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UN Decolonisation conference reminded about Falkland Islands right to self-determination

MLA Phyl Rendell, MBE,  of the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands, addressed the Pre-C24 assembly in Managua, Nicaragua on Wednesday 20th May and her full speech follows:

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen:

I am very pleased to be here in Managua for the Caribbean Regional Seminar on the theme of “Implementation of the Third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism; the United Nations takes stock of the decolonization agenda.”

I was elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) of the Falkland Islands at the last election in November 2013.  This was the first time that MLAs were appointed on a full time basis, reflecting the increased responsibilities and workload of a modern country.  I am one of two newly-elected MLAs who join six others, many of whom have addressed previous C24 seminars and main meetings in New York.

I will proceed to address the theme of this seminar as it relates to the Falkland Islands, in my view, and that of my constituents. Checking the internet, Wikipedia’s political definition for colony is “a territory under immediate political control of a state, distinct from the home territory of the sovereign.” When the Falkland Islands were first settled in the mid 1750s onwards, it was indeed a colony; just as neighbouring Chile, Argentina and Brazil were populated by settlers from Europe and other parts of the world. It should be recorded, however, that unlike these countries, the Falkland Islands had no indigenous population.

We, as Chile, Argentina and Brazil have done, 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. As with other British Overseas Territories, 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 1950s and 1960s, 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 and land was predominantly owned by absentee landlords.   All this has changed over the last 30+ years.

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. In the time since the invasion when Islanders lost their right to live under the government of their own choosing for 74 days, 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 very proud of our current Constitution that, true to the United Nations Charter, sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual.

Quoting from our Constitution:

  1. “All people have the right to self-determination and by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development and 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;
  2. the realisation of the right of self-determination must be promoted and respected in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations;”

Falkland Island constitutional reform has stripped away all aspects of so-called colonial status.  The example I quoted earlier for instance; for the last 30 years, all voting members on Executive Council have been selected from within the democratically elected members of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly, regards land ownership, the majority of the land throughout the territory has been passed into the ownership of Islanders, and will, in future, be inherited or sold to the next generation of Islanders.

As an MLA, I am one of eight members who approve laws known as Ordinances and associated Regulations that are continuously updated to ensure that our legislation meets the needs of our population and complies 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.

The UK, as stated in our constitution, recognises that Falkland Islanders have the right to responsibly exploit their natural resources. 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 £54million in the current financial year, with additional funds being spent on infrastructure and development projects. The Islands’ GDP figures are around £150million.

Economic growth was initially led by the declaration in 1986 of an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around the Islands to enable the offshore fisheries to be managed and regulated.  In the absence of any regulatory body to protect fish stocks in these waters, they were over-exploited by Eastern Bloc countries. The Falkland Islands’ fishery, which is internationally recognised as being one of the best managed in the world, contributes between £17-21millon per annum to the Islands’ Government where it is used to provide essential services for residents.

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 an important source of income for those people living in remote parts of the Islands and is often combined with farming, making businesses viable due to dual income streams.   Income from tourism to the Islands’ economy is calculated at approximately £8million per annum.  Local landowners have become committed custodians of the rich wildlife found around our shores and work closely with conservation groups and scientists to allow access to wildlife for monitoring and research.

Agriculture in the Islands today is almost unrecognisable to what it was 30 years ago.   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.   Farming methods work in tandem with conservation measures to protect native habitats and wildlife by setting aside land for conservation and managed grazing methods being adopted by many farmers, encourage spelling of pastures and aids a greater survival of native flora.

The responsible exploration and preparations for potential exploitation of hydrocarbons have been ongoing since the late 1990’s 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. We have legislation in place that sets criteria for companies applying for licences to work here that requires them to operate to high international standards. Regulations regarding the activities of oil companies have been prepared with input from the UK, Norway, Canada and other countries with good track records for managing the oil industry. 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.   Again, we have our own Falkland Islands legislation to regulate the oil industry and we have been able to take the best examples globally to fit our South Atlantic environment. 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, particularly from the fishery and our other 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.   For example we are proud of our use of wind-power for the production of an electricity supply for both the capital, Stanley and the rural areas we call the Camp, and have constructed a road network to virtually every group of people living on 80+ farms on the two main Islands.

Revenue from exploitation of hydrocarbons would lead to financial security for many years for Islanders.  Our existing industries would benefit and flourish from further investment that would ensure sustainable income for the long term. 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.

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 92% of the electorate voted by 99.8% 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.

I mentioned financial autonomy in the Falkland Islands:  we receive no financial aid from the UK, and as I have stated earlier, we make our own laws and 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. The current Argentine Government will not even engage with our representatives in any meetings and will not discuss matters of mutual interest.

The Argentine Government in recent years has walked away from two agreements with the UK Government and the Falkland Islands related to the economic development and environmental protection of resources in the South West Atlantic.   Argentina no longer shares scientific data or jointly discusses the management of straddling fish stocks with our Islands’ government.  The sustainable management of the fish stocks 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. Furthermore,  the Argentine Government chose to walk away from an agreement on hydrocarbon exploration so there is no dialogue and sharing of information that would lead to a better-informed industry.

I put it to you, if you look at the facts, and open your eyes to how many countries have evolved from being colonies over the decades and centuries (and I count Argentina as one of those countries) the Falkland Islands is on a similar journey and has moved from colonial status from the days of the early settlers through to a self-governing overseas territory of Great Britain and is totally content with this status as endorsed by the 2013 Referendum.  It is the duty of this Committee to assist so called Non Self-Governing Territories 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 to prepare a mission to visit the Falkland Islands as you did with your visit last year to New Caledonia 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 Hon. Phyl Rendell, MBE

Member of the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands.

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