Japan whaling ban welcomed in Australia and New Zealand

File photo: A captured short-finned pilot whale is measured by fishery workers, including Fisheries Agency employees, at Taiji Port in Japan's oldest whaling village of Taiji, 420 km (260 miles) southwest of Tokyo, 4 June 2008 Japan said it was "deeply disappointed" in the ruling, and that whale meat was an important source of food

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A UN court ruling that the Japanese government must halt its whaling programme in the Antarctic has been welcomed in Australia and New Zealand.

The International Court of Justice ruled that the programme was not for scientific research as Japan claimed.

Supporters of the ban say they are "delighted". Japan said it would comply with the judgement, but was "deeply disappointed".

Australia brought the case to the court in 2010. Wellington supported its case.

Announcing the judgement on Monday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) said that Japan had killed around 3,600 minke whales since 2005 under its Antarctic whaling programme, known as JARPA II.

While JARPA II could broadly be characterised as "scientific research", the scientific output from the programme was limited, and Japan had not sufficiently justified the whaling quotas it had set, the ICJ said.

'Vindicated'

During the court case, Australia argued that Japan's programme was commercial whaling in disguise, but Tokyo said the suit was an attempt to impose Australia's cultural norms on Japan.

Following the ruling, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he was "delighted by the result", while former environment minister Peter Garrett said the ruling vindicated the then government's decision to take the case to court.

Judge Peter Tomka, centre, president of the International Court of Justice, delivers its verdict in The Hague, Netherlands, 31 March 2014 The ICJ ruled on Monday that Japan must halt its whaling programme in the Antarctic
File photo: Three minke whales dead on the deck of the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru inside a Southern Ocean sanctuary, according to anti-whaling activists Sea Shepherd, 5 January 2014 The move was welcomed by activists, who have called Japan's programme "an illegal whale hunt"
File photo: Japanese whaling vessels Yushin Maru #2 and Yushin Maru #3, with activist group Sea Shepherd's Zodiac boat (bottom right) during clashes in the Southern Ocean, 1 January 2011 Japan said it would abide by the court's decision and examine the contents of the ruling

The 2010 court ruling was first brought by Mr Rudd's Labor government.

Australia's Attorney-General George Brandis welcomed the decision and said he thought relations between Australia and Japan would not suffer as a result.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott is due in Japan later this month for trade talks.

The ruling was also welcomed in New Zealand, which supported Australia's case at the ICJ.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he expected Japan to abide by the "decisive" court ruling.

Japan had "always acknowledged the international rule of law", Mr Key told 3News on Tuesday.

Anti-whaling activist group Sea Shepherd said: "We've been saying for 10 years that this is an illegal whale hunt and the court has proven that case."

'Important food'

On Tuesday, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that Tokyo would consider its response "after carefully examining the contents of the ruling".

Legal routes to whaling

  • Objection - A country formally objects to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium, declaring itself exempt. Example: Norway
  • Scientific - A nation issues unilateral "scientific permits"; any IWC member can do this. Example: Japan
  • Indigenous (aka Aboriginal subsistence) - IWC grants permits to indigenous groups for subsistence food. Example: Alaskan Inupiat

"We want to accept this from a position that respects the international legal order," he said.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters that whale meat was "an important source of food, and the government's position to use it based on scientific facts has not changed".

Japan can continue whaling if it revises its scientific programme, or withdraws from the International Whaling Commission.

Japan is a signatory to a 1986 moratorium on whaling, but had continued whaling under provisions that allowed for scientific research.

Norway and Iceland rejected the provision and continued commercial whaling.

The moratorium also excludes subsistence whaling among indigenous groups, although catch limits are set.

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