UN orders Japan to halt whale slaughter

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The UN’s top court ordered Japan to temporarily halt its controversial annual Antarctic whale hunt in a landmark decision on Monday, rejecting Japan’s claim that the killings are for scientific purposes.

Three dead minke whales lie on the deck of the Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru, in the Southern Ocean. Japan lost against Australia in a case on whaling in the International Court of Justice on Monday. Photo by AP

The (ICJ) sided with plaintiff Australia in finding that the scientific output of the programme was modest in comparison with the number of whales killed.

It said no further scientific whaling licences should be issued and that must stop hunting whales in the Antarctic until the programme has been revamped.

“In light of the fact the JARPA II (research programme) has been going on since 2005, and has involved the killing of about 3,600 minke whales, the scientific output to date appears limited,” presiding judge Peter Tomka of Slovakia said.

Japan signed a 1986 moratorium on whaling but has continued to hunt up to 850 minke whales in the icy waters of the Southern Ocean each year, citing a 1946 treaty that permits killing the giant mammals for research.

Judges agreed that the research - two peer-reviewed papers since 2005, based on results obtained from just nine whales - was not proportionate to the number of animals killed.

The decision is a major victory for environmental groups as well as , which in 2010 hauled Japan before the Hague-based ICJ in a bid to end whale hunting in the Southern Ocean.

`All eyes on Japan’

It is unlikely to mean the end of whaling world-wide, however. Japan hunts a smaller number of whales in the northern Pacific, and Norway and Iceland have commercial whaling programmes.

Nevertheless, environmental groups rejoiced. The ruling “certainly has implications ultimately for whaling by Iceland and Norway as well”, said Patrick Ramage, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s whale program.

“I think it will increase pressure on those two countries to re-examine their own whaling practices and the various reasons and pretexts given for that whaling activity.”

While the judgment is an embarrassment to Japan, which has committed to abide by the court’s ruling, Tokyo is free to continue whaling if it withdraws from the 1986 moratorium or the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

“All eyes are now on Japan to respect this decision,” the London-based World Society for the Protection of Animals said in a statement. “This decision sends a clear message to governments around the world that the exploitation of animals will no longer be tolerated and animals must be protected at the highest level."

Japan has consistently defended its whaling programme, as well as the practice of eating whale meat, considered a delicacy among the country’s consumers. It has previously vowed to “never stop whaling”.

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