.
«It now limits Australia’s options to challenge NEWREP-A.»
The court’s 2014 decision found that Japan’s previous program, JARPA II, was not scientific research, as defined under International Whaling Commission rules.
The court ruled by 12 votes to four against Japan, and ordered it to revoke scientific permits issued under the program.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to resume research whaling, but over the past 18 months, Japan faced trouble trying to fit NEWREP-A within the terms of the international court’s ruling.
A special panel of whaling commission experts said in January Japan had failed to demonstrate the need for killing whales in order to achieve the plan’s objectives.
The plan also failed to gain the support of the commission’s full scientific committee in May.
Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said Australia had met with the Japanese Government to discuss Japan’s «attempt» to exclude itself from the court over whaling.
«We are taking legal advice on the implications of Japan’s actions,» Mr Hunt said.
«We are disappointed by Japan’s decision, and we hope that Japan does not undertake so-called ‘scientific’ whaling this summer in the Southern Ocean.»
Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said Japan had promised to abide by the court’s decision and uphold the rule of law, but it had backed away from this position.
«This is a crucial test for the prime minister,» Senator Whish-Wilson said. «All Australians, right across the political spectrum feel very strongly about this issue.»
Japan’s IWC Commissioner, Joji Morishita, declined to comment on the move.
«Actually, that is a question for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so you need to ask them,» Mr Morishita said.
Comment was sought from the ministry through the Japanese Embassy in Canberra.