Finally, whales have their day in court in The Hague

Peace Palace, The Hague, Netherlands site of the International Court of Justice hearing. c. IFAW/P. RamageIt's been a long time coming but today finally marks the opening of oral arguments before the International Court of Justice in the case brought by the government of Australia versus the government of Japan over Japan's continuing whaling in the waters of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary around Antarctica.

After arriving late last night in The Hague from London and less than eight hours sleep between us, the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s whale biologist Vassili Papastavrou and I stride up to the Peace Palace, a stunning red brick and gray slate structure set in the center of classical gardens that serves as home to the "World Court".  

With construction underwritten by US industrial magnate Andrew Carnegie and gorgeous decorations donated by countries around the world, the Peace Palace opened its gates in 1913.

Vass and I are warmly welcomed by a Dutch security guard who recognizes our names and assures us IFAW has two reserved observer seats inside the Great Hall of Justice. Baffled, we ask why we get VIP treatment. "Well, you are the guys with the most interest in the case," he says brightly.

Deputy Foreign Minister of Japan Koji Tsuruoka faces the media in the foyer of the Peace Palace. c. IFAW/P. RamageThat may be. But it’s clear we're not the only ones interested. The respective legal and scientific teams for Australia and Japan are arrayed in the ornate foyer as we enter. Wire service representatives, all microphones and cameras, scramble for soundbites from the principals.

"The case", the first ever to be brought before the court involving a wildlife or environmental issue, will run for three weeks in an impressive oak-paneled room fitted with murals, painted ceilings and chandeliers of Bohemian crystal.

It seems crystal-clear to IFAW, and increasingly in the worldwide court of public opinion, that the dispute between Australia and Japan should've been resolved years ago when the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned the killing of whales for commercial purposes. 

Defying that ban, Japan has since killed more than 14,000 whales pleading a scientific exemption, despite decades of IWC resolutions condemning its whaling activities and repeated scientific reviews showing almost nothing has been learned from this so-called "scientific" whaling. 

As we and the two sides of legal and scientific experts stand silently to watch the 16 robed judges file in, we are eager to see justice done now that the whales finally have their day in court.

Check back later for IFAW updates on the court's proceedings and summary of day one!

--PR

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