Sunday 06 April 2014

International Court of Justice says JARPA II must cease

There was a sense of disbelief on the night of 31 March 2014 (Australian time) as International Court of Justice President Peter Tomka read the court’s decision on the case brought by Australia against Japan in relation to its whaling activities in the Antarctic, known as JARPA II.

The decision, streamed live from the Hague on the ICJ website, was the culmination of legal action initiated by the Australian Government in May 2010 (see News Items 28/02/11, 12/01/11, 21/04/13, 28/07/13).

The court proceedings took place in June/July 2013, when legal counsel from Australia and Japan presented their cases and arguments to the court. Both sides were very assertive in their delivery and those who watched in the courtroom or via live streaming were left in no doubt how strongly both Australia and Japan felt about their respective positions.

After a detailed preliminary statement, President Tomka handed down the decision. The key elements were:
  • that the ICJ finds that it has the appropriate jurisdiction to make these rulings (unanimous);
  • that Japan must revoke the current, self-issued “scientific whaling” permits that have allowed its whalers to kill whales in the Antarctic (12 votes to 4); and
  • that Japan must refrain from issuing further such permits (12 votes to 4).
Until Monday evening, no one had any idea what the decision would be; the ICJ is not prone to leaked information. There were concerns of course about what would happen if Australia lost. However, the protracted argument at International Whaling Commission meetings about whether or not JARPA II was legal needed to be settled and the only place to do that was the ICJ.

The outcome vindicates the decision taken in 2010 by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Environment Minister Peter Garrett. The Opposition leader at the time, Tony Abbott, opposed the move stating that “a Coalition government would not take international legal action against Japanese whaling”.

The decision is the result of a tremendous effort by Attorney General’s Department and the Department of the Environment, input from many NGOs including the AWCS and support from the New Zealand Government in the form of a formal “intervention” in support of Australia’s case.

In a Statement issued on the day of the announcement, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary said that “Japan will abide by the Judgment of the Court as a State that places a great importance on the international legal order and the rule of law as a basis of the international community”. He went on to sat the Japan will “consider our concrete future course of actions carefully, upon studying what is stated in the Judgment”.

It is hoped that Japan will now accept Australia’s long-standing invitation to join the Southern Ocean Research Partnership, an integrated, collaborative consortium for non-lethal whale research.


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