Efforts to Undermine the ICJ Demonstrate a Shameless Disregard for International Law

File photo: Japanese factory whaling vessel, the Nisshin Maru (right) hauls a newly caught minke whale up its slipway. Photo: Sea Shepherd/Adam LauFile photo: Japanese factory whaling vessel, the Nisshin Maru (right) hauls a newly caught minke whale up its slipway.
Photo: Sea Shepherd/Adam Lau
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a U.S.-based 501(c)(3) non-profit marine conservation organization, condemns Japan’s declaration to the United Nations (UN) earlier this month that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) lacks jurisdiction over disputes relating to whaling, after the ICJ ordered Japan in March 2014 to halt its Southern Ocean whaling program.

“This declaration is simply the latest example of the Japanese government’s shameless disregard for international laws protecting whales,” said Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson, who has led numerous campaigns opposing Japanese whaling in the Antarctic. “Japan promised before its case was heard that it would abide by the ruling of the ICJ. Now, after being found guilty, it has changed its mind because the court exposed its ‘research whaling’ as a sham, and told the world what Sea Shepherd has been saying for decades: commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean is illegal, and must stop immediately.”

Since the 1980s, Japan has issued “scientific research” permits for Japanese organizations to kill more than 1,000 whales each year in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, including endangered humpback and fin whales. The meat of the whales killed in the Antarctic has been processed aboard a floating slaughterhouse, packaged, and sold in Japan – although there are reports of the meat being stockpiled in freezers as demand for whale meat has sharply declined. Last year, the ICJ ruled that Japan had failed to establish any scientific basis for these hunts, and that because these hunts were for commercial purposes, they violated the global moratorium on commercial whaling enacted by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

The ICJ ordered Japan to halt its whaling program immediately and revoke all existing permits. For one year, Japan complied, and did not hunt whales in the Southern Ocean. This year, however, it has announced plans to resume whaling under a new program, “NEWREP-A,” which has already been evaluated and rejected by the Scientific Committee of the IWC as also having no scientific basis.

Japan is now seeking to protect NEWREP-A from further scrutiny by proclaiming that the ICJ lacks jurisdiction over “any dispute arising out of, concerning, or relating to research on, or conservation, management or exploitation of, living resources of the sea,” a euphemistic reference to whaling.

“Japan raised a similar objection to the ICJ’s jurisdiction in the last case, and the ICJ flatly rejected its reasoning,” said Claire Davis, a partner with Lane Powell, the law firm representing Sea Shepherd in its U.S. federal court battle against the Japanese whalers. “Nobody actually doubts the ICJ has jurisdiction to hear cases of this nature, and the fact that Japan is reviving this failed argument is a concession that its new whaling program would likewise fail to survive the court’s scrutiny.”

Under the guise of the “Institute for Cetacean Research,” the Japanese whalers have brought suit against Sea Shepherd in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle, seeking a permanent injunction to prevent interference with their illegal hunt. In response, Sea Shepherd is asking the court to declare that Japan’s whaling in the Southern Ocean is illegal and that their violent actions against Sea Shepherd activists have amounted to “piracy,” and to order that the whalers halt these illegal activities. Many of Sea Shepherd’s encounters with the whaling fleet have been documented in the Emmy-nominated Animal Planet hit television series “Whale Wars,” including a 2010 incident in which a whaling ship rammed and severed the bow of the Sea Shepherd vessel Ady Gil.

“The whalers are running from justice in every other court, including the ICJ, but this case creates a unique opportunity to hold them responsible for their flagrant violations of international law,” said Davis. “By suing Sea Shepherd in Seattle, the whalers opened themselves up to claims that could not have been pursued in any other country, and a victory here would set an important precedent, in the United States and globally, that their illegal actions will not be tolerated.”

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