The Future of the Falkland Islands and Its People/The Future of the Falkland Islands and Its People: Comments

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The Future Of The Falkland Islands And Its People

Comments made by John Otto Ondawame, West Papuan

Sydney, 13 June 2003

The principle of “self-determination” has been a matter of debate among colonized peoples and other interested groups for some time now. An academic scholar and Antarctic adventurer, who examined this controversial issue, is Dr. Lybomir Ivanov from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. He used the self-determination issue of the Falkland people as a primary case study. Dr. Ivanov was not only fascinated by the beauty of the South Atlantics insular territories, but also by their unique democratic political system, which could lay the groundwork for settling the issue of self-determination.

In his paper The Future of the Falkand Islands and Its People, Dr. Ivanov examines the root-causes of the Falklanders’ demand for self-determination and compares it with various self-determination struggles in history, along with their immediate effects and future prospects. He presents a comprehensive account of the political situation in the Falklands as it relates to the meaning and practices of self-determination. Furthermore, an Internet discussion on the various aspects of early Falkland history (the Falklands-Malvinas Forum) features regular comments from Dr. Ivanov. According to these accounts, while Falklands history has often been misrepresented by both Argentine and British sources, future Argentine generations may harbour greater sympathy and appreciation toward their insular neighbour.

Dr. Ivanov’s essay also focuses on the development of democratic reform in Falkland society. Commendable is the story of the island’s political history – there is an active practice of democracy, substantial public awareness, and high-quality statesmanship by the Falkland Councillors. Good governance is dependent on preserving British links, while seeking to decentralize British political influence. Hence the sustainable basis for the development of the current democratic system: the Falklanders are able to entirely manage their home affairs, except for foreign and defence policies.

In this context, Dr. Ivanov is fascinated by the prospects of ongoing localization in all social spheres. It appears that the present constitutional status of the Islands provides a certain degree of self-government, which goes well beyond that of devolved Scotland, for example. The constitutional framework includes exclusive ownership of the natural resources, independent legislation and immigration policies.

Among the cornerstones of the framework are the electoral system, localization, foreign affairs and the relationship with the British. It is important to note that all policies were consolidated locally – yet another political ingredient of sustainable development, good governance and democracy.

Moreover, Dr. Ivanov explores the history of denial politics. Factual evidence is provided on both the British occupational campaigns and the Falklanders’ respective response. Along with glorifying the role of local political leaders, Dr. Ivanov identifies the balanced roles of local and British politicians as key to finding the best, comprehensive political solution.

As a piece of academic endeavour, the essay is easy to understand, transparent and educative. It captures the imagination of the reader and provides a clear picture of the inter-relationship between the root-causes of the political problems, especially the demand for self-determination, and the general responses to them. Overall, the essay’s informative spirit serves to raise public awareness well beyond the territories of Britain and the Falklands.

Although the essay covers Falkland history, it primarily focuses on immediate issues of special interest to all Falklanders. Most importantly, Dr. Ivanov makes general comparisons with struggles for self-determination and independence in the other parts of the world. Among the most interesting passages is the case of West Papua and its powerful political implications. It provides informative facts on the current political situation in West Papua, which requires an immediate solution. Dr. Ivanov warns of a recurrent cycle of violence, resulting from a failure of the democratic system. Such violence has already confronted the Falklanders and the East Timorese during the 1999 post-referendum. This is how the article, using solid argumentation, sheds light on important concerns, which are still unsolved in many parts of the world. The message is thus far-reaching, ranging from academics, politicians, and political commentators to, most importantly, people who are still fighting for self-determination.

Dr. Ivanov takes the time to define the principle of self-determination:

For self-determination to take place there should be a community of people considering themselves a distinct nation/people in the first place, then they must claim their right to self-determination and the opportunity to choose a self-determination option of their preference, and last but not least, that claim needs to be recognized by the respective central government.

Self-determination implies the right to independence of peoples in colonies and territories in accordance with Article 73 of the UN Charter. (Ibid.) Here two important aspects should be clearly understood. First, self-determination is a dynamic and continuous process. People exercise self-determination when they determine their future in the long run. Therefore, the achievement of self-determination is a step forward on the path to ultimate independence. Second, self-determination has both internal and external dimensions. The internal dimension regulates the relationship between rulers and ruled within the community which inhabits a defined territory. While this requires no change of territorial boundaries, the external dimension regulates the relationship between “a self-defined territory and the outside world.” It converts the community into a distinct political entity, entitled to shape its ties, legal and otherwise, with other political entities, be it the sovereign states, ethnic minority groups or international organizations. Sovereignty is only one of the many forms these ties can take, as the examples of Niue and the Cook Islands have shown. (Ibid.)

Consequently, self-determination has a relative meaning, particularly for those people who are still seeking for fundamental political change because each situation is unique with different level of problem and dimension. Dr. Ivanov rightly says that self-determination is a well-established principle of contemporary International Law; however, I think that its practical dimensions are mostly based on politics, rather than legal consensus. Although international laws and conventions guarantee the rights of colonised and oppressed peoples, seeking self-determination and independence, evidence still suggests that the UN has failed to accommodate those rights within the existing legal frameworks. One classical example is the UN failure to influence the West Papuan issue in 1962.

