By Pete Bethune, 1 April 2014
The International Court of Justice was emphatic in their ruling against Japan –The research-whaling program in Antarctica fails to meet Article 8 of the IWC regulations, therefore it is illegal. This will mean an end to Antarctic whaling, and it brings to a close the conservation war that has been fought on many fronts since 1987.
I was out with Laurens De Groot last night celebrating the victory. We were crew on the Ady Gil together when it got run over by the Japanese in 2010, and we were there to witness the verdict when it was handed down in The Hague. I was on my 6th glass of bubbles and feeling awfully satisfied.
“We played a big part in all this”, Laurens says proudly. “It was our boat getting run over and you doing prison in Japan that finally made Australia take legal action.” Laurens is half drunk and his eyes are smiling.
I think about all the events that have led to this day. Certainly 2010 was a pivotal year. Antarctica turned into a circus, with the Ady Gil being rammed, and me heading off to Japan after I had boarded their security vessel. But in many ways it was the public outcry around this and other events that forced Australia’s hand.
I remember the day in prison when a Japanese journalist came in to visit me. “Australia has announced it is taking Japan to the International Court of Justice”, she’d proclaimed after we’d done with the compulsory greetings. I looked at her for a few second not really understanding it. She held up an English press release against the Lexan barrier and I sat there digesting the information. A tear rolled down my cheek and I could feel my throat swelling up. It dawned on me this was what we had wanted – A governmental legal challenge to Japan’s bogus claims of scientific research. I cried my eyes out, and the journalist barely got any sense out of me before her 12 minutes was up and she was ushered out.
At the time I never understood what had taken place, but Australia had emerged as the leading player in the anti-whaling movement. Groups such as Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace had mined a rich vein of public discontent, and ordinary people there suddenly cared about whales again. Talk back radio, newspapers, forums, social networking sites, protests – Australians had had enough of the Japanese whaling in their backyard and were demanding their government take action.
Peter Garret, ex -lead singer of Midnight Oil, was at this time being trashed by conservation groups. As Minister for the Environment, he’d made a series of spineless decisions harmful to Australia’s environmental reputation, and in what may have been an effort to reclaim his integrity he’d proposed the unprecedented step of legal action against Japan. Cajoled by Senator Bob Brown and The Greens, the government thankfully backed Garret’s proposal, and four years later in The Hague, history was made. In many ways though, it was all the people in 2010 that had rallied, protested, talked, bitched, moaned and grizzled that made this happen. Public opinion had bullied a government into action. And that is after-all how democracy is supposed to work.
Beyond this there have been numerous teams and individuals that all played a part leading up to this historic event. Greenpeace for many years was alone in battling the Japanese in Antarctica. More recently it was Sea Shepherd that took up the baton, and their relentless games of “Hide n’ Seek” and “Follow the Leader” with Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean helped keep whaling in the public consciousness. Volunteers truly risked their lives in pitched battles in one of the harshest places on earth. Similarly there was the epic Animal Planet TV Series “Whale Wars” that set a benchmark for conservation television, and that helped galvanise public opinion, and the generous donors such as Bob Barker and Ady Gil that funded the vessels, enabling teams to confront the Japanese.
Then there were the legal teams from Australia and New Zealand that mounted outstanding cases in the World’s highest court. I sat through most of the hearing last year, and I walked away thinking it would be a miracle if the case was lost. Australia especially had picked Japan’s claims of science to bits. In court cases though you never know, and I was nervous as hell as Laurens and I sat in court yesterday waiting for the verdict to be read.
Finally there are the Judges who made the decision emphatic. Half way through the judgement I felt like it was heading for a limp “reduce your quota” type of verdict, leaving the door ajar to commercial whaling. Instead, it ended up brutally killing off Japan’s claims of scientific research, and in so doing, ending whaling in Antarctica.
In many ways then we all share in this victory. Individuals, teams, NGOs, media, governments – all have played key roles in ending something most of us knew to be wrong, and that thankfully, has finally been lain to rest. It is also a lesson to us all that we can affect change. If the world can stop whaling in Antarctica – well there is no telling what else we are also capable of doing.
I look across the table at Laurens, who is holding up a fresh glass of Moet. Like all of us, he is rightly proud of the part he’s played in this, and I can see it in his eyes. I raise my glass. “Here’s to all the people who made history happen today”, I say sincerely. A big grin crosses his face as our glasses clink together.
“Yeah Pete. We’ve been lucky to be part of all this.”
“It has been a privilege bro – a real privilege. Thanks for sharing it.”