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Australia to tackle Japan on whaling at UN court

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(GlobalPost/GlobalPost)

Australia is to fire the opening salvoes in a legal battle before the United Nations' highest court in June aimed at stopping Japan's whaling research programme in Antarctica.

"The International Court of Justice... will hold public hearings in the case concerning whaling in the Antarctic, Australia versus Japan, from Wednesday 26 June," the Hague-based ICJ said in a statement on Thursday.

Australia took Japan to court in May 2010 alleging that "Japan's continued pursuit" of a large-scale whaling hunt, which Japan calls scientific research, put the nation in breach of international conventions and its obligation to preserve "marine mammals and the marine environment".

Unlike Norway and Iceland, which openly flout the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling agreed through the International Whaling Commission (IWC), Japan hunts using a loophole that allows for lethal scientific research.

Japan's annual whale hunt has long drawn criticism from activists and foreign governments but Tokyo defends the practice, saying eating whale is a culinary tradition.

In Sydney, Attorney General Mark Dreyfus welcomed the long-waited opportunity to end Japan's whaling programme "once and for all".

"Australia will now have its day in court to establish, once and for all, that Japan's whaling hunt is not for scientific purposes and is against international law," Dreyfus said in a statement. "Australia wants this slaughter to end."

But Tokyo on Friday said it would fight its corner.

"Japan will defend its whale hunt as it is within the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling rules, which is the founding document of the IWC," a Japanese fisheries agency official told AFP.

A Japanese foreign ministry official in charge of the case similarly said: "We will argue that our whaling activity is being done legally."

Australia's lawyers will argue their case on the opening day, followed the next week by Japan, on July 2, the ICJ said.

A ruling in the matter however, may not be handed down for several months.

Japan last week announced its whaling haul from the Southern Ocean was a "record low" this year, blaming "unforgivable sabotage" by activists.

The hunt netted 103 Antarctic minke whales, the lowest since "research whaling" began in 1987, blamed on the actions of the Sea Shepherd conservation group.

Canberra and New Zealand -- which will also make a submission at the ICJ hearings -- have been outraged by the hunt, with Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke saying last week Japan's latest whale tally "is 103 whales too many".

Established in 1945, the ICJ is the UN's highest judicial body and settles disputes between states.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130411/australia-tackle-japan-whaling-at-un-court