THE HAGUE (AFP) - Australia is to fire the opening salvoes in a legal battle before the United Nations' (UN) highest court in June aimed at stopping Japan's whaling research programme in Antarctica.
"The International Court of Justice (ICJ)... will hold public hearings in the case concerning whaling in the Antarctic, Australia versus Japan, from Wednesday 26 June," the Hague-based ICJ said in a statement on Thursday.
Australia took Japan to court in May 2010 alleging that "Japan's continued pursuit" of a large-scale whaling programme, which Japan claimed as scientific research, put the Asian nation in breach of international conventions and its obligation to preserve "marine mammals and the marine environment".
Australia asked ICJ judges to order Japan to stop its whale research programme called "JARPA II", the second phase of its hunt on whales in Antarctica under a special permit.
"Australia requests the court to order that Japan cease implementation of JARPA II, revoke any authorisation, permits or licences" allowing whaling under the programme, it said.
It also wants the ICJ to get guarantees from Tokyo that it will not undertake any further research until it conformed "to its obligations under international law".
Australia's lawyers will argue its case on the opening day, followed a week later by Japan, on July 2.
A ruling in the matter however, may not be handed down for several months.
Japan last week announced its whaling mission in the Southern Ocean was a "record low" this year, blaming "unforgivable sabotage" by activists.
The hunt netted 103 Antarctic minke whales, the lowest since "research whaling" began in 1987, and blamed it on the actions of the Sea Shepherd conservation group.
Japan's annual whale hunt has long drawn criticism from activists and foreign governments, but Tokyo defends the practice, saying eating whale is part of the country's culinary tradition.
Canberra and New Zealand - who will also make a submission at the ICJ hearings - have been outraged by the hunt, with Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke saying last week Japan's latest whale tally "is 103 whales too many".
Established in 1945, the ICJ is the UN's highest judicial organ and settles disputes between states.