There is no doubt that the Falkland Islanders have the right to self-determination, a visiting professor of politics told a public meeting held in the capital Stanley at the Chamber of Commerce last Friday.
Professor Peter Willetts, formally accredited by the Falklands Government as a referendum observer, argued however, that ‘Free Association’ and not ‘Overseas Territory’ would be acceptable in the eyes of the United Nations.
Representing the South Atlantic Council, set up in 1983, to promote communications and understanding between Argentina, Britain and the Falklands, Professor Willetts said that “the government of Argentina is wrong to argue that their sovereignty claim can deprive the Islanders of their international legal rights” however, he also controversially argues that the Falklands will have to change from its current status in order to fit in with the UN ‘Options for Self Determination’.
Professor Willetts said that the right to self-determination was asserted in the Decolonisation Declaration adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1960, and that it applies to the Falkland Islanders because it applies to all colonies.
Argentina’s position that the right only exists, “where there is no dispute over sovereignty” was rejected by the UN General Assembly during the debate on the Decolonisation Declaration and again in 2008.
Prof. Willetts added that the UN’s repeated calls for negotiations between Britain and Argentina do not imply any support for Argentina’s sovereignty claim.
Out of three options for self determination offered by the UN the Professor views ‘Free association with an independent state’ as potentially being the most attractive to Islanders.
This is offered by the UN for small territories where the people want to be independent, but cannot engage in normal international relations. It means full internal self-government, with another government being responsible for defence and foreign affairs.
Two current examples are the Cook Islands and Niue, each being associated with New Zealand.
Prof Willetts pointed out that an Overseas Territory is not a form of Free Association and that the UN said in 1960 an associated territory should have the right to determine its internal constitution without outside interference, but the Falklands ultimately is under the control of London.
The visiting professor added that after the current referendum, whether the result is a Yes majority or a No majority, the Falkland Islands will remain a British Overseas Territory.
He emphasised that the most important impact is that holding the referendum is a powerful assertion of the right of self-determination by the Falkland Islanders. Nevertheless he claimed the referendum is not itself an act of self-determination.
Professor Willetts believes the change in status from being a Colony, to being a Dependent Territory, to being an Overseas Territory, has brought some political change down the road towards self-government for the Falklands, but it is not enough to satisfy the UN.
Willetts is an Emeritus Professor of Global Politics at City University, London, and has studied the United Nations for more than fifty years. His main interests have been in the politics of decolonisation, human rights, development and the environment at the UN. (PN/MP).-