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International Court of Justice Halts Japan's 'Scientific' Whaling in Antarctic Seas

Mar 31, 2014 12:21 PM EDT

In a victory for Australia and anti-whaling groups, the International Court of Justice ruled Monday that Japan's whaling activities in Antarctic waters are not for the scientific purposes Japan claims them to be. The ICJ ordered a temporary and immediate halt of Japanese whaling activities in the Antarctic.

The ICJ overwhelmingly ruled in favor of Australia, which presented evidence that Japan's whaling activities in Antarctica are not done in the name of science.

The ruling comes after Australia filed suit against Japan in 2010 at the United Nation's highest court, alleging that Japan, which has a long history of whaling, was intentionally taking advantage of a loophole in the worldwide ban on whaling established in 1986. Japan annually hunts whales for what it says are scientific and research purposes.

A summary of the full court ruling is available here.

Under Article 8 of the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, taking whales for scientific purposes is allowed. Whaling for profit is banned internationally, but Iceland and Norway openly defy the international treaty. Japan has justified its whaling activities - which are not limited to the Antarctic - under the science loophole.

The ruling was handed down at The Hague, where the court's 16-judge panel ruled 12-4 that Japan's whaling program failed to justify the large number of minke whales it takes in Antarctica while failing to meet a similar number of fin and humpback whales.

"In light of the fact the [research program] has been going on since 2005, and has involved the killing of about 3,600 minke whales, the scientific output to date appears limited," said Presiding Judge Peter Tomka of Slovakia.

"For a long time it has been evident that 'science' has been abused at a breath-taking scale to justify Japan's continued commercial hunting of protected whales and despite a heavily subsidized and ever-dwindling market for whale meat in Japan," Clare Perry, head of the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency's Cetaceans Campaign, said in a statement. "With this ruling, Japan must clearly cease its whaling activities in the Antarctic. Next, the world needs to focus its attention on Japan's whaling in the North Pacific, where it continues to issue permits to kill up to 500 whales annually in hunts using the same 'scientific' clause that has now been condemned beyond dispute by the international court."

Japan has argued that that the ICJ does not have the authority to decide what is - or is not - science. It called the lawsuit an attempt by Australia to force its cultural norms on Japan, which it said would be equivalent to Hindus demanding an international ban on killing cows, the Washington Post reported.

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