Article on the New Falkland Islands Constitution, by Councillor Mike Summers OBE
Today, a new Falkland Islands Constitution comes into force. Normally this would warrant little attention; this one is different. In practical as well as symbolic terms it changes the relationship with Britain that dates back to 1833, interrupted only by a 74-day occupation in 1982.
Twenty seven years ago, Britain had to revert to military means to restore democracy to a group of islands that had been invaded by a foreign power. To some, it was the last colonial ‘war’ in British history. To Falkland Islanders it meant much more than that. Not only had our country been overrun but our liberty had been taken from us and our right, as free people, to decide by whom we should be governed had been denied.
In the ensuing years, the people of the Falklands have never forgotten the sacrifices made by British servicemen in that conflict. In fact, ‘sacrifice’ is one of the three themes that have influenced our subsequent development. The other two are ‘self-sufficiency’ and ‘self-determination’. We are determined to stand on our own feet and not to lose the freedom that they restored to us in 1982.
Over the last twenty seven years we have become internally self-governing and economically self-sufficient in virtually all areas except defence. This expenditure represents a very small percentage of the UK defence budget. The Falkland Islands Government contributes where it can and this contribution is expected to increase. Self sufficiency has enabled us to develop our communications systems, education and healthcare facilities and diversify our economy.
The right to self-determination is equally important to us. We are proud of the progress we have made in local democracy and internal self-government as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. Yet our Argentine neighbours dismiss this as simply colonisation by another name, despite the fact that Falkland Islanders have freely and repeatedly confirmed their wish to remain British. At the same time they have incorporated their claim to sovereign territorial rights into the Argentine constitution, and embarked on a campaign of political and economic harassment, refusing to acknowledge our fundamental human right to decide by whom we should be governed. So much for colonisation!
We too have a constitution – another fact conveniently ignored. It is a new, post-colonial constitution initiated by the Falkland Islands Government, endorsed by the UK Government and on which the Falkland Islands people were consulted. It recognises the reality of the modern world in which the rights of free peoples are paramount and the assertion of territorial rights, irrespective of the wishes of those who live there, has no place. It enshrines in the first Chapter our inalienable right to self-determination in accordance with the United Nations Charter, the International Covenant on civil and political rights and the European Convention. Despite being endorsed by the UN’s Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonisation) as recently as last October, that principle has never been accepted by Argentina as applying to Falkland Islanders. Whilst Britain and the Falkland Islands have moved on to a new relationship based on democracy and self-determination our Argentine neighbours remain in a time warp, still pressing their anachronistic claim to territorial sovereignty. It is they, not Britain, who wish to colonise the Falkland Islands.
Falkland Islanders have expressed their views freely and unequivocally over many years. We wish to remain British. Our new constitution enshrines the right to determine our own future. Surely no-one who supports democracy and human rights can oppose this?