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October 1, 2014
Monday, March 3, 2014

Britain's new 'governor of the Falkland islands' is a provocation

By Alicia Castro.

The British government has appointed Colin Roberts, who was previously director for overseas territories in the Foreign Office, to be the "governor" of the Malvinas, or Falkland, islands.

Since their seizure in 1833, the Malvinas islands have been a territory under sovereignty dispute, a pending case for decolonisation. As such, Roberts's appointment represents yet another unilateral act on the part of the United Kingdom that violates its obligation under international law to resolve the dispute over the islands through diplomatic negotiations with Argentina.

I once met Roberts at the Foreign Office, and I do not have a fond recollection of our meeting. His conduct towards me, as the ambassador of my country, was akin to that one might expect from an official of the empire, scolding his subjects. This, had it not been offensive, would have been quite simply ridiculous.

Yet neither imperial arrogance nor the breaching of international law is anything new. One element that is striking, however, is that the UK, which refuses to resolve the dispute and aims to justify the continued occupation of the islands by invoking the right to self-determination for the current British inhabitants, decided to choose none other than Roberts to "govern" them.

The right of self-determination of peoples is not applicable to any or every human community, but only to "peoples". In the case of the inhabitants of the Malvinas, we do not have a separate "people", still less one subjected to colonialism. The British residents of the islands do not have the right to resolve the sovereignty dispute between Argentina and the UK: nobody doubts they are British, and can continue to be so, but the territory in which they live is not. It belongs to Argentina.

In contrast, the ones who were denied the right to exercise self-determination were, and are, the inhabitants of Diego García in the Chagos archipelago, in the Indian Ocean. More than 2,000 islanders were expelled by the UK during the late 60s in order to enable a US military base to be established there. Ever since, living in poverty and scattered far and wide across the world, the Chagossians have been claiming their right to return to their territory and their homes.

Through cables from the US embassy in London leaked by WikiLeaks, which were published by the Guardian in 2010, we were told that the then director for overseas territories of the FCO, Roberts, insisted to the US political counsellor that "establishing a marine park would, in effect, put paid to resettlement claims of the archipelago's former residents", and would thus prevent these Chagossians, these fishermen, from returning to their island.

According to the US diplomats, Roberts said that "there will be no human footprints nor Man Fridays [sic] on these uninhabited islands". He used the term "Man Friday" for the Chagossians, which is the pejorative name given to Robinson Crusoe's aboriginal servant. Responding to the concerns of the American diplomat, who warned him that those who support the Chagossians' return would continue to fervently raise media attention over their cause, Roberts attempted to quell any fears by assuring him that "the environmental lobby is much more powerful than the Chagossians' advocates".

This is the very same Colin Roberts who is now going to the Malvinas; he who was quoted describing the native Chagos islanders as servants, and who devised a strategy to destroy their livelihood – fishing – so that they might never again return to their island. It is he who the British government has sent to lead a small population who have sought – by casting 1,513 votes in a referendum – to impose by force their will and ambition to maintain their business monopoly. And this has been done against the opinion of millions of people from the world over who, through numerous resolutions from the UN and other international bodies, have called for dialogue between Argentina and the UK to resolve the sovereignty dispute.

This modern-day story possesses all the ingredients of a typical 19th-century colonial saga: violence, racial discrimination, double standards, arrogance, manipulation, cynicism and deception.

The 21st century demands, along with an end to this British colonial enclave in the south Atlantic, a policy of dialogue and respect between peoples and nations, within a multipolar world that will help promote universal peace.

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