Almost 30 years ago the Argentinian army invaded the British territory of the Falkland Isles, which precipitated a conflict lasting 2 months and costing just over 900 lives from both sides. This was an opportunistic raid by the Argentinians who were trying to distract attention from their economic problems. It also appealed to the long standing patriotic belief that the Falklands are Argentinian territory despite it being populated exclusively by 3000 English-speaking British citizens.
Prior to 1833, claims were made on the Islands by Spain, Portugal and Britain with ownership passing between each of them during that period. Since 1833, the British established a formal colony on the Islands, and it has remained a British Overseas Territory to this day. Argentinians claim that the Islands were handed to them when they gained their independence from Spain in 1811. Nearly 200 years later, despite having no presence or economic interest in the Island, Argentina continues to profess that “Las Malvinas” is Argentinian and should be returned to them.
In 1982 when the invasion took place, the British Government pulled together a Task Force which set sail for the Islands 8000 miles away. The Argentinians didn’t expect that the British would respond in such a concerted way with a robust naval, air and ground offensive. Despite the majority of the people in mainland UK never having heard of the Falklands, the conflict rallied the country together and enabled Margaret Thatcher, the Tory Prime Minister, to be re-elected in 1983. This show of resolve by the British people on behalf of fellow citizens in a different hemisphere, sent a message to the world as to how important the right of self-determination is over territorial proximity. Whilst the Islands are significantly closer to Argentina than to the UK, the fact is that the Islanders want to remain British citizens and not to be subsumed, and over-run by an Argentine government.
In 1994, Argentina added to its constitution their claim to the sovereignty over the Islands. In more recent years tensions have begun to mount again, with Argentina trying to block ships going through disputed waters. There was an instance in 2010 of the website of the Island newspaper being hacked into, and being replaced by an Argentine flag. In December 2011 the Mercosur grouping of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay have collectively stated that they will ban any vessels with a Falklands Island flag docking into any of their ports. More recently Argentina has banned aircraft from Chile flying to the Falkland Islands and passing through their airspace. This is the first signs of an economic blockade. The Islanders will now have to rely on the twice-weekly military flights from the UK for their supplies, rather than from Chile. The Chileans who work on the Islands will no longer be able to do the 560 mile flight home, they will have divert via London 8000 miles away.
The statement enshrined in the Argentinian constitution which lays claim to the Falklands recognises that the claim must be pursued in a way “respectful of the way of life of their inhabitants and according to the principles of international law”. This includes their right to self-determination, their right not to be intimidated, and for the free passage of trade between neighbouring countries. The 3000 people on the Island wish to live as British citizens – this should be respected, regardless of historic and irrelevant claims to territory.
In 2013 a referendum will be held simply asking the islanders whether they wish to be aligned with Britain or Argentina. The expectation is that it will be unanimous in favour of Britain; this will be a compelling signal to the rest of the world and Argentina about the future of these islands. This referendum will demonstrate how the principle of self-determination can override the dogma of territorial integrity and accept that the voice of the people is more fundamental than land rights.
The Government and people of Artsakh should watch with great interest, as this could provide a powerful precedent as to the way forward with their situation
Categories: Self-Determination Cases