The United Nations and Decolonisation
The Declaration on Decolonisation and other related General Assembly Resolutions
Resolution 1514 (XV), 14 December 1960
The Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (the Declaration on Decolonisation) was adopted as a general statement of the desire to increase the speed of the decolonisation process. The overwhelming emphasis of the Declaration is on the importance of self-determination for all peoples living in colonies. The British government and the Falkland Island government maintain that the the right to self-determination, in operative paragraph 2, applies to the Islanders. The Argentine government maintains that, in the case of the Falklands-Malvinas, the statement in operative paragraph 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 overrides operative paragraph 2.
For the text of Resolution 1514 (XV), click here English Spanish
Resolution 1541 (XV), 15 December 1960
The day after the Declaration on Decolonisation was adopted, the General Assembly adopted a further resolution, in order to define which territories were regarded by the UN as being covered by the Declaration. The specification of the Principles which should guide Members in determining whether or not an obligation exists to transmit the information called for under Article 73(e) of the Charter, includes the three options of (a) full independence, (b) free association with another state or (c) integration with another state. If one of these options has been endorsed in a general election or in a referendum by the population of a colonial territory, they will be recognised as having achieved self-determination.
For the text of Resolution 1541 (XV), click here English Spanish
Resolution 1654 (XVI), 27 November 1961
A year after the approval of the Declaration on Decolonisation, the General Assembly decided to establish a Special Committee on the Implement of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples or, for short, the Special Committee on Decolonisation. The President of the General Assembly announced the appointment of the members of this committee in January 1962. The Committee first considered the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) in 1964 and has continued to do so every year since then.
For the text of Resolution 1654 (XVI), click here English Spanish
Resolution 2625 (XXV), 24 October 1970
In 1970, the General Assembly passed the Declaration on the Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. The fifth principle, covering equal rights and self-determination of peoples amended the decisions made in 1960, by adding a so-called fourth option for self-determination, namely the emergence into any other political status freely determined by a people. The wording is so general that a great variety of options, such as forms of shared sovereignty or distributed sovereignty could be accepted.
For the text of Resolution 2625 (XXV), click here English Spanish
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UN Legal Counsel's Opinion on the Illegality of Unilateral Transfer of Colonial Territories
Western Sahara is a former Spanish colony that is now ruled by Morocco. The UN Special Committee on Decolonisation still includes Western Sahara on its list of Non-Self-Governing Territories and includes the territory on its agenda each year.
In November 2001, the Security Council requested, an opinion from the UN Legal Counsel on the Moroccan government's signing of contracts with foreign companies for the exploration of mineral resources in Western Sahara. The opinion was delivered by Hans Corell, as UN document S/2002/161, on 29 January 2002. Although Morocco occupies Western Sahara under provisions of an agreement with Spain to transfer their former colony to Moroccan rule, Corell ruled the agreement did not transfer sovereignty over the Territory, nor did it confer upon any of the signatories the status of an administering Power, a status which Spain alone could not have unilaterally transferred, (paragraph 6).
The same legal principles would apply to the Falklands. An agreement between Argentina and the United Kingdom to transfer sovereignty over the Falklands/Malvinas to Argentina would be illegal, unless the transfer was approved by the people of the Falkland Islands as an act of self-determination.
Download UN document S/2002/161 in English or Spanish
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Specific General Assembly Resolutions on the Falklands (Malvinas) Question
Resolution 2065 (XX), 16 December 1965
Adopted at Plenary Meeting 1398, by a vote of 94 in favour, to 0 against, with 14 abstentions.
This is the first resolution of the General Assembly covering the Question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) and it was framed within the context of the drive for decolonisation. Resolutions from 1982 onwards have treated the dispute both as a question of decolonisation and as a question of avoiding any repetition of armed conflict. The Argentine government maintains Resolution 2065 represents an endorsement by the UN General Assembly of their sovereignty claim. While there was support for their position during the debates in the Special Committee on Decolonisation and in the Fourth Committee of the General Assembly, there is nothing in the text of the Resolution that directly sustains such a conclusion. There is no explicit reference to operative paragraph 6 of Resolution 1514 (see above) nor to maintaining territorial integrity of a divided country. Resolution 2065 merely invited the Argentine and British governments to proceed with negotiations with a view to finding a peaceful solution. The strongest point made by the Argentine government is that reference to the interests of the population implies leaving aside the principle of self-determination (see A/66/696, p. 7), but in the light of diplomatic practices of constructive ambiguity this is insufficient to be regarded as endorsement of the Argentine claim to sovereignty.
