ADDRESS TO THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON DECOLONISATION BY THE HONOURABLE GAVIN SHORT, MEMBER OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF THE FALKLAND ISLANDS – 23RD JUNE 2016
Mr Chairman and members of the C24,
If I may first take the liberty of introducing myself. I am Gavin Short, an elected member of the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands. I was first elected in 1989 serving a four-year term and then not standing for election again until 2009 when I was successful as I was again in 2013. In those years I have participated in many important decisions that helped shape the future of the Falkland Islands, including the decision to hold a referendum in 2013 to ask the people what it was they wanted for their political status and as we know the people of the Falklands spoke loudly with 99.8% of those who voted saying that they were content with their political status at that time. Maybe this was something that this committee should have done years ago.
My family first arrived in the Falklands on the 13th October 1849 – some 167 years ago so the Shorts are not a new family. As far as I can ascertain the original Short immigrated to the Falklands seeking a better life for himself and his family as the region of UK in which he lived suggests that he may have been escaping near poverty, which flies in the face of the argentine claims that we are an implanted population.
Right from day one the makeup of the Falklands population was very cosmopolitan with an early report showing people present from Germany, the UK, South America and even a lone Jamaican in the Falklands. This has carried on until this very day with over 60 nationalities (by birth) being represented in the Falklands and a lot of those have taken Falkland Islands citizenship so we are not a none resident population of people who are just passing through. Unlike many places the ethnic mix causes no problems, we all get along together happily and no one is persecuted because of religion or colour.
If I may I would like to take a look at this very Committee. Some say that it has had its day and that its working practices may be in need of overhaul; I think they could be correct unless it can change, indeed in an address to this Committee the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon himself stated: The Special Committee should be at the forefront in identifying possibilities for change and in promoting priorities in the decolonization process for the benefit of all. As the intergovernmental body exclusively devoted to decolonization, the Special Committee is expected to devise fresh and creative approaches to mobilize the political will to advance its agenda.” I will touch on this theme a little further into my address.
This committee was established by the General Assembly with the purpose of monitoring the implementation of the Declaration (General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960).
Your own website says the following:
“The Special Committee annually reviews the list of Territories to which the Declaration is applicable and makes recommendations as to its implementation. It also hears statements from NSGTs representatives, dispatches visiting missions, and organizes seminars on the political, social and economic situation in the Territories. Further, the Special Committee annually makes recommendations concerning the dissemination of information to mobilize public opinion in support of the decolonization process, and observes the Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories.”
So far we in the Falklands have seen no visits, no forums and certainly no solidarity from this committee, in fact quite the opposite.
I think it is also prudent to remind you all of something that is contained in General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960 – it says quite clearly that:
“All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”
That is what we have in the Falklands Islands. The right to freely determine our political status and social, economic and cultural development. We also (as best we can) freely pursue our economic development. I say as best we can because it is not the UK who is impeding or attempting to impede our economic growth but rather Argentina, who over many years and up to this present day, is still trying to wreck the Falklands economy and thus force us to subjugate to their unwelcomed and uninvited attempts to return us to a colonial situation.
Even the present government in Argentina still carries on with policies introduced by the last government that unsuccessfully attempt to restrict our economic growth. There was even an attempt in the past to get other South American countries to act on their behalf but thankfully other governments in the region have a more enlightened and humanitarian approach to the Falklands.
In spite of the attempt to economically and politically blockade us, our economy has gone from strength to strength whilst we sadly observe others in our region being driven to the brink of disaster by mismanagement and misplaced ideological ideals
As you have heard my colleague say, the Falklands is a go-ahead place. Through prudent fiscal management and shrewd economic planning we have transformed the Falklands from a failing country prior to 1982 to something that seems to be the envy of many. Yes we have our problems, like many we have an ageing population, our economic base may not be as diverse as we would like it to be but we are working on these problems and we will solve them as we have with the many challenges that have been put in our way over the years.
We have a great future; we have the possibility of hydrocarbons, which will transform the Falklands.
Now, you may have been told that the only reason the UK remains interested in the Falklands is the smell of money from oil and that they will take all the royalties leaving the people of the Falklands with only the crumbs. I can stand here before you today and dispel that particular myth. The UK has stated that it will abide by the United Nations 4th Committee affirmation in 2002 that all peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories are free to enjoy the natural resources that exist on and around their piece of the world, which is also enshrined in our constitution in the Falklands. That means that all royalties from any hydrocarbons will be paid to the Falkland Islands Government to invest and use as we see fit for the benefit of our country and people.
If a hydrocarbon industry does go ahead we shall not be allowing that to happen in a way that could damage our environment. We have a pristine environment, we live in a truly beautiful country and we value that (as does the growing numbers of tourists who visit the Falklands) and it is something we will not compromise on. To that end we already insist of the highest of standards from hydrocarbons companies and will not be lowering those standards. We believe we can have both a pristine environment and hydrocarbons but if it comes down to a choice then we would probably choose our environment over oil.
However, even if hydrocarbons do not happen our economy is strong enough for the Falklands to happily continue growing, developing and strengthening. We don’t need oil but it may help explain why a certain neighbour of ours wishes to do a land grab.
If we look at the makeup of this Committee we must ask ourselves could it be seen as a completely unbiased forum, free from any ideological pre-dispositions on the part of some of its members so that it can open its mind to seeking “fresh and innovative solutions” to guide those Non-Self-Governing Territories who are able and so wish, towards full independence or some other solution that is acceptable to the people of those territories as espoused by the 4th Committee in 2002.
