The Future of the Falkland Islands and Its People/Self-Determination in the Falkland Islands
Self-Determination In The Falkland Islands
(Based on an Address to the UN Committee of 24)
Mike Summers, Legislative Councillor
Falkland Islands Government
It is a pleasure for me to address this Committee, to represent the people of the Falkland Islands by whom I was elected for the third time at the last election in 2001. It is particularly interesting to be able to address you so early in the Second Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, during which period you will surely be looking for new ways forward.
The Falkland Islands Government was disappointed that we were not able to be represented the C 24 Seminar in Anguilla in May 2003, because it coincided with our budget session of the Legislative Council. We would like to have joined in some of the apparently lively discussion on self-determination and the development of internal self-government for the peoples of the Caribbean non-independent island states. Because, although we are not Caribbean, we regularly discuss ideas and developments with our Caribbean colleagues, at Commonwealth, European Union and UK Overseas Territory meetings. It is interesting to compare and contrast the state of development, and the similarities and differences between our styles and methods of Government in our respective countries, and to learn from each other.
The one major similarity of course is that we each choose not to seek independence.
A few words about colonialism, on which subject the UN Secretary General in his message to the Anguilla seminar reminded us that “According to the United Nations Charter and the Declaration on Decolonization, a full measure of self-government can be achieved by a Non-Self-Governing territory, through free association, or integration with another state, or independence.” He also observed that “Many of the territories have made considerable progress in their political, constitutional, economic and social development, and have gone a long way towards self-government.”
Pursuing a route to free association with the United Kingdom is exactly what we have been doing for the last 20 years.
My country is not a Colony. We do not feel as though we are a colony, nor does the UK Government act towards us as though we were. It recognises that the days of authoritarian colonial dominance and ownership are long past. In this modern age people are not chattels to be owned or passed on between countries against their will; they are not just part of the assets that go with an exchange of territory. The world, led by the United Nations, will no longer tolerate those who pursue territorial disputes, whilst ignoring the wishes of the people of those territories.
Mr Chairman we have been fully aware of the option of free association, versus independence or integration, and have knowingly followed this path.
3. Self Determination and Internal Self Government
The Falkland Islands has a thoroughly modern constitution, and an excellent working relationship with the United Kingdom. The constitution, which was last updated in 1995, provides for the protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Individual, the establishment of a wholly independent judiciary, defines the powers and procedures of the Legislative Council and the Executive Council, and provides the framework for the regulation of public finances. Some relatively minor changes are envisaged to update the fundamental freedoms in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights, to provide further protection to the private citizen through the establishment of the position of Ombudsman, and to further strengthen the process of internal self-government.
For some years now the Falkland Islanders have run their own affairs through a democratically elected government, with the exceptions of Foreign Affairs and Defence which are taken care of on our behalf by the UK government. These exceptions are to a large extent brought about and perpetuated, by the activities and actions of Argentina.
And through its continuing failure to respect the terms of the UN Charter on the right to self-determination, Argentina actually seeks to frustrate self-government in the Falkland Islands. It tries to prevent Falkland Islanders representing themselves in international bodies and at trade fairs, at which we are perfectly entitled to be represented, protesting regularly to the UK Government, and to other host governments and organisations, about our presence.
This is absolutely contrary to the notion of fostering internal self-government for the peoples of the world which the UN Decolonisation Committee has as one of its key goals.
We have nevertheless hugely increased the level of internal self-government since the war of 1982; our elected members are wholly responsible for the delivery of sustainable development, probity, law and order and good government that typifies our administration. The Civil Service in the Falkland Islands is free of corruption, and acts only on the advice and instruction of the Executive Council, whose voting members are all elected members of the Legislative Council. Whatever may be the case in other Overseas Territories, we do not have senior officials appointed by the UK Government inserted into our system to determine or dictate policy, or to run our affairs. Such persons as are recruited from outside to improve the skills base, or deliver better quality services, are recruited by us and paid for by us.
There is no movement in the Falkland Islands for independence. But we guard closely our right to determine our own affairs.
