This week, Japan passed a bill in its Parliament which seeks to lock in their commercial whaling ambitions. Whilst Japan has been continuing with its whaling year on year, under the pretext that it is a scientific endeavour, this bill blatantly admits what we have always known, that this is being done in order to resume commercial whaling.
The Act is explicit in its wording that cetaceans, otherwise known as whales and dolphins, are “an important food source” and
“that it is important that Japanese traditional food culture…and dietary habits related to cetaceans be passed on”.
The Act passed by Japan states that “The main aim shall be to obtain scientific information for the implementation of commercial whaling” and that “The research shall be implemented in accordance with the treaties and other international agreements that Japan is party to, as well as established international laws and regulations, and shall be based on scientific knowledge.”
It’s clear that Japan’s interpretation of the international treaties it is signatory to, differs greatly from the interpretation of the rest of the world and the courts.
There has been a global moratorium on commercial whaling since 1986. Japan has circumvented the ban by abusing a loophole in the whaling convention intended to allow for limited lethal whaling for research in order to kill thousands of whales in both Antarctica and the North Pacific year after year. However, in 2014 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) handed down its judgment in a case brought by Australia which said that Japan’s scientific whale hunt in Antarctica was illegal and ordered it to stop. Japan did so but only for a year and then reinvented its hunt proclaiming it to be a whole new program. Of course, absolutely nothing about the hunts it has undertaken since has changed to make them anymore lawful than the one the ICJ struck down.
This past year alone Japan has killed 333 minke whales in Antarctica and is currently hunting down 134 endangered sei whales and 170 more minke whales in the North Pacific.
In perhaps the most outrageous manoeuvre of all, Japan has rendered itself immune from further challenge at the ICJ by withdrawing its recognition of this international court as an arbitrator in disputes over whales.
Humane Society International has long fought the battle with Japanese whalers on a legal front, and we are the key non-government force in Australia that has ensured that Japan’s actions of killing whales in Australia’s whale sanctuary in the Southern Ocean has not gone unchallenged.
In 2008 we secured a ruling in the Federal Court of Australia that Japan’s Antarctic hunt is a breach of Australian law because it regularly takes place within Australia’s claimed territorial waters which are part of the Australian Whale Sanctuary. The Court later ordered the whaling company Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha to pay a $1million fine for continuing to hunt in the Australian Whale Sanctuary in contempt of the court order. It was this federal court case which helped prompt the Australian Government to take the Japanese Government to the International Court of Justice, a case Humane Society International had also long championed.
This latest move from Japan should receive condemnation from governments the world over. Attorney General George Brandis condemned Japan’s whaling intentions when questioned on Japan’s new law in the Australian parliament in June. The Australian public fully expects our Government to be an unwavering opponent of commercial whaling and to continue roundly and vocally condemning all commercial whaling wherever it takes place and under whatever guise.
In light of the passing of this bill, condemnation for Japan’s actions has never been more important. We are calling on the Australian Government to help us collect the $1 million fine and to send a clear and strong message that Japan must give up its whaling ambitions because the international community has agreed a different future for whales.
If anything is certain, our battle will be ongoing for as long as these great creatures of the deep are inhumanely hunted. With an Act like this being passed in the Japanese Parliament, it’s the whole world’s responsibility to remind Japan that it fully intends for commercial whaling to remain forever unlawful under international law.