Japan’s Prime Minister has said that, despite a court order banning Japan’s whaling practices, the country will begin whaling again in the near future. So how will Japan restart its so-called scientific whaling research?
In a speech made to lawmakers last Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a parliamentary commission that, “I want to aim for the resumption of commercial whaling by conducting whaling research in order to obtain scientific data indispensable for the management of whale resources. To that end, I will step up efforts further to get understanding from the international community.”
The PM added that whaling is a part of Japan’s history and that “It it regrettable that this part of Japanese culture is not understood.” To that end, he appears ready to pursue working around a UN court order that currently bans Japan’s whaling research program.
The ICJ and the Qualified Victory for Anti-Whaling Groups
Earlier this year the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the highest court of the UN, issued a historic ruling saying that Japan’s recent open-ended whaling practices in the Southern Ocean were illegal and did not meet the criteria for Japan’s “scientific” needs, as has been Japan’s reasoning.
Australia brought its case before the Hague, claiming that Japan was using the pretense of scientific research in order to get around the 1986 moratorium on whaling that Japan signed and ratified. Japan had been allowed to keep whaling under Article VIII of the Whaling Convention which allows for medical research exemptions, but Australia argued that Japan was exploiting that rule and had essentially ignored the international law.
The ICJ found that while the research program, known as JARPA II, might “broadly” be called scientific research, Japan had failed to “establish that the program’s design and implementation are reasonable in relation to achieving” its stated goals.
Japan had received special permits to carry out this so-called research. The court blocked those permits from being issued with Judge Peter Tomka saying, ”Japan shall revoke any existent authorization, permit or licence granted and refrain from granting any further permits in pursuance to the program. Japan has violated the memorandum on commercial whaling in each of the years during which it has set catch limits above zero for minke whales, fin whales and humpback whales.”
The ruling also called into question why Japan must always kill the whales if, that is, Japan’s intended purpose really is for scientific research. Commentators noted at the time that this is about as scathing as the court could be without being overtly hostile.
Australia was pleased with the ruling, as were wider whaling groups, but this was always a qualified success. Why? Because there’s a simple way Japan can still conduct its whaling operations.
How Japan Can Continue Whaling
The ICJ ruling did not in fact ban Japan from whaling, as many reports may have led us to believe. What it did say was that Japan cannot continue its JARPA II research program because the program is unlawful. As such, all Japan need do is present a new program to the International Whaling Commission in September. If that appears to conform to regulations, Japan could be back to whaling shortly thereafter. Now Japan’s whaling program might receive stricter scrutiny than before, but the threshold remains relatively low.
It should also be noted that Japan’s extensive coastal whaling, which affects many small cetaceans and some whose numbers are dangerously low, is not affected by this court ruling, nor are its operations in other waters — so Japan is still whaling, just not in the Antarctic.
There is evidence that with the suspension of this season’s (2014-2015) Southern Ocean whaling efforts, the whale meat market in Japan and abroad has suffered, but Japan’s fishing minister continues to insist that dealing in whale meat isn’t technically illegal. That is disputed by international groups, but gives an idea of how Japan and the international anti-whaling community continues to talk past one another.
It seems, then, that despite the ICJ ruling, Japan will now attempt to resume its whaling practices in the Southern Ocean. We may see further attempts at court intervention from countries like Australia, or it may be that Japan will at least for a time follow the rules on so-called scientific whaling. The point is, though, it now seems whaling will probably return to the Southern Ocean by next year.
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