ADDRESS TO THE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON DECOLONISATION BY THE HONOURABLE PHYL RENDELL MBE, MEMBER OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF THE FALKLAND ISLANDS – 25TH JUNE 2015
Mr Chairman, Members of the UN Decolonization Committee, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Thank you for the opportunity to address this meeting here in New York and to be able, as requested by the Secretary General, to take stock of progress made in the Falkland Islands.
As a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of the Falkland Islands Government I recently represented our Government at the Pre C24 seminar in Nicaragua in May this year.
When the Falkland Islands was first settled from the mid 1750’s onwards, it was indeed a colony; just as neighbouring Chile, Uruguay and Argentina were populated by settlers from Europe and other parts of the world.
As Chile, Uruguay and Argentina have done, we have travelled along a road of political development. We have not attained independence as those countries have, for many good reasons including our tiny population of 2,500 permanent residents and relatively small geographical area, but particularly because of the threat under which we live daily from our neighbour, Argentina, who makes no secret of wanting to control our territory against our wishes.
Instead we have chosen the internationally recognised status of a British Overseas Territory: a modern self-governing relationship with the United Kingdom (UK). We have our own system of government and local laws. This is quite different from the definition of a colony.
When I was a child growing up in the Falklands in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the label “colony” may well have applied to aspects of the Islands’ status. For example, some members of the policy-making body, the Executive Council, were appointed by the Governor of the day, rather than through the electoral system. For the last 30 years, all voting members on Executive Council have been elected from within the democratically elected membership of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly.
Political change and the evolution of our constitution have been driven even more resolutely following the invasion of our territory by the Argentines in 1982. It must be stressed here that we were invaded by a foreign power, Argentina, in 1982, and a bitter and bloody war followed when many lives were lost on both sides. The clock cannot be reversed and this Argentine aggression changed everything. Argentina speaks of resuming talks on sovereignty as if nothing happened in 1982. Islanders lost their freedom for 74 days until they were liberated by British troops. Some of my constituents were held in degrading conditions in a hall at Goose Green while Islanders were held against their will in other parts of the Islands. Islanders can never forget what they endured and nor will their children and grandchildren. The administering power, the UK, respects our right to self-determination, and has stated that they will not discuss our sovereignty with anyone against our wishes.
Since 1982, two new constitutions have been crafted: one in 1997 and the most recent being enacted in early 2009 that has taken us along the path of political autonomy. We are proud of our current constitution that, true to the United Nations Charter, sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, and the right to self-determination, as well as the right to responsibly exploit our own natural resources.
So Mr Chairman, Falkland Island constitutional reform has stripped away all aspects of so called colonial status.
As an MLA, I am one of eight members who approve laws that are continuously updated to ensure that our legislation meets the needs of our population and comply with international law. Examples include passing updated legislation in the last year on Criminal Justice and Child Protection. So we have a legal system that is appropriate for our community in the South Atlantic and we do not rely on UK legislation written for a different society. This is a costly commitment for a small population of Falkland Islanders but one we fully embrace.
Turning to the economy: since the Argentine invasion in 1982 the Falkland Islands’ economy has grown year on year from a Government expenditure budget of approximately £5 million per annum in the early eighties to £60 million in the next financial year, and an additional £20 million being spent on infrastructure and development projects. The Islands’ GDP figure is around £150million. This is in spite of Argentine restrictions and interference to our businesses and trade which this Committee should condemn, as its sole responsibility is to the people of the Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs).
The Falkland Islands’ fishery, established in 1986, is mostly licensed to locally-owned and registered companies with joint venture partners, and taxes on profits remain in the Islands. The industry contributes between £17-21millon per annum to the Islands’ government where it is used to provide essential services for residents. It is currently the biggest contributor to our economy.
This is in spite of the Argentine Government making it illegal for Spanish companies working in Argentina to work in the Falklands’ fisheries in partnership with our companies, and that Government has also pressurised the Chinese Jigger fleet not to fish in our waters.
Furthermore, Argentina no longer shares scientific data or jointly discusses the management of straddling fish stocks with the Falkland Islands. The sustainable management of fish stocks in the South West Atlantic is internationally important and it is to the detriment of both ourselves and Argentina that there is no cooperation over a shared fishery. Only those exploiting the unregulated high seas, benefit.
Tourism has become an important industry in the Islands in recent decades, with 50,000 cruise ship passenger landings not being uncommon during the summer months. Land based tourism is also an important source of income for those people living in remote parts of the Islands. Income from tourism to the Islands’ economy is calculated at approximately £8million per annum.
Tourism could grow even more if charter flights from Chile were not banned by the Argentine regime. Only a weekly flight from Punta Arenas, carrying fresh produce and passengers, is permitted when there is a demand for far more freight and people to be transported on this route, particularly in the summer months. This is denying a small community access to necessary goods and services. Furthermore, Argentina has turned a blind eye to violent action in Argentine ports against international cruise ships also visiting the Islands.
Agriculture in the Islands today is unrecognisable to what it was 30 years ago. There has been an agrarian revolution with regard to land ownership, whereby local ownership of land has been vigorously implemented. The vestiges of colonialism were removed through the 1980s and 1990s when absentee landowners sold their land and it was divided into manageable farms and bought by Islanders. There are currently around 80 separate farm businesses compared to 30 three decades ago. Land is now passing into the hands of the next generation of Islanders by inheritance or sale.
