On Thin Ice: Will the International Court of Justice’s Ruling in Australia v. Japan: New Zealand Intervening End Japan’s Lethal Whaling in the Antarctic?

By: Julia Bedell

7th October, 2015

In March 2014, the International Court of Justice (the “ICJ”) declared that Japan’s whaling activity in the Antarctic did not satisfy the scientific exemption to a global whaling moratorium and ordered Japan to cease its current operations. Japan complied with the ICJ’s ruling and ended its expedition for that year; however, it also revealed a new scientific research program in November 2014 to resume whaling in the Antarctic. The International Whaling Commission (“IWC”) in June 2015 rejected Japan’s new proposal, citing that the planned lethal research continues to violate international regulations.

It is not clear how Japan will respond to this recent rejection. The best-case scenario would be for Japan not to conduct any lethal whaling in the Antarctic until such whaling is approved by the IWC. However, because international whaling agreements are self-regulating, neither the ICJ nor other countries will directly be able to stop Japan from administering its new program.

Such a result does not mean that the ICJ ruling was futile. Although the ICJ lacks official mechanisms with which to enforce its opinions, the Court has been shown to have strong unofficial methods of enforcement. In prior disputes, ICJ opinions have successfully incited political action toward legal compliance. Even if continued external political pressure is insufficient to bring about Japan’s total abstention from lethal whaling, the ICJ’s ruling echoes global disapproval of the whaling trade. On the other hand, if internal changes eradicate Japan’s market for whale meat, Japan’s government may be forced to reconsider its lethal whaling practices.

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