I was optimistic on board the train, heading to The Hague for Japan's final presentation of its case for continuing Antarctic whaling. The court case started more than 3 weeks ago at the International Court of Justice and my lawyer colleagues and I have been coming here regularly to observe what is happening.
Rather astonishingly the last days I had to watch it on a computer in my hotel room after all members of the public were barred from the hearings without explanation.
Japan claims that Article 8 of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling allows it to do what it wants, regardless of the rest of the Convention but Australia has made a powerful case that Japan cannot justify any and all whaling that it wants to do just by calling that whaling 'scientific' and that Article 8 cannot stand alone. New Zealand made similar points in their intervention. As Australia pointed out, if every other member of the IWC set the same 'scientific' quota as Japan, as they would be entitled to do under Japan’s interpretation, the quota would exceed 80,000 whales a year.
Even Japan's single expert witness had to admit that he believed that Article 8 had been intended to allow only a very small catch of 10 or less and that he could not understand the scientific justification for the numbers being taken. Australia described Japan's case as mere assertion unsupported by evidence, saying that it had been based on 'silence, contradiction and disparagement' rather than facts.
So I was interested to see what Japan had to say as they were represented by top British and French lawyers and I didn't think they would give up without a fight.
Indeed they did put up a fight: Japan complained that Australia had insulted their dignity by accusing them of lying. They claimed this was just a disagreement among scientists, which in no way shows that JARPA II is not science since the records of the IWC's scientific committee show only that there is disagreement, but no agreement. (This is hardly surprising, for the scientific committee to agree anything requires consensus, including all the Japanese scientists). They listed every point that Australia had made and responded to each.
Japan failed to meaningfully address how they decided how many whales to take and why the program had no end date. They spoke of scientific freedom and said the purpose of JARPA II was to provide data to allow the resumption of commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean – an area that is a whale sanctuary.
What will the 16 judges make of it all? We will have to wait, perhaps to the end of the year, to find out.
John Frizell is an Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace International.