It is wrong to say that Gibraltar is a colony, says SDGG leader Buttigieg

It is wrong to say that Gibraltar is a colony, says SDGG leader Buttigieg



There isn't much talk these days about self-determination, is this a good or a bad sign?

I do not believe that the issue of self determination is any less important today than it has ever been. The right of a people to freely and democratically chose their own destiny is a fundamental human right protected by the UN Charter and, if anything, we presently live in a society where the exercise of the right to self-determination (in a non-political sense) is more relevant than ever. 

It is possibly the case that less is being written about it in main stream media but it is a topic which continues to elicit debate, articles and even the publication of books amongst academics (see for example the book published on the subject by Gibraltar's Dr Jamie Trinidad's). Given how Brexit has taken over the media, however, and how other geo-political issues have developed, it is perhaps not surprising that self determination is not as prominent an issue.

I am sure that it goes without saying that you are in agreement that our self-determination must always be defended?

From a purely SDGG perspective, our view is that the right of the Gibraltarian people to self-determine their future is one that must be fought for at all times and, as a community, we must remain vigilant to any attempts to usurp such right. In that sense, it is perhaps not ideal for Brexit and other issues to have taken centre stage if that it to be to the detriment of self-determination, but I don't consider that that is what is actually happening because, when you analyse many of the Brexit issues that have affected Gibraltar, self determination (in the sense of being in control of our own way of life and future) has played a prominent role in Gibraltar's involvement in the Brexit negotiations.

So, whereas the issue of self-determination is perhaps less obvious, it is nonetheless still an important aspect of all issues affecting Gibraltar and we should ensure that that continues to be the case.

Is the SDGG concentrating its efforts on events at the UN and on National Day - or what else goes on that may not be so evident?

The celebration of our national identity on 10th September has developed in such a manner that what used to be a one day celebration (which of itself required a lot of planning and work) is now an event which lasts almost 3 weeks when you take into consideration the fair and all the events surrounding it. This period during the year therefore takes up a lot of our limited resources and requires an enormous amount of effort the extent of which is probably not evident from the outside.

Preparations for everything start as early as February or March. It has to be said that Gibraltar's Cultural Services, led by Seamus Byrne and his excellent team, play a major role in ensuring our national festivities are successful every year and that without Forty Azopardi at the helm of the organisation it would simply not happen.

The two UN visits do not take up as much time as national festivities because we usually travel there and back within a couple of days but we do have to ensure that the speech we deliver is accurate, relevant and on point. More importantly, however, we always try and use our time at the UN to raise awareness about the issues affecting Gibraltar and to lobby those who give us the time.

That said, what else goes on?

We do not limit ourselves to these two events. We are always keen to speak to relevant persons and entities who may be sympathetic to our cause if nothing else to raise awareness and we therefore try to keep abreast of everything that is happening in the political scene and, when possible, we reach out to contacts to put forward our case or garner support.

In addition, last year, through the efforts and work of Willie Serfaty, we have reinstated the SDGG Award, which was granted to Agustin Huart on 10th December 2018 in recognition of Mr Huart's efforts when he successfully campaigned for the right to vote of Gibraltarian's circa 1919. Whilst organising the event itself is perhaps not hugely time consuming, the research that has to be undertaken in order to consider the merit of the award is quite considerable.

So, in summary, whilst the other things we do may not be as visible as our visits to the UN or the national festivities, there are a few other things we are always active with.

What hope is there of making some headway at the UN?

Although I have to admit that it can be very frustrating to see the same resolutions issued by the UN every year (especially when such resolutions fail to adequately address the Gibraltar issue) I continue to remain hopeful. Progress is often slow in politics and diplomacy so I think it is important for us (the SDGG and Gibraltar generally) to remain focused and not to get discouraged by bureaucracy or the lack of courage that some might have when dealing with the Gibraltar issue.

As you will be aware, in recently agreeing the Gibraltar-Spain tax treaty, the PSOE government in Spain has recognised some Gibraltarian entities and institutions (of particular note is their recognition of the existence of registered Gibraltarians and of the Gibraltarian Status Act). I would have thought such recognition inconceivable only a couple of years ago.

So, if this has been possible, it should also be possible for the UN to progress from its entrenched and outdated position and for it to recognise the right of self-determination of the Gibraltarian people (the very poeple Spain now seems to accept exist!).

There are arguments and counter-arguments at the EU if Gibraltar is a colony or not, what do you think,and if refinements are needed, what would such refinements be?

Gibraltar is included on the list of non-self-governing territories maintained by the United Nations so, at least as far as the UN is concerned, we remain a colony. My personal view, however, is that that position is wrong.

The current Constitutional relationship between Gibraltar and the United Kingdom (which was a Constitution voted upon by the people of Gibraltar in an exercise of self-determination (note I refer to 'an' exercise and not 'the' exercise)) is non-colonial in nature and I therefore consider that Gibraltar should be delisted. The SDGG has repeatedly asked the Committee of 24 and the Fourth Committee that, if we are wrong in our view, the UN should tell us what else Gibraltar must do in order to be removed from the list of non-self-governing territories but the UN has not replied to what I consider to be a simple question for over 10 years.

One could perhaps argue that there are still some things in our Constitution which could be improved (such as, for example, the Governor's reserved powers) but I consider that our relationship with the United Kingdom is not akin to that of a colony and that it is therefore wrong a as a matter of fact to consider Gibraltar a colony.

Would you welcome a constitutional conference, and if so, when?

It has now been just over 12 years since Gibraltar held a referendum and approved and accepted the current Constitution. This is not a long time (especially in political terms) so an argument could perhaps be made that it is not yet time to consider changes. That said, a constitutional conference does not necessarily have to lead to amendments and can perhaps simply be to discuss and consider aspects of a constitution in order to better inform the pubic and stimulate consideration of issues and discussion. If it is on this basis, I would welcome a conference but I am not sure the time is right given all that is happening with Brexit and the attention that that deserves.