Mr. Alejandro Betts spoke on 20 June this year at the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation, as a petitioner on the “Falklands (Malvinas) Question.” It has been brought to my attention that his speech included a highly distorted account of my visit to the Islands to observe the referendum on behalf of the South Atlantic Council.
I would like to put on the record my rejection of his misrepresentation of my situation and my political analysis, in order to make false propaganda from these events.
Mr Betts did not mention my name and I am from City University, which is not part of the University of London, but he can only have meant me, when he referred to an “Emeritus Professor of Global Politics” being in the Falklands in March this year. I was not summoned/ called (convocado) to Stanley as a referendum observer. I took the initiative to go to the Islands and used my own research resources to fund my travel, because I wanted to undertake independent analysis of the politics of the referendum.
I also wanted to engage in debate with Islanders about the international law and politics of decolonisation issues at the United Nations. The South Atlantic Council has worked since late 1983 to promote understanding between British people, the Argentines and Islanders, in order to achieve a peaceful settlement of the dispute acceptable to all three parties. This has caused some Islanders to be suspicious and hostile towards our ideas.
Nevertheless, I addressed a public meeting and responded to a long session of vigorous questions. I was treated courteously throughout this meeting and indeed throughout my time in the Islands.
It is totally unreasonable for Mr Betts to sneer and to imply that I was naive to believe I was in “a democratic society that allows diversity of thought.” I was completely free at all times to say whatever I wished to say, including making strong challenges to some ideas that are firmly established in Falklands politics. I was subject to criticism and at times it was vigorous criticism, but my critics also welcomed the fact I had visited the Islands. Nobody in the Falkland Islands Government or any individual Islanders remotely suggested I had “committed the unpardonable error of speaking frankly.”
Mr Betts distorted my analysis of the international law and politics of self- determination. I did say the referendum would not be accepted as a formal, “act of self-determination,” but only because the ballot paper did not offer a choice from the internationally recognised options for decolonisation, namely independence, integration or “free association” with another country, or any other political status of self-government, “freely determined by a people.” I also said the referendum was a strong political statement of the desire by the people of the Falklands to maintain their right to self-determination. Most important of all, I said, “I have no doubt that in international law the Falkland Islanders have the right to self-determination.”
There is no legal basis to say the Argentine sovereignty claim overrides this democratic right.
Mr Betts was correct to say my credentials as an official referendum observer for the SAC were cancelled the day after I arrived in the Islands. I had not appreciated before I arrived that, if I wanted the full privileges of access to observe the electoral administration, mobile polling and the count, I would have to operate in the same manner as the international team of observers.
This required making a commitment to abide by the Code of Conduct for International Election Observers, as endorsed by the United Nations in 2009. The Code specifies observers, “must not express or exhibit any bias or preference in relation to … referenda issues.”
However, the cancellation of my credentials was not a unilateral act by the Attorney- General. I was given the choice of remaining an official observer, if I postponed my public meeting until the day after the referendum count. It was my own decision that I wished to go ahead with the meeting at the arranged time, two days before the voting started. I had not intended to and I did not at any time, before or after the referendum, make any direct comment on whether Islanders should vote Yes or No in the referendum. On reflection, I understand why others felt my discussion of Overseas Territory status might indirectly imply support for a No vote, even though that was not my intention. At the time, I regretted the Attorney- General’s decision that my arguments were incompatible with the role of being a strictly impartial observer, but I respected the decision as an example of the scrupulous approach adopted by the FIG to the administration of the referendum. At no point did anybody attempt to prevent my public meeting going ahead. The only question was when it should be held.
It becomes obvious why Mr Betts sought to misrepresent these events, when he goes on to compare what happened to me to “pressures [he] suffered for having investigated independently the true history of the land where [he] was born.”
Mr Betts sustains his position in Argentina on the basis of two false claims.
Firstly, he did not start studying Falklands history in 1976 nor conclude after two years of research that, “Argentina had absolute rights over the island territory” (Clarin, “Un malvinense contra Inglaterra”, 22 June 2011).
On 18 May 1978, Mr Betts sent a letter to a local mimeographed news sheet, the Falkland Islands Times, strongly protesting at what he saw as a weak and ineffective response by the British government to the establishment of a small Argentine base on Thule. This was not the action of somebody who had concluded the South Atlantic islands were Argentine.
Secondly, Mr Betts did not leave the Falkland because of any political pressures and he was not expelled from the Falklands. He had more personal reasons. He left his second wife and children in the Islands in January 1982, when he developed a relationship with a young woman who worked with him in the Stanley office of the Argentine airline, LADE. He accompanied her to Argentina, after the Argentine defeat in June 1982.
I object to my activities being misrepresented to sustain Mr Betts misrepresentation of his own background. (PN)
Peter Willets, UK