ADDRESS TO THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON DECOLONISATION BY THE HONOURABLE MIKE SUMMERS OBE, MEMBER OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF THE FALKLAND ISLANDS – 25TH JUNE 2015
Mr Chairman, Ambassadors and Members of the UN Decolonisation Committee.
I am happy to be here to address you once again on behalf of the Government and people of the Falkland Islands.
My colleague has described to you in detail the social, political and economic progress our country has made in the last 33 years since the defeat of the illegal Argentine invaders. We have worked tirelessly on behalf of our people to build a country which is successful, of which we can be proud, and which we will pass on to future generations of Falkland Islanders. We used to be a colony of the United Kingdom, and now we are not. We are an economically self-sufficient and internally self-governing country with a great future. We have chosen in a free, fair and open referendum in 2013 to remain an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom, which provides our defence commitment and foreign affairs capacity to resist the constant onslaught of rhetoric and harassment from the Argentine Government on a daily basis, against our small and vulnerable population.
Our continued success and economic growth, despite Argentine aggression, ought to be a source of great satisfaction to this committee who’s one and only purpose is to assist the peoples of the Non Self Governing Territories to reach a post-colonial status that is acceptable to them. Yet year after year you roll out the same tired old motion, which contains not a single reference to self-determination, and which does nothing to assist the development of our society, or to secure peace and prosperity in the South West Atlantic.
This Committee has no role or responsibilities other than to support the NSGT. Up-holding the basic human rights of the people of the Non Self-Governing Territories is your single and solemn duty.
Several countries on this Committee have a record of publicly supporting the Argentine claim to sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. Whatever the geo-political realities that bring you to this position, it is not a relevant considerations in the C24. This Committee has no mandate to discuss or judge the competing claims of Member States over our country.
Because of its record over the years, and its lack of proper direction, this Committee lacks any moral authority in the UN family. Year after year the Secretary General has called for innovative and practical ways to implement the decolonisation process. Year after year the Committee has collectively failed to respond to that call, and has followed the same old path of partisan support, ignoring both the interests and the wishes of the NSGT.
I would like to pay special tribute here, as I have in previous years, to those Members of the Committee who have stood firm in protecting the important principles entrusted to you. For reminding the Committee, year on year, in the face of increasing pressure, that the right of self-determination is sacred to the decolonisation process, that the right of self-determination is a universal human right not to be denied, and that the people of the NSGT’s have an absolute right to be involved in any and all discussions about their country, and their future. To those members, thank you.
Mr Chairman, I know what colonialism is like, because I have experienced it at first hand. We are all agreed that colonialism is not appropriate to this modern era, and we all share the ambition to ensure that it is eradicated. Where we appear to differ is in our assessment of when a colonial situation exists, and how we replace it for the benefit of the people involved.
Mr Chairman, the Argentine Republic insists that the Falkland Islands remains a colony of the United Kingdom. It does this, not because it has any concrete evidence to support such a claim, nor because it cares about the people of the Falkland Islands. It does so in order to advance its case for territorial expansion, irrespective of the concerns and welfare of Falkland Islanders, who, incidentally, the Foreign Minister of Argentina has previously pronounced do not exist, are a non-people. Mr Chairman, that is language and sentiment worthy only of colonial thinking.
Argentina seeks to colonise the Falkland Islands against the wishes of its people. That is clear and simple, and this Committee should see that, and condemn such ambition.
Mr Chairman, Argentina states regularly that its claim to the Falkland Islands runs continuously from the 1820’s. It does not. The Argentine claim to Spanish succession, which was never accepted by the United Kingdom, was ended by treaty in 1850, and for 34 years Argentina was silent over the Falklands, during which time several Argentine leaders stated that Argentina had no dispute with Britain. After a brief revival in 1884, the claim was dropped for another 46 years until the late 1930’s, when Argentina shamelessly attempted to take advantage of Britain’s difficulties in the Second World War to re-launch its claim, and to divert attention from difficult political and economic conditions at home.