Whilst the Falklands are not completely independent we have a huge amount of autonomy. We are completely internally self-governing and we only rely on the United Kingdom for matters of foreign affairs and defence and we are in this relationship voluntarily. We are free to go for independence, should our people wish, or to align ourselves with another country should we and they wish it. We are not, as you will have been told by a certain government who has colonialist ambitions on the Falklands, held against our will or a second class downtrodden people. We are not a colony anymore.
We used to be; I grew up in a colonial situation in the Falklands but through a couple of constitutional changes, through investing in the education of our people, through sound economic practices, through land reform we have moved away from that situation to one that we are actually comfortable with, one where we run our country. That is not to say that we wish to stand still, we don’t. We wish to continue on our path of political change but this must be through evolution not revolution. We are pragmatic enough to realise that we are only a small country and as such may not be able to go for full independence due to size.
We have on repeated occasions extended an invite to the C24 to come to the Falklands and see for yourselves. We have never yet seen such a visit and I ask you, can you really sit in judgement about a country and people where you have never visited to see the reality for yourselves?
At the meeting of the C24 held in Managua only a few weeks ago a message was delivered on behalf of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in which he said that according to “the Charter of the United Nations and relevant General Assembly resolutions, a full measure of self-government can be achieved through independence, integration or free association with another State. The choice should be the result of the freely expressed will and desire of the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories”.
Nowhere in his address to the gathering did he mention that these ideals did not apply to the Falklands nor was he heard to mention that we should become an Argentine colony nor did he say that self-determination does not apply to the Falklands.
I happen to believe that the Committee as it stands has to, as Ban Ki-moon stated “devise fresh and creative approaches” as the three principals that you presently espouse are not fit for purpose for quite a few of the Non-Self-Governing Territories still on your list and another way must be found but that “way” whatever it is must be arrived at by listening to the wishes of the people in those territories rather than attempting to impose something upon them. You need to modernise, some may need take a more enlightened view of the world in which we live and if you have them then drop your entrenched ideological positions and allow yourselves to become honest brokers for a solution that suits the people in the so called Non-Self-Governing Territories. Even the term Non-Self-Governing-Territories is something of a misnomer, as it seems to imply that we do not have any say in the running or future of our countries. It may vary from territory to territory but as I have said, the Falklands do. Lots, as does other places like Gibraltar.
Whatever happens, I do believe that the only way you can progress is to actually visit the Falklands, talk to us, understand us and if you do not believe the results of our referendum on the subject of the political future that we desire then maybe you should organise an officially UN backed and monitored referendum so that you can inform and satisfy yourself as to what the population wishes – remember “self-determination” is enshrined in the UN Charter.
As mentioned the UN seem to have three main options for the so-called Non-Self-Governing Territories. Full independence and free association, which as I understand it, generally an intermediate and finite period (which can be determined by either party) between whatever the present political state of a Non-Self-Governing State may be in and full independence and there is integration.
The first two are something that the Falklands in a perfect world might be able to work towards over many years except that we have the small problem of another, larger and more powerful nation who wishes to usurp out country. We are too small and few in number to defend ourselves and given that our neighbour isn’t going to drop its ridiculous colonial claim anytime soon, we will be needing the protection of a friendly nation for many years to come.
Then there is integration. To be honest we in the Falklands are fiercely proud and very protective of our autonomy and would see integration as a backwards step, indeed putting us into what could well be seen as a situation closer to the colonial one that we have been moving away from and it surprises me that this committee even entertains such a thought but maybe it suits some territories.
There also appears to be a “fourth way” which the Committee seems not to pursue with too much vigour and that is as stated by the Fourth Committee in 2002 “The General Assembly would reaffirm the inalienable right of the peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories to self-determination, including — if they so wished – independence.
To me this gives the peoples of those territories the right to freely and democratically choose the path that best suits them and this option is one that, in my view, the Committee should seriously look at. It is an option that is all about “people” and what they desire. Remember, it is all about self-determination – the right of the people to freely choose how they wish to live and just what political system suits them.
It isn’t just the Falklands though, places like Gibraltar finds themselves in a very similar position indeed there are even some None Self Governing Territories, for example Tristan da Cunha who only have a population of a few hundred people and an economy that just couldn’t support them becoming independent. To force them in that direction knowing full well that they would fail and the people plunged into some sort of UN-induced poverty is truly bonkers – as the UN Secretary General said, you must look for fresh and innovative ways – the fourth way.
At this point I think it worth mentioning that the very country that will speak after us, through their own colonial ambitions towards my country stops us (and probably you) from exploring the options that are acceptable to our people and ways to remove ourselves from your little list. It is they who are keeping us in what you see as an unacceptable colonial situation.
You are here to support and guide the people of the so-called Non-Self-Governing Territories to a political state that suits them. They are the people who matter; it is they whom you should be looking after. I hope that one day we will see this committee actively doing just that.
Mr Chairman, we have heard that last year the Committee did give thought to sending a delegation to the UK and Argentina to discuss the Falklands. I find this truly awful, colonial way of looking at things. Would you really want to consult with a country that some see as the old colonial master and also with the one that has designs on being the new colonial masters of the Falklands? I sincerely hope not.
When it comes to the political future of the Falklands, neither the United Kingdom nor Argentina really matter. It’s not about them, it’s about us, the people of the Falkland Islands and what we want and it is your duty to listen to us. We are the only people who can say what we want for our future.
Finally ,Mr Chairman and members of the C24, may I remind you all that this committee is about de- colonisation not re-colonisation and I will also tell you this: No person, no group of people, no organisation or committee will ever be permitted by the people of the Falkland Islands to undermine or bypass our right to self-determination or put them back into a colonial situation – ever.
The Honourable Gavin Short
Member of the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands
23rd June 2016