And notably every member of the Legislative Council in this Government, and every Government before it, is elected on a mandate of continuing allegiance to and close co-operation with the UK. And equally notably, every member is elected on a mandate of no concessions to Argentina on sovereignty, although members are committed to taking forward co-operation in agreed areas of mutual interest, in particular the protection of the regions fish stocks.
4. Argentine Dimension
The Argentine claim to the Falklands is baseless, because it relies on the two equally dubious and inter-reliant tenets of history and territorial integrity.
The so-called occupation of the Falklands on which Argentina bases its claim occurred over 160 years ago, was extremely short lived, was exercised only by a few convicts who didn’t want to be there in the first place, and who finally murdered their appointed ‘Governor’ and were removed.
Whilst we accept that a large number of Argentines do believe the myth that the Falklands once belonged to Argentina, it is a sad reflection on that country’s approach to education and free thinking that this propaganda is still taught as fact, and used to generate popular support for the ‘return’ of the Malvinas.
My ancestors, who have been permanently resident in the Islands since the 1830’s, and those of my countrymen, have made the Falklands what it is today, through their hard work, adaptability and determination.
It is both a practical and a political impossibility to roll back history 160 years in any of our countries and expect to find happy solutions. How did mainland Argentina look 160 years ago – a good deal smaller and less successful than it is now that is for certain. Do they want to roll all that back too – I think not.
Reliant on the myth of occupation is the doctrine of territorial integrity, which Argentines also cite as a basis of claim. The notion of territorial integrity could only apply in very different circumstances to ours. We in the Falklands are geographically, geophysically, culturally, linguistically and historically wholly different from the Argentines. Our islands are 400 miles from the coast of Argentina. The notion of territorial integrity would have to stretch a very long way indeed to encompass us. And as our colleagues from Gibraltar observed in their address to this committee recently, there is in UN doctrine, no such thing as the principle of decolonisation by the application of the principle of territorial integrity.
Self-determination for the people of the Falkland Islands must be the guiding principle for the UK, for Argentina and for this committee. It is no good the Argentines claiming that self-determination does not apply to the Falkland Islands because the Falkland Islanders are not a people. We are as much a people as those in Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Chile and many other South American countries whose inhabitants are of principally European or African descent. The one difference in our country is that we did not displace any native peoples in establishing our community.
And it is no good Argentina saying, as it does, that under its administration it would respect the interests of the Islanders; it is the wishes of the Islanders that the UN Charter demands it should respect. The doctrine of interests, like the doctrine of territorial integrity, is the doctrine of colonialism.
The people of the Falkland Islands have no wish to change from British administration to an Argentine administration. This has been very amply demonstrated in every general election over several decades.
The solution to the Argentine problem about the Falklands lies not in arguing about history, it lies in accepting the reality of where we are now, and having proper respect for the wishes of the people involved.
5. The Future
So where do we go from here?
With a new, and hopefully stable Government in Argentina, there is an opportunity to move forward – for Argentina to demonstrate a new political maturity on the world stage, by setting aside its claim to our country and working with us to create a safe and prosperous area in the SW Atlantic. We would then each of us be able to reduce the application of resources from all sides in pursuing and defending our respective positions, and use those resources to greater effect in co-operating to protect and conserve our environment and develop our natural resources to mutual benefit.
We should be supported in this by the Decolonisation Committee, guided by the wise words of the UN Secretary General, who advises that the Committee should put self-determination and the development of internal self-government at the forefront of its considerations.
So if it is the wish of the people of the Falkland Islands to continue to develop our economy and our society in partnership with the United Kingdom, how can it not also be the wish of the C-24, whose responsibility it is to foster such development?
It is the hope and the wish of the people of the Falkland Islands that the members of the Committee of 24 will, each and every one of them, speak in support of the right of our people to self determination and internal self government, and recommend that in future years no resolution on the Falkland Islands should be brought which does not include the right to self determination of all peoples.
6th June 2003
Edited for Lyubomir Ivanov
7th August 2003