Even then for another 20 years Argentina made only very brief mention of its claim to the Falkland Islands, until José María Ruda, made an impassioned speech to UN Sub-Committee III in 1965 – another period of political turmoil at home.
Sr. Ruda’s speech purported to recount the history of the islands and of Argentina’s claim, but it gave a profoundly false account of history. Repeated propaganda, rhetoric and untruths at the UN by the Argentine Republic based on Ruda’s speech, have sought to re-establish the lapsed claim. Emotional appeals to brotherhood and solidarity from their neighbours, and other former colonial territories, has replaced historical fact. There were at least 12 untruths in Ruda’s statement. These have been repeated time and again by succeeding Argentine politicians; but as we all know, the constant repetition of an untruth does not make it correct.
Members of this Committee are invited to consider the following with an open mind.
Sr. Ruda claimed that:
- Spanish sovereignty was settled over the Falkland Islands because Spain made an express reservation of its sovereignty in the Treaty of 22 January 1771. It was not; both Britain and Spain reserved their positions on sovereignty in that Treaty.
- That Britain expelled the Argentine population from the Falklands in 1833. It did not; Britain removed an illegal military garrison, but persuaded a number of Argentine and Uruguayan civilians to stay.
- That the Argentine inhabitants resisted the British “invaders”. They did not; but sought assistance to escape the failed Vernet enterprise, and stayed in the Islands. Regrettably they went on to murder a number of Vernet’s employees. Amongst the murderers was the infamous Gaucho Rivero, now held up as a national hero by the current Argentine Government.
- That Britain replaced the Argentine inhabitants with British subjects. They did not; many of the Argentine civilians stayed on, and over many years were supplemented by new settlers from several other European and South American countries, including Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and the UK.
- That there has been no international agreement to confirm Britain’s possession of the Falklands and that Argentina has never accepted Britain’s possession of the Falklands. There has, and they did; the Convention of Settlement of 1849, ratified by both Governments in 1850, confirmed there were no outstanding disputes between the two. Argentina accepted British sovereignty.
- That Argentina has never ceased to protest at Britain’s possession of the Falklands. It clearly did, having accepted by Treaty that the Falkland Islands was British territory, and making no further claim for 80 years.
- That Argentina’s claim is imprescriptible, and eternal unless freely given up. It is clearly not, and cannot be, since this is not a concept accepted in international law.
- That Falkland Islanders were a temporary British population. Perhaps the greatest of all deceptions, since we can now demonstrate 9 generations of settlers from 61 different ethnic backgrounds.
- That Britain’s possession of the Falklands violates the territorial integrity of Argentina. It does not; the Falkland Islands have demonstrably never been part of Argentina, no matter how much Argentina wishes it was so, and its territorial integrity has clearly not been violated.
So Mr Chairman, Ambassadors, I invite you to consider that the UN has been royally misled by Sr. Ruda and those who have followed him, with a series of deceptions , half-truths and falsehoods that do not represent reality.
So if you care anything about de-colonisation, and about basic human rights, study for yourselves the real historical background, visit the Falkland Islands, assess the development of the Falkland Islands for yourselves, and condemn the Argentine drive to colonise the Falkland Islands against the wishes of its established population.
Regrettably Chair, the repetition of Sr. Ruda’s falsehoods do not end the attempts to mislead. Argentina has developed a new line of rhetoric in recent years, about militarisation of the SW Atlantic in what is a zone of peace. My homeland was indeed a peaceful place, from the end of the 2nd World War until 1982. The mainland by contrast was rather less peaceful, ruled over from north to south, by a range of authoritarian and sometimes brutal military dictatorships. This was especially the case in Argentina in 1982.
The murderous Argentina military junta invaded our country in 1982, with massive popular support from its citizens, and with active support from some people still in positions of authority today. It easily overran the tiny garrison, illegally imprisoned a number of innocent civilians, deported a number of people, and set about changing the established lifestyles of Falkland Islanders. Argentina was ordered by binding Security Council Resolution 502/1982 to remove all military forces from the Islands. They refused to do so. They were of course removed 74 days later by the UK Task Force after the tragic loss of life of so many young men, and three civilians.