In their presentation at the meeting in Managua, the Argentine delegation referred to the Falkland Islands Company (FIC) controlling the wealth of the Islands from the UK. This is certainly not the case today. Land previously owned by this company was purchased in 1990s by the Falkland Islands Government and is now operated as a Statutory Corporation for the benefit of Islanders and managed by a board of Directors who are resident in the Islands and I currently chair the board as an MLA.
Global markets have led farmers, with assistance from Government subsidies, to change to finer wool production and income from wool has an estimated value of £5.4millon. The construction of an EU-certificated abattoir twelve years ago has resulted in farmers earning added income through meat production, and 50,000 lambs and sheep are currently processed for export each season and sold into the EU market.
The exploration and preparations for potential exploitation of hydrocarbons have been ongoing since the late 1990s when the first offshore wells were drilled. The areas of geological interest for oil companies are 100 miles or more from the Falklands’ coastline, lying to the north and east of the Islands.
Mr Chairman, we have legislation in place that sets criteria for companies applying for licences to work in the Falklands that requires them to operate to high international standards. Licences are awarded by the Falkland Islands Government to oil companies, NOT by the British Government, and all fees and future income from development will be paid to the Falkland Islands Government as set out in our Constitution. (Quoting from the Constitution: Islanders “may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic cooperation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit and international law”).
Claims from the Argentine authorities that hydrocarbons exploration in Falkland’s waters represents a ‘unilateral’ action on behalf of the British Government are therefore wholly false and misleading. The reality is that it was the Argentine Government that chose to walk away from an agreement on hydrocarbon exploration so that no dialogue or sharing of information is now possible.
The only ‘unilateral’ actions of relevance are recent threats of punitive fines and imprisonment from the Argentine Government against international oil company workers and their contractors. Any attempt to apply Argentine domestic legislation to the Islands would be contrary to international law and incompatible with the rights of Falkland Islanders under the UN charter to peacefully develop our economy. I urge the committee to firmly reject this latest attempt by the Argentine authorities to strangle the economy of a small Island community.
We have every intention of strictly controlling offshore activities in our EEZ to safeguard the environment and to minimise social impact on a small population. This is contrary to the outrageous statements that have come from representatives of the Argentine Government recently about the likelihood of drilling activities polluting the coast of Patagonia. We are fully committed to protecting the rich marine resources and wildlife in the South Atlantic and have measures in place to carry this out.
Revenue from our industries has been targeted at providing high standards of health and education for our diverse population. Our young people are fully funded by the Falklands’ Government through to tertiary education overseas and they are filling key positions in the Government and the private sector on their return. Our infrastructure too, has expanded, though we have much to do to achieve our goals.
Our industries currently ensure the financial autonomy of the Falkland Islands: we receive no financial aid from the UK, and as I have stated earlier, we make our own laws and, because we own our natural resources, directly regulate industry activities in our territory. We are only dependent on the UK for defence and foreign affairs. If there was no threat from Argentina to claim our country, and the government of that country recognised our existence and respected our right to self-determination, we would not require British troops at all.
Revenue from exploitation of hydrocarbons would lead to long term financial security for Islanders. Our existing industries would also benefit and flourish from further investment that would ensure sustainable income beyond the life of hydrocarbon production. We listen to our constituents and support them, particularly our highly motivated young people, who are ready to grasp the opportunities and challenges ahead that will make the Islands truly part of the global economy.
Mr Chairman, I mention our young people: since 1833, people have come to our shores from many parts of the world and some Argentines did remain at Port Louis at that time. In 1847 my colleague’s ancestor, Jose Llamosa arrived from Uruguay, and other sailors and farmers settled from Scandinavia, Chile and Australia in those early days. We have welcomed Russian and Philippine nationals to name but two other nationalities that have more recently settled in the Islands. Our 2012 census records 61 separate ethnic origins resident in the Falklands. One glance at the local telephone book with the list of surnames, or the record of marriages and births in the Penguin News illustrates our diverse population.
So, Mr Chairman, how can this country I describe represent a colony under a colonial power? We are not a colony and have a status that we are content with. The status of a British Overseas Territory was unanimously endorsed by an internationally monitored Referendum held in March 2013 when, of the 92% of the electorate who took part, 99.8% voted to remain a British Overseas Territory. The Referendum gave Islanders a formal platform on which to record their right to self-determination. We have no wish to be associated politically with any other country but welcome good neighbourly relations with nearby countries that we enjoy with all apart from Argentina, because their government continues to ignore our right to self- determination.
Mr Chairman, the Falkland Islands has been on a journey, and has moved from colonial status in the days of the early settlers, through to a self-governing overseas territory of Great Britain, and is content with this status as endorsed by the 2013 Referendum. It is the duty of this Committee to assist NSGT’s to reach a status that is satisfactory to the people of that territory and it is therefore your duty to acknowledge the rights of Falkland Islanders and not support those who covet our territory.
Mr Chairman, I invite you, as I did at the recent seminar in Managua and as my colleagues have done in previous Committee sessions, to prepare a mission to visit the Falkland Islands to see for yourself what we have achieved. Please make us the next territory that you visit in order to fulfil your work.
Mr Chairman, thank you for letting me address this Assembly.
The Honourable Phyl Rendell, MBE
Member of the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands
25th June 2015