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“We want the freedom to develop and govern as we wish”

Tuesday, June 19th 2007 - 21:00 UTC
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Councillor Richard Davis with delegates from Gibraltar and Cayman at UN seminar in Grenada last month Councillor Richard Davis with delegates from Gibraltar and Cayman at UN seminar in Grenada last month

TWENTY-FIVE years after British troops liberated the Islands Argentina continues to view the Falklands with an acquisitive eye.
Recent Argentine governments have denied plans for further military action, but they pursue an aggressive diplomatic and public relations campaign to annex the Falkland Islands.
The Argentines use every opportunity to promote their case. International organizations such as the United Nations and the Organisation of American States (OAS) are lobbied hard. Opportunities such as the Ibero American summit as well as scientific and conservation meetings are shamelessly used. Serious debate on issues like the conservation of fish stocks or wildlife are often hijacked or held up by Argentina's objections and statements about sovereignty.

The United Nations decolonisation committeeAs an overseas territory, the Falkland Islands do not have a voice at many international forums, but we can and do speak at the UN's decolonisation committee ('C24'), which discusses the Falklands issue each year. The C24 was set up specifically to promote the interests, self-determination and welfare of territories such as ourselves. Self-determination does not necessarily mean independence â€" it refers to the right of the people of a territory to decide their political status and future. Under the UN charter, Britain has a 'sacred trust' to protect the interests of her overseas territories, and she continues to honor this trust. Each year the C24 passes a resolution calling for negotiation on sovereignty between the UK and Argentina, ignoring the fact that Falkland Islanders are strongly opposed to such negotiations. In accordance with the UN Charter, Britain consistently resists this pressure â€" she will not negotiate unless we want her to. In spite of the resolution, the C24 gives us the opportunity to put our case to the 27 UN member states that belong to the committee. We update the committee on the current state of our economy and government, correct some of the Argentine myths, and raise the issue of Argentine sanctions against our economy. Most importantly, we tell them what we want â€" self-determination is about how Falkland Islanders want to develop and govern their country. In many cases the C24 countries have very little knowledge of our situation, and may only have heard Argentina's arguments. It is very effective when the case for self-determination is made by a Falkland Islander. The wishes of Falkland IslandersAt the C24 seminar in Grenada last month I told the committee: "â€Ã‚¦it is our clear and informed wish to continue our present association with the United Kingdom. We have an appropriate and modern relationship with a member state of the United Nations. The nature of our relationship with Britain is enshrined within the Constitution â€" a public document which clearly demonstrates Britain's commitment to protecting our right to self determination. For our part we commit ourselves to abide by Britain's international obligations and the principles of good governance. "This is not a colonial relationship. It is a voluntary and continually evolving partnership which is based on our right to self-determination, and which seeks to give us the greatest possible control over our own lives. This is entirely consistent with the principles and Charter of the United Nations. British sovereignty does not imply a colonial status. "Secondly, we do not wish the British Government to negotiate our sovereignty with Argentina. Falkland Islanders are strongly opposed to Argentine sovereignty and no one who visits the Falklands could have any doubt about this. "We have never been part of Argentina. It is clear to us that Argentina has no intention of negotiating anything other than a complete hand over of sovereignty to them. We would become a colony of Argentina and we do not want that. "It is a clearly established principle that the political future of the non-self-governing territories should be determined in accordance with the wishes of their inhabitants. It is we who should be deciding our own future, not the Argentine and British governmentsâ€Ã‚¦" Argentine mythsThe fundamental principle of 'decolonisation' is that the people of the colony or territory should determine their own future. Argentina has produced long-winded and legalistic arguments as to why selfdetermination should not apply in our case. Although the arguments seem absurd to us, they may be taken seriously by UN delegates who know nothing about the Falklands, and they need to be answered. In June 2006 at the C24 meeting in New York the Argentine foreign minister Jorge Taiana claimed that Falkland Islanders have no political rights: "The right to self-determination is not applicable to the islanders since they are a transplanted British population." The people of the Falkland Islands have evolved a distinctive identity over the years. Many people trace their ancestry back to the 1840s, and individuals from a wide range of countries have become Falkland Islanders since then. Like many countries, including Argentina, we are a nation of immigrants, but that does not mean we do not have the right to self-determination. We are a vibrant and long established community and certainly not a 'transplanted people' as Argentina claims. A second often repeated myth concerns 'territorial integrity'. The argument is that the Falklands have always been part of Argentina, and for this reason have no right to govern themselves. I quote again from Taiana's statement to the C24 last June: "...in 1833 the Malvinas Islands, being part of the territory