3 Jul 2013

Whaling defence opened by Japan

9:59 am on 3 July 2013

Japan has told the International Court of Justice that Australia values saving whales more than respecting foreign cultures.

Opening the defence on Tuesday against a whaling case brought by Australia, Japan's legal team told the 16 members of the UN's top court that Australia is seeking to impose its "no-compromise, zero-tolerance" anti-whaling views on other countries.

"It seeks to apply the (International) Whaling Convention as if it was the Anti-Whaling Convention," Payam Akhavan, the lawyer representing Japan, told the court.

"Since 1979 Australia has pursued an express policy of using the IWC, against its stated purpose, to ban all whaling. It has politicised science in order to impose Australian values on Japan in disregard of international law."

He said Antarctic minke whales were abundant in the Southern Ocean, not endangered. "This stands in stark contrast to the alarmist assertions of impending catastrophe in Australia's pleadings," he said.

Despite an international whaling moratorium in force since 1986, Japan continues to catch whales in the Antarctic under a treaty that allows unlimited whaling for scientific research.

Professor Akhavan said Japan has complied with the moratorium despite a 2000-year tradition of whale hunting, leaving coastal communities in anguish because they can no longer practice their ancestral traditions.

Australia last week told the court that Japan's whaling programme was a parody of science driven by commercial considerations.

Japan has said its programme is guided by the scientific purpose of lethal sampling with a view to exploring what can be done to recommence whaling in a durable, sustainable manner. It is not "a disguise for commercial activity", Professor Akhavan said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Koji Tsuruoka told the hearing his country had the right to hunt and kill the marine mammals for scientific research.

"Japan is conducting a comprehensive scientific research program because it wishes to resume commercial whaling, based on science, in a sustainable manner," he said.

"Are all cetaceans sacred and endangered? I can understand the emotional background to this position but fail to see how it can be translated to a legal position," Mr Tsuruoka said.

"We do not criticise other cultures," he said. "Were it necessary to establish the superiority of one culture over another, the world would never be at peace."

The ABC reports both countries have agreed to be bound by the verdict of the court in The Hague.