The Falkland Islands will have a referendum soon. There are political and legal elements present. Amongst them, a crucial one is the term ‘self-determination’. We have previously seen how this same term has been used by both the governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom with different contents, even in the same country. Moreover, we have mentioned some International Public Law (IPL) documents that embrace the idea. See below the link if you want to revisit the respective post:
Falklands and the right to self-determination
In one case and the other, political speeches and IPL, the main problem is given by the term itself and its lack of a precise definition. However, that is not exclusive of self-determination. For those who are into political and legal sciences, an ambiguous, not clearly defined concept, is something almost to be expected by default. So let us try and bring some light into what appears to be a dark problem.
In a simple and schematic way, we could see that:
1) Self-determination is globally recognised as imperative even included in many International Public Law documents.
2) Broadly speaking, it means that people “can decide their destiny”.
3) By people it is meant inhabitants.
4) The Falklands/Malvinas Islanders have asserted their right to self-determination.
5) The Falklands/Malvinas Islanders have previously expressed their intention to remain as Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom.
6) In consequence, the rest of the international society can only acknowledge their wishes.
So far it seems a simple, straight forward and –even- logically correct argument. Is this so easy? Why then so many arguments? We will focus now only on one of the elements mentioned in the previous 6 sentences to see possible weakness in this way of understanding self-determination. From there we will see how an easy thing changes into an interpretative and argumentative nightmare.
In the particular case of the Falklands/Malvinas the Argentinean government deny that the islanders are “people”. And let us highlight that not only the Argentinean government but also many others around the world either supporting Argentina’s claim or that have their own similar sovereignty conflicts interpret “people” in the same form.
In any case, assuming we follow this interpretation (Falkland islanders are not ‘people’ in the sense they fulfill the requirements for the right to self-determination), they base their argument in several reasons, being the most important ones:
a) The islanders do not have roots in the territory being claimed. They were “implanted” by one of the competing parties.
This is one of the crucial arguments the government of Argentina uses against the Falklands islanders. A well known counter argument: Argetineans are mainly descendent of European ancestors. Therefore, they would also be a non-original American population and hence somehow implanted. Who is right?!
b) Number: the islanders are too few.
It is a fact: the Falklands islanders are less than 3000 people. Is that a number large enough to acknowledge their right to self-determination? Is any minimum number of inhabitants required at all?
Reality shows as several examples of countries with extremely large populations like China and India. But it also includes others with much smaller number of inhabitants like Vatican
City (even less than the Falklands). It seems numbers do not matter. Or it may seem like numbers do matter, but not absolutely.
c) UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 Art. 6: “Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations”.
That is known as “territorial integrity”. Indeed, Argentina’s continental platform extends upto the Falklands islands. But it is also true that if we applied the principle to the extent, some other countries would be also affected with their overseas territories. And would France be able to claim British territory if they demonstrated they were territorially attached?!
Although this is an interesting point to discuss, there is one more important related to this last argument. What about if self-determination is only a subterfuge for separatists to secede? In other words, is it a right granted by default or does it need to fulfill certain requirements?
We will seek the answers to these and some other questions on Thursday. Until then, see you all.