The UN is willing to accept independence, integration with a neighbouring country, integration with the colonial metropolitan country or free association with another country, as outcomes from decolonisation. In each case, this has been done with the explicit approval of the people of the territory, through an election or a plebiscite. The only exception, since the establishment of the Special Committee on Decolonisation, has been the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule.
For the text of Resolution 2065 (XX), click here English Spanish
Resolution 3160 (XXVIII), 14 December 1973
Adopted at Plenary Meeting 2202, by a vote of 116 in favour, to 0 against, with 14 abstentions.
Following the adoption of Resolution 2065, the Argentine and the United Kingdom governments did engage in negotiations for some years. The Argentine government brought the question back to the Assembly in 1973, saying the negotiations had been paralysed by the UK's refusal to discuss sovereignty. Resolution 3160 is similar to Resolution 2065, except that there is a direct endorsement of the position taken by the Special Committee in August 1973. In addition, it implicitly puts pressure on the British government by referring to the need to accelerate the negotiations.
For the text of Resolution 3160 (XXVII), click here English Spanish
Resolution 31/49, 1 December 1976
Adopted at Plenary Meeting 85, by a vote of 102 in favour, to 1 against, with 32 abstentions.
In September 1973, Argentina joined the Non-Aligned Movement and was able to gain full support for its sovereignty claim from the Non-Aligned Conference of Foreign Ministers in August 1975 and the Fifth Summit in August 1976. Consequently, Resolution 31/49 represented a definite shift towards a pro-Argentine position. It could be argued that references to the NAM declarations provided an implicit endorsement of the Argentine sovereignty claim, but the wording Bearing in mind the declarations was very weak and there was still no explicit wording to this effect. One significant change was that the Assembly called upon the two parties to refrain from taking decisions that would imply introducing unilateral modifications in the situation. For the first time, the UK voted against an Assembly resolution on this dispute.
For the text of Resolution 31/49, click here English Spanish
Resolution 37/9, 4 November 1982
Adopted at Plenary Meeting 135, by a vote of 90 in favour, to 12 against, with 52 abstentions.
From 1977 to 1981, the Question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) was formally on the agenda of each session of the General Assembly, but each year a decision was taken to defer its consideration until the following session. This is the first resolution of the General Assembly after the 1982 armed conflict. The draft resolution in document A/37/L.3/Rev.1 that was approved by the Assembly was proposed by twenty Latin American countries, but not the Caribbean countries. Although there was a large majority, the vote in favour of the resolution was exceptionally low for a resolution on a decolonisation question. The position taken does not involve any change, on the sovereignty dispute, from Resolution 2065 (XX), but an affirmation of the principle of the non-use of force has been added.
For the text of Resolution 37/9, click here English Spanish
Resolution 38/12, 16 November 1983
Adopted at Plenary Meeting 59, by a vote of 87 in favour, to 9 against, with 54 abstentions.
The resolution in 1983 repeats and updates the text of the 1982 resolution. The main change is to express regret at the lack of response to the Secretary-General's mission of good offices. (The United Kingdom had refused to negotiate about sovereignty.) As before, the draft resolution in document A/38/L.12 was proposed by the twenty Latin American countries, without the Caribbean countries. Support, in the vote, for the Argentine position slightly declined.
For the text of Resolution 38/12, click here English Spanish
Resolution 39/6, 1 November 1984
Adopted at Plenary Meeting 46, by a vote of 89 in favour, to 9 against, with 54 abstentions.
For the third consecutive year, the Assembly adopted a draft resolution sponsored by the twenty Latin American countries. The 1983 text was updated by a reference to the brief attempt at discussions between Argentina and Britain that had occurred on 18 July 1984 in Berne.
For the text of Resolution 39/6, click here English Spanish
Resolution 40/21, 27 November 1985
Adopted at Plenary Meeting 95, by a vote of 107 in favour, to 4 against, with 41 abstentions.
