Time to respect the wishes of the Falkland Islanders

Thirty-three years ago, Argentina invaded the Falklands and the British liberated it – not the other way around.

A boy holds the hand of a veteran of the 1982 Falklands War during a ceremony honoring the soldiers who died in the conflict between Great Britain and Argentina [AFP]
A ceremony honouring the soldiers who died in the 1982 Falklands War [AFP]

Thirty-three years ago today, Argentina illegally invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands, a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic.

Against the odds, the then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, mobilised a task force and successfully liberated the islands two months later. This tragic war ended up needlessly costing the lives of 255 British and more than 649 Argentine soldiers. 

Today, Argentina has not given up on its tenuous claim to the islands. This is because it offers a convenient distraction to Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s political and economic woes at home.

Spurious claims

Argentina pushes its claim over Falklands

Argentina claims that the Falkland Islands are theirs for two reasons: geographical proximity and the (incorrect) belief that they inherited the islands from Spain upon receiving independence. Both of these claims are spurious.  

A quick glance at the globe explains why the first claim is ridiculous. Using the argument of geographical proximity would mean that, if it wanted, Morocco could have a claim on the Canary Islands, for example.

The second claim defies historical facts. The last Spanish settlement on the Falkland Islands left in 1811. What we today call Argentina declared independence from Spain in 1816.

Therefore, at the time of Argentine independence and the collapse of the Spanish Viceroyalty, Argentina could not inherit what Spain did not have to give.

The people voted

There was never an indigenous population on the Falkland Islands. There is no archeological proof that anyone lived on or even visited the islands before they were sighted and settled by Europeans.

The British claimed West Falkland and “all neighbouring islands” for King George III in 1765. This is the oldest and continuous sovereignty claim of the Falkland Islands. The UK has administered and kept a settlement on the Falkland Islands continuously since 1833. Today, some Falkland Islanders can trace their families back nine generations.

Argentina claims that the Falkland Islands are theirs for two reasons: geographical proximity and the (incorrect) belief that they inherited the islands from Spain upon receiving independence. Both of these claims are spurious.


In order to show the world their preference, the Falkland Islanders held a popular referendum in March 2013. Voter turnout was 92 percent. And, 99.8 percent of those who voted did so to remain as a British Overseas Territory.

This referendum was the proposal of the Falkland Islands government – not the British government in London. The referendum in the Falkland Islands had months of planning and coordination. It was a free and transparent vote; a team of international observers from Brazil, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Uruguay and the United States of America, deployed to monitor the process. This referendum was in complete contrast to the so-called referendum in Crimea last year.

Self-determination is a right

One thing is clear: it should not be up to London or Buenos Aires to determine the future of the islands. It should only be up to the islanders living there.

Self-determination is established as a right in the United Nations Charter, Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 1 in both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Argentina is a signatory to all of these conventions.

Regarding the right of self-determination and the Falkland Islands here it is in simple terms: in 1946 the UN agreed to place the Falkland Islands on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.

The UN states that the inhabitants of all Non-Self-Governing Territories have a right to self-determination. The Falklands are on the list, so they enjoy the right to self-determination.

Outside the UN Charter, the General Assembly has reaffirmed on dozens of occasions that Non-Self-Governing Territories have this right. 

Self-government not colonialism   

There is also the myth that the islanders are under the control of the government in London. This claim could not be further from the truth. The islanders have chosen not to be completely independent, but they are self-governing, except for defence and foreign affairs.

The islands are economically self-sufficient and have been so since the 1880s – except for the cost of defence. Ironically, there would be no need for a robust defensive posture on the islands if Argentina didn’t have designs there.

The Falkland Islanders manage their own natural resources – including any oil or gas that might be found there. Contrary to Argentine claims, the Treasury in London will not reap a single penny of proceeds from oil and gas on the Falkland Islands – the proceeds belong to the Islanders.

The Argentine position places a piece of land (and presumably the oil and gas there) as the most important consideration. The British position places the wishes of the people living there as the most important consideration. Of the two, which position sounds more like colonialism?

Thirty-three years ago it was Argentina that invaded, it was the islanders that suffered, and it was the British that eventually liberated – not the other way around. Thankfully, the United Kingdom has not only promised to respect the right of self-determination for the islanders but is has also committed to defending and guaranteeing this right.

So while the Argentine president might gain political advantage at home over the issue, the British flag will fly over the Falklands for as long as the islanders so wish.

There is little that Argentina can do about it.

Luke Coffey is a research fellow specialising in transatlantic and Eurasian security at a Washington DC based think-tank. He previously served as a special adviser to the British defence secretary and was a commissioned officer in the United States army.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.