of the Argentine Republic, governed by Argentine authorities and inhabited by Argentine settlers, were usurped and their authorities and settlers were evicted by force by the United Kingdom, and were not allowed to remain in or return to that territory. On the contrary they were replaced, during these 173 years of usurpation, by a colonial administration and a population of British origin." This argument is not only incorrect, it is irrelevant. Whatever the merits of the Argentine historical claim (and we believe there are none), the events of two centuries ago do not override our right to selfdetermination. We need to resolve the problems of the 21st century, not those of the 19th century. We are, however, certainly not ashamed of our history and would disagree with many of the Argentine claims. When the Falkland Islands were first discovered by Western Europeans in the 16th century they were uninhabited: there was no indigenous population, like St Helena and Bermuda. From the late 18th century both Spain and Britain claimed the islands. Argentina as it is now did not exist and it is simply incorrect to suggest that Argentina and the Falkland Islands formed any sort of national unit. When the United Provinces of the River Plate declared independence from Spain in 1816 they comprised northern Argentina, most of Uruguay, Paraguay and parts of Bolivia. Moreover, Spain did not cede her sovereignty claim over the Falkland Islands to Argentina when the fragile union of the United Provinces broke down and Argentina became independent. In spite of this, and although aware of the British claim, in 1829 Argentina appointed Vernet, a French entrepreneur, with commercial interests in the Falklands, as governor. Britain formally protested as soon as she heard the news. The British reoccupied the Islands without bloodshed in 1833 and removed the Argentine 25 man military garrison. The people who left at the time were certainly not an indigenous population, as Argentina claims. Seven of them were in irons to face trial for the murder of their second governor, a Frenchman called Estevier. The captain of HMS Cliorecorded in the log that he, "...had great trouble to persuade 12 of the gauchos to remain on the settlement otherwise the cattle could not have been caught." The only civilians who went back, "...wished to return to Buenos Aires." There is no evidence that settlers were evicted by force. The brief Argentine occupation was carried out in the full knowledge of Britain's preexisting claim. There was no attempt to develop the region beyond the confines of the small settlement. Since then Falkland Islanders have peacefully occupied and administered their country for over 170 years â€" for longer than Argentine Patagonia has been in existence. The Falkland Islands are not part of Argentina, and they never have been. The territorial integrity argument is misconceived. The four year occupation early in the 19th century cannot give Argentina rights over a people who have peacefully administered and developed their country for seven or eight generations. Economic sanctionsIt is also important that the committees are made aware of current Argentine measures deliberately designed to damage our economy and pressurise us to negotiate away our sovereignty. These sanctions are entirely against the spirit of the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation of which Argentina is a member. In my recent statement made to the C24 in Grenada, I said: "Economic sanctions such as refusal of permission for charter flights to cross their air space appear to be part of a deliberate programme. "Recent fisheries legislation will prevent companies with licences for Falkland Island waters from also obtaining licences to fish in Argentine waters. In April Argentina withdrew from the 1995 Joint Declaration on Hydrocarbons. This may have little immediate practical effect but it was a door for potential future co-operation and confidence building. Now it has been closed. "It is easy to close these doors, but opening them takes patient work and political courage. We in the Falklands remain committed to the concept of co-operation on practical issues under a sovereignty umbrella. "For example, we have invited the families of those Argentine soldiers, sailors and airmen who fell in 1982 to come and hold a commemoration for their loved ones later this yearâ€Ã‚¦ such contact between our communities can increase understanding and heal the scars of war." The way aheadI ended by telling the C24 that, "The annual resolution on the Falkland Islands is fundamentally flawed and will not lead to any progress. It ignores the views of the very people it refers to and thus cannot advance the process of de-colonization. "This does not mean that progress cannot be made â€" it can. There are many other areas of the world where deeply held convictions and principles appear irreconcilable, and yet progress has been made â€" look at the cases of Gibraltar and Northern Ireland. Instead of passing this resolution again, I ask that you encourage measures which reduce tension, which promote understanding and confidence, and that you call for co-operation on regional issues. "These are areas in which progress can be made, but to ignore the views and rights of the people involved will lead nowhere." It is ironic that Argentina should continue to use the decolonisationcommittee to try to gain support for their colonial ambitions in the South West Atlantic. It is important that Falkland Islanders continue to represent themselves each year, tell the committee what life is really like here, and show up the moral and intellectual flaws in Argentina's arguments. By Legislative Councillor Dr. Richard Davies The article was published in the Penguin Newsspecial color edition commemorating the 25th anniversary of the liberation of the Falkland Islands in June 1982.

Categories: Politics, Falkland Islands.

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