In 1985, the Argentine delegation used different tactics and significantly strengthened support for their position in terms of the voting outcome. The initial sponsorship of the draft resolution was changed to a mixed group of seven developing countries from four continents (A/40/L.19), although six further Latin American countries were added later (A/40/L.19/Add.1): Algeria, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ghana, India, Mexico, Panama, Uruguay, and Yugoslavia. In addition, the resolution was changed to omit any reference to negotiations about sovereignty. Members of the South Atlantic Council had in various forums promoted agreement on an alternative approach of discussing all aspects of the future of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) and this formula was repeated in Resolution 40/21.
For the text of Resolution 40/21, click here English Spanish
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The Meetings of the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation, 14-15 June 2012
The Special Committee was established by Resolution 1654 (XVI) (see below). It meets every year to consider each of the territories regarded by the UN as Non-Self-Governing Territories and produces an annual report, which is submitted to the UN General Assembly. This report includes resolutions adopted by the Committee and draft resolutions that it recommends for the Assembly to adopt. Resolutions from committees may be rejected or amended by the Assembly. Consequently, unless and until they are endorsed by the Assembly, no resolutions from the Special Committee can be regarded as UN policy. The Assembly has not considered the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Question nor adopted any resolution on the question since 1988.
Each year the Committee holds a separate short debate on the Falkland Islands (Malvinas). Three months before the debate, as is standard practice, the UN Secretariat provided the Committee with a Working Paper, outlining the political and economic situation in the Islands and the recent history of the response to the question at the UN. In 2012, the debate took place on 14-15 June. However, this was an exceptional event, because for the first time ever a head of government, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina, addressed the Committee. Her speech was preceded by three petitioners. They were Roger Edwards and Mike Summers, Members of the Legislative Assembly, and Alejandro Betts, a former resident of the Islands.
After these speeches, the Committee adopted a draft resolution, by consensus. Then, the UN representatives of a variety of countries addressed the Committee, outlining their government's policy. The UN issues press releases (in English only) after each meeting of the Committee, which summarise the proceedings.
The following documents cover the proceedings:
- UN document A/AC.109/2012/12, Working Paper prepared by the UN Secretariat, click here English Spanish
- UN Press Release GA/COL/3238, summarising the debate on 14 June 2012 click here
- UN Press Release GA/COL/3239, summarising the debate on 15 June 2012 click here
- Full text of speech by Hon. Roger Edwards click here
- Full text of speech by Hon. Michael Summers click here
- Full text of speech by President Kirchner Original Spanish English Translation
- Falkland Island Government Press Release, President Kirchner refuses invitation to talk click here
- Full text of the FIG letter click here
- UN document A/AC.109/2012/L.6, the draft resolution approved on 14 June 2012, click here English Spanish
- UN document A/66/23, Report of the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples for 2011, General Assembly Official Records Sixty-Sixth Session (93 pages) , click here English Spanish
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An Exchange of Diplomatic Statements by Argentina and the United Kingdom in February 2012
It is standard practice for governments to assert and publicise diplomatic initiatives and to respond to statements by other governments in the form of letters to the UN Secretary-General. These are then published by the UN, as information relevant to the consideration of an item on the agenda of the General Assembly and/or the Security Council. A document number starting A/... indicates it is being brought to the attention of the Assembly and a number starting S/... indicates it is for the Council. Sometimes documents can be numbered for both the Assembly and the Council.
Letter from Argentina, A/66/696-S/2012/86, 10 February 2012
This document is in three parts. It alleges a growing British militarization of the Malvinas Islands, citing information on the dispatch of a nuclear submarine to the South Atlantic; the arrival of Prince William as an army officer on the Islands; and the deployment of a new destroyer (HMS Dauntless) in the area. It also presents the Argentine version of the history of the Islands; and outlines an interpretation of the United Nations' handling of the dispute. There are links, below, to the General Assembly resolutions cited in this document.
For the text of document A/66/696-S/2012/86, click here English Spanish
Letter from the United Kingdom, A/66/706, 23 February 2012
This document is a reply to A/66/696-S/2012/86 (see above). It provides a detailed argument to deny the charge that the UK has militarised the South Atlantic. It also asserts there should be cooperation between Argentina and Britain in the area and outlines ways in which Argentina has withdrawn from the confidence-building measures established in the 1990s. It ends with a brief statement that there can be no negotiations about sovereignty until such time as the Falkland Islanders so wish.
For the text of document A/66/706, click here English Spanish