THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- The International Court of Justice on Monday ordered a temporary halt to Japan's Antarctic whaling program, ruling that it is not for scientific purposes as the Japanese had claimed.
Australia had sued Japan at the U.N.'s highest court for resolving disputes between nations in hopes of ending whaling in the icy Southern Ocean.
Reading a 12-4 decision by the court's 16-judge panel, Presiding Judge Peter Tomka of Slovakia said Japan's program failed to justify the large number of minke whales it takes under its current Antarctic program, while failing to meet much smaller targets for fin and humpback whales.
"The evidence does not establish that the program's design and implementation are reasonable in relation to achieving its stated objectives,'' he said.
He noted among other factors that Japan had not considered a smaller program or non-lethal methods to study whale populations, and that it cited only two peer-reviewed scientific papers relating to its program from 2005 to the present _ a period in which it has harpooned 3,600 minke whales, a handful of fin whales, and no humpback whales.
The court ordered Japan to halt any issuing of whaling permits until the program has been revamped.
The decision is a major victory for Australia and environmental groups that oppose whaling on ethical grounds, though it will not mean the end of whaling.
Japan has a second, smaller program in the northern Pacific. Meanwhile Norway and Iceland reject a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling imposed by the International Whaling Commission and conduct for-profit whaling.
Japan had argued that Australia's suit was an attempt to force its cultural norms on Japan, equivalent to Hindus demanding an international ban on killing cows.
Though consumption of whale meat has declined in popularity in Japan in recent years, it is still considered a delicacy by some.
Japan has pledged to abide by the court's ruling, however.