The opening session of the UN Fourth Committee on decolonisation was dominated by a joint verbal assault on Britain by South American countries over the issue of the Falkland Islands. One after another, representatives of governments in the region called on the UK to enter into dialogue with Argentina over the sovereignty of the Islands, which are claimed by the government in Buenos Aires.
The response from Britain was as firm as it was swift, and echoed the line taken by London then rejecting Spanish advances over Gibraltar, reports the Gibraltar Chronicle that is covering the event since Chief Minister Fabian Picardo addressed the Fourth Committee.
In a right of reply at the close of the session, the British representative said the UK had no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and its surrounding islets and waters.
The UK official told the committee that Britain attaches great importance to the principle of self determination and added: “That principle underlines our position on the Falkland Islands”.
“There can be no negotiations on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands unless and until such time as the Islanders so wish,” she said.
“The United Kingdom’s relationship with all its overseas territories is a modern one based on partnership, shared values and the right of each territory to determine its own future.”
The UK was fully committed to protecting the right of the Falkland Islanders to determine their own social, political and economic future, she later added.
She recalled that the democratically elected representatives of the Falklands Islands had asked the Special Committee to respect the principle of self-determination and reiterated the historical fact that the Islands had no indigenous people. They confirmed that the Falklands Islands had been peacefully settled over a century and a half by their ancestors and they had no desire other than to be left to live in peace. She said the representatives had also expressed their disappointment after the President of Argentina had refused their invitation to meet and listen to their views.
The most robust intervention from the South American countries came, unsurprisingly, from Argentina. Mateo Estreme, Chargé d’Affairs at the Argentine mission to the UN, said the Malvinas had been usurped from Argentina in 1833 and illegally occupied by Britain since.
In analysing the Argentine position, he sought to differentiate the territory and its people as two separate things, and rubbished the Falkland Islanders’ plan to hold a referendum on their future next year. “There is in fact a ‘colonial situation’ but not a ‘colonised people’” Estreme said.
“To allow the British population on the Islands to become the arbitrator of a dispute to which their own country is a party distorts the right of self determination of peoples because there is not a people subject to the subjugation, domination or exploitation of a colonial power.”
“In this sense, the announced ‘referendum’ is an illegal, spurious and tautological exercise as it is promoted by the British to ask British citizens if they want to continue to be British” said the Argentine representative who added that “this is a serious distortion of the spirit of self determination as well as a serious violation of Argentina’s territorial integrity.”
Many of the speakers from the South American countries also expressed concern over oil exploration activities in the waters around the Falkland Islands and over Britain’s military presence there.
The latter includes military exercises involving, among other things, the firing of missiles from the Falkland Islands over the coming fortnight. Britain says its military presence and the exercises are routine and take place annually.
Estreme accused Britain of taking advantage of its position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and said the UK was abandoning its responsibilities by refusing to enter into dialogue with Argentina.