Japan told it can't hunt whales near Antarctica — because it's not scientific

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Aaron Schachter: Environmentalists are praising another pronouncement by a United Nations panel today. The UN's International Court of Justice ordered Japan to halt its Antarctic whaling program. Japan claimed the program was for scientific research purposes. The court roundly rejected that claim. It noted that more than 3600 whales have been killed under the program since 2005 but studies were produced on only 9 of those kills. Joining me now is Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister of Australia. Mr. Rudd, it was under your leadership that Australia brought this case against Japan's whaling program. You must be pretty happy today.

Kevin Rudd: I'm delighted because this is a great outcome for these great creatures of the deep. I think all people around the world want to see these magnificent beasts preserved wherever we can. When you know from the scientific data that these are endangered around the world through excessive whaling activities, the least we can do as humankind is take care of other members of the created order who require us to act responsibly in relation to them.

Schachter: Japan has said that it will stop whaling. Is that it? Fight over? You guys won?

Rudd: The good thing about Japan and Australia is that we have indicated prior to the ICJ's decision that we would accept the decision of the court as binding on us and I'm grateful that the Japanese side has indicated that they'll be abiding by the decision, which is to cease the issuing of all permits for so-called "scientific whaling" in the great Southern Whale Sanctuary.

Schachter: You can't kill any number of whales for science? Can they still do their research, or do you believe they ever were doing research?

Rudd: I go simply to the case that we in Australia made to the International Court was that this was commercial whaling masked by a scientific veneer. This was a difficult decision because there many pressures on us at the time not to upset the diplomatic or commercial relationship with Tokyo. Japan is still our second largest trading partner. But we believe that this is an important question of principle and we also believe that our friends in Japan, given their reliance upon the international system, would ultimately abide by the decision of the court and I'm thankful that they've made that clear today.

Schachter: The current Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, is to visit Japan tomorrow. I wonder if you think this decision was somehow timed to that visit and what might've happened had the decision not gone your way?

Rudd: I think it would be drawing a very long bow to suggest that the timing of an International Court of Justice decision of a matter which we brought to the court in May of 2010 could've been concluded miraculously to coincide with a bilateral visit by an Australian prime minister to Tokyo. Frankly, they don't give a damn to political processes, they simply reach decision when they're ready. I also believe the Australian-Japan relationship is sufficiently robust to withstand any fallout over this particular decision. The bottom line is we've both gone into the case, argued our case in the Hague with the most comprehensive legal representation we could muster and I believe the government of Japan has done exactly the right thing in stating publicly that they'd hereby cease the issuing of these permits now.

Schachter: Kevin Rudd, former prime minister of Australia, now at the Harvard Kennedy school. Thank you for your time.

Rudd: Thank you very much and it's a pleasure to be with you on an important day.