Following the recapture of the Falkland Islands (and South Georgia) the United Kingdom retained an appropriate defence establishment. That defence capability is in the Falklands because of, and only because of, the illegal Argentine invasion. And since 1982 the defence establishment has decreased substantially, and is made up of very many less aircraft, ships and personnel than in 1982, as other worldwide commitments have drawn away assets for alternative use.
The defence of the Falkland Islands remains appropriate to deter aggression, and is proportionate to the perceived threat. Impassioned accusations of militarisation are baseless, crucially they contain no factual evidence, and are once again designed to deceive the international community into believing there is a threat to the region that simply does not exist.
Members might also like to reflect that in recent months Argentina has tried to purchase new fighter aircraft from Spain, Israel, Russia and China, has purchased the new Malvinas class corvette from China, and new naval tugboats from Russia. Two weeks ago it announced the purchase of 110 armoured vehicles from China. If Members of the Committee are confused about claims of militarisation, you have my sympathies.
Regrettably Chairman, the attempt to manipulate international opinion with untruths does not end there. Argentina claims that the UK Government refuses to enter negotiations about the Falkland Islands. But it is simply untrue. In 2013 the UK Foreign Minister agreed to meet with the Foreign Minister of Argentina in London. He refused to attend. At this meeting in 2012 I attempted to hand a letter of invitation to discussions to Foreign Minister Timmerman; he refused to accept it, and when it was delivered to his Embassy he denied having received it. Both the UK and the Falkland Islands are perfectly clear that we are prepared to discuss matters of mutual interest, like hydrocarbons development and the management of fish stocks. It is Argentina who refuses to attend. So let us just remember, the constant repetition of an untruth does not make it correct.
The reality is the Falkland Islands has been British territory for very nearly 250 years, and has been continuously and peacefully settled under British administration for over 180 years. We have developed from being a former colonial territory to an economically self-sufficient, internally self-governing country, save for foreign affairs and defence. Falkland Islanders are a proud and resourceful people; that is why we have done so well. We are confident in our rights and our future, and to that end voted freely in our referendum to remain an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom for the foreseeable future. That is our decision and our choice.
Ambassadors, my colleague has described to you the various ways in which the Argentine Republic seeks to destroy the economy of the Falkland Islands, and to harass its people. Please be clear; if you support Argentine colonial aspirations in the Falkland Islands, you are complicit in supporting Argentina’s bullying and harassment. You are complicit in denying our children the fresh fruit and vegetables they require for healthy living. You are complicit in denying us open trading relationships with our neighbours. You are complicit in continuing to deny peaceful co-existence and responsible stewardship of the eco-system in our region.
Ambassadors, I cannot believe that would be your Governments intent in this modern world. You surely respect the rights of people, and the basic human rights of our people.
So I encourage you to demand that you are permitted get out to the territories which are in your care, including the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar, examine the historical facts for yourselves, talk to the people, see how they live, test the extent of their self-government, and ask them what they want for themselves. Mr Chairman, your predecessor said “Visiting missions were critical not only in terms of hearing the concerns of the people in Non-Self-Governing Territories, but also in terms of arriving at informed conclusions through the collection of data”. He was right. We formally invite you once again this year to visit our Islands. If Argentina objects, as it has done before, it can only be that it continues to be afraid of the truth, afraid of openness and transparency, and afraid of the power of basic human rights.
In closing I will, as I did last year remind you of the words of the Secretary General to you in 2013. He said, “We no longer have the luxury of indulging in rhetoric and rituals. Concrete action and tangible results are essential.” Based on these sentiments I urge you to discharge your duty to all the NSGT’s, and listen to us to provide the way forward. To do otherwise is to risk making this Committee irrelevant.
The Honourable Mike Summers, OBE
Member of the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands
25th June 2015