Australia has taken Japan to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in a bid to stop it from using a legal loophole to whale in the Southern Ocean, ICJ officials in The Hague confirmed on Tuesday.
According to documents submitted by Australia to the ICJ, Japan is allegedly breaching a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling under the guise of scientific research.
"Japan’s continued pursuit of a large scale programme of whaling under the Second Phase of its Japanese Whale Research Programme" breaches the country’s "international obligations for the preservation of marine mammals and marine environment," Australia said in a document published by the ICJ.
Plans to institute legal proceedings against Japan were announced on Friday by Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, amid growing pressure on Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to act after promising to do so during the November 2007 election campaign.
The move is however seen as troublesome as it would test Australia’s claim that parts of the Southern Ocean are within its borders — a claim that few countries recognise — and would certainly jeopardise relations with Japan, its major trading partner.
According to the conservation lobby group Greenpeace, Japanese harpoons have killed more than 9,000 mink whales in the past 22 years. Unlike other whales, the mink is not endangered.
The legal row comes after clashes in the Southern Ocean between the whaling protest group Sea Shepherd and Japanese whalers in the most recent whaling season.
The clashes culminated in the arrest of New Zealand activist Peter Bethune, who boarded a Japanese ship on February 15.
The New Zealand government, which has also been bitterly critical of Japanese whaling in Antarctic waters, has said it will decide whether to join Australia in taking Japan to the ICJ in the next few weeks.