Whenever ethnic groups claim the right to self-determination, they are usually interested in the external aspect. According to Kamal, there are two distinct approaches to self-determination, based on different forms of nationalism; namely, territorial and ethnic self-determination. On the one hand, territorial self-determination seeks to achieve a particular political status for a defined territory and for all the people within it. Yet International Law recognises only certain territorial claims as legitimate; it restricts the right to self-determination to people who live in territorial units within well-defined national boundaries.

Dr. Ivanov raises the question of who exactly is entitled to self-determination. In order to give a valid answer, we must first understand the types of self-determination in question by making a clear distinction between internal and external self-determination. Indeed, each type is unique and bears special characteristic. The Falkland case is useful to show that both conflicting parties should develop better forms of understanding and trust, and then reach certain compromise on the best solution within democratic and constitutional frameworks. Despite this working strategy, the issue remains problematic where democratic tradition is still in its eve. More often than not, this process goes not without obstacles and hardship; it suffices to mention the self-determination of the Kurdish, Palestinian, Timorese, Tibetans and the people of West Papua. Dr. Ivanov is right to conclude that the success of the process has nothing to do with numerical strength as some people wrongly believe; indeed, the Kurds are numbering over 20 millions. At the same time, New Zealand’s possession of Tokelau, whose population is just half that of the Falklands, preserved the native right to self-determination, duly recognized both by New Zealand and the UN alike.

Another of Dr. Ivanov’s main concerns is the obscured relationship between decolonizers and the peoples on the territories they decolonized. To name a few cases, where democracy is scarce and self-determination still denied: Tibet (China), West Papua, former Irian Jaya (Indonesia), Kashmir (India) and Chechnya (Russia). These territories are listed as “non self-governing territories” and actively seek to adopt the high standards of their respective “administering powers”. The reason lies in the fact that the territories are “Western” (Britain, USA, France and New Zealand) instead of “Third World” colonies.

Clearly, the UN is not a sufficiently dynamic organization, which can implement a radical reform. The European-inspired international laws, charters and conventions provide the legal framework that still drives the UN today. In order to address those territories which not included in non-self-government territories, radical reform in the UN structure is needed.

At the same time, UN involvement is presently useful in countries such as Western Sahara or Timor, where there could hardly have been any self-determination without the endeavours of the decolonisation committee. Yet, the problem prevails: UN intervention continues to be hampered as international laws disallow interference in the internal issues of a sovereign state. It is essential that the UN be given mandate to interfere in certain cases of internal conflict.

Ideally, the Indonesian sovereignty claim over West Papua would not be an obstacle to Papuan self-determination. The claim is unlawful and unjustified due to the deep differences in culture, tradition and lifestyle of either race. As a matter of fact, the Melanesian race of 2.5 million Papuans have nothing in common with the Indonesians, a Malay race. Historically, West Papua was never supposed to be a part of the Dutch East Indies; instead, it was colonized separately under the name of Netherlands New Guinea. It is exactly this fundamental difference that gave the Dutch the political legitimacy to initiate a ten-year decolonization program in 1960.

But Indonesia continued to claim West Papua as its own on the argument of the sanctuary of Dutch colonial boundaries. In reality, the claim was not based on a historical reason but had purely strategic, economic intentions. Driven by this ambition, Indonesia declared war on the Dutch in 1962. The result was not the purely internal conflict, which the world remembers today. The issue quickly attained an international significance, as soon as the two major Cold War powers (USSR and USA) became involved. Under pressure by US President John F. Kennedy, the Dutch and the Indonesians signed the New York Treaty on 15 August 1962. The document mandated that West Papua be administered through the United Nations Temporary Authority (UNTEA); a West Papuan plebiscite was scheduled for 1969.

Paradoxically, the decision was used to advance the Indonesian position. Even before the UNTEA transferred authority, Indonesia undertook political maneuvering and systematic intervention in all aspects of West Papuan life. In the shameful 1969 Act of Free Choice, 1,026 West Papuans (out of a total of 2.5 million) were forced, against their own will, to vote for the integration of West Papua into Indonesia. Despite its undemocratic nature, the ballot was legitimized by the international community and the UN. This acceptance still bears serious political implications to the people of West Papua.

Dr. Ivanov identifies the West Papuan issue as an instance of external self-determination, where the UN failed to guarantee the rights of the West Papuans. Even after the problem was internationalized, the UN and the international community still denied legitimizing these rights.

The analytical contribution of Dr. Lyubomir Ivanov should have a positive effect due to its ability to garner international solidarity and support for the issues at hand. It is exactly global understanding that will ultimately solve ongoing problems in the Falklands, West Papua, Palestine and elsewhere. Dr. Ivanov makes the readers believe that whatever happens to the Falklanders in the short-term, their principal self-determination will be successful. Similar hopes apply to West Papua and other conflict sites. It is all a matter of time.