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Why ICANN should stop taking the “Malvinas” issue seriously [RANT]

Kevin Murphy, November 24, 2013, Domain Policy

Here in the UK, we have something not very nice called the British National Party.

It’s a perfectly legal political party but, as the name may suggest, it has an overtly racist manifesto, garners few votes, and holds next to no power.

Voting BNP is frowned upon in polite company. Don’t expect too many dinner party invitations if you’re a supporter. It’s even legal here for employers to discriminate against card-carrying members.

The most unpleasant manifesto promise of the BNP is to “encourage the voluntary resettlement” of “immigrants”.

Britain, the BNP says, should be for its “indigenous people”, which it has described as “the people whose ancestors were the earliest settlers here after the last great Ice Age”.

That’s about 10,000 years ago. It’s basically the BNP’s way of rationalizing its racism with a cut-off point for what constitutes an “immigrant” that falls well before anyone with brown skin showed up.

None of this has anything to do with domain names, of course.

I only mention the BNP because its ludicrous views always spring to my mind whenever I hear an Argentinian activist raise the issue of the Falkland Islands at an ICANN meeting.

This happened quite a lot at the Public Forum of the ICANN 48 meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina last Thursday.

It wasn’t the first time the Falklands have been discussed at an ICANN meeting but, on home turf, many locals who would not otherwise consider attending decided to show up to make their views known.

Argentinians call the Falklands archipelago, a British Overseas Territory situated in the southern Atlantic about 500km to the east of Argentina, the “Malvinas”.

Originally settled by France in the late 18th century, Britain has controlled the islands more or less continuously since 1834 and at intervals as far back as 1765, before Argentina existed.

Spain was in charge for a few decades from 1767 and then Argentina, after its independence, had a hold for a few years from 1829.

The only time Argentina has had a claim recently was during a two-month period in 1982, when Argentina invaded, starting a pointless war that claimed the lives of 255 British and 649 Argentinian service personnel, wounding a few thousand more.

In case this history lesson is new to you, I should point out that the Falklands are not and have never in living memory been in any way “occupied” by the UK.

The islanders are all British citizens and have the right of self-determination: they want to be British. According to the 2013 electoral roll, only 18 Argentinians live there, of a population of almost 3,000.

So it really boils my piss when I have to listen to Argentinians take to the mic at ICANN meetings to demand — demand — that ICANN transfers the Falklands ccTLD, .fk, to Argentina’s ccTLD operator, Nic.ar.

It turns my piss to steam when members of the ICANN board of directors humor these demands — vowing to take their concerns seriously or, even worse, agreeing with the use of terms like “occupation”.

This happened quite a lot on Thursday.

The ring-leader of the Argentine position is a guy called Sergio Salinas Porto. He’s president of Internauta Argentina, an organization of Argentinian internet users.

He seems to be a bit of a one-trick pony when it comes to public statements at ICANN meetings. The Latino Paul Foody, maybe. It’s possible that I’m giving him more credibility than he deserves.

He made similar demands at the ICANN meetings in Senegal in 2011 and Costa Rica last year. This time, however, he seems to have managed to drag some of his supporters with him.

The real-time interpretation provided by ICANN is not good enough to quote from directly at any length, but Internauta published its list of demands on its web site after the Public Forum. Among them (machine-translated from the original Spanish):

That the Argentine authorities (legal and technical secretariat – NIC.ar) will deliver the administration of ccTLDs .fk and .gs.

That all ccTLDs involving debate on issues of sovereignty and further promote colonialist acts or harboring or see these acts are protected from any administrative or factual act by ICANN are reviewed.

It also wants the Falklands referred to as the “Malvinas”, alongside “Falklands”, in ICANN documentation, and for .fk to fall into the Latin-American, rather than European, ICANN region.

But the key demand here is that control of a ccTLD that is currently delegated to a territory’s government — the Falkland Islands Government in this case — is transferred to the government of another country, based on emotive arguments such as “occupation” and “colonialism”.

At the mic, Salinas Porto reiterated these points almost word for word, judging by the ICANN interpreter’s translation — asking for the redelegation and using the same emotive arguments.

The demand was restated by multiple Argentinian commenters.

It was restated so many times that session moderator Bertrand de La Chappelle — who had graciously allowed Salinas Porto to jump to the front of the queue for the mic — took no small amount of flak from Internauta’s supporters for trying to hurry people along in the interests of timing.

One talked of “a dark and colonial power”, another talked of “decolonization”, one said he felt “invaded” by ICANN, a fourth said that “the Malvinas islands were taken by a colonial power by force”.

This is pure chutzpah.

It may be true that the Falklands were seized militarily by Britain. My history is not good enough to pass comment. Whatever happened, it was 180 years ago. Everyone involved is long dead.

Argentina indisputably seized the islands militarily during my lifetime. The records on this are pretty good. Living servicemen on both sides today bear the physical and emotional scars of Argentina’s folly.

Now consider that Argentina was among a coalition of Latin American nations that recently used the Governmental Advisory Committee to kill off the application from Patagonia Inc for the new gTLD .patagonia.

That was based on the governments’ claims that Patagonia — a region that covers areas of Argentina and Chile — should be a protected term in the domain name system. They have sovereignty, they claim.

Yet the Patagonia region was claimed by Argentina during the so-called “Conquest of the Desert”, an act of “colonization” that involved the “genocide” of over 1,000 indigenous people and dislocation of 15,000 more. That’s even more people than killed in 1982.

And Argentina did this act of colonization in 1870, three decades after the British took over the Falklands, which had no indigenous peoples (if you’re not counting the penguins).

If there’s a serious question about the ownership of .fk, shouldn’t the same logic should apply to .patagonia? Argentina can’t have it both ways, can it?

If the cut-off point for ownership of a territory is pre-1834, then Argentina can have no claim over .patagonia.

It’s a ludicrous thing to say, I know. I can barely believe I’m making the argument, it’s so silly. I feel almost Amish, or BNP, or one of the Conkies, to try to use an arbitrary cut-off date like that.

That’s probably why nobody from the UK took the mic at the ICANN Public Forum on Thursday to respond to Salinas Porto and Internauta’s supporters.

Maybe they didn’t want to provide oxygen to the illusion that there is a real debate here (in which case they’re smarter than me), or maybe they were far too polite to risk insulting their host nation by joining in on the trivialization of a political conflict that has resulted in the death and maiming of so many (in which case I’m embarrassing myself here).

But at least three members of the ICANN board did address the issue, vowing to treat the issue seriously and therefore compelling me to respond, regardless.

Notably, CEO Fadi Chehade, who grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, said it was a “very worthy question”, adding:

This was a chance for us to hear your views and appreciate your feelings about this. I must tell you on a personal basis, unlike living the history of colonialism I lived under a colonizer, personally, so I’m personally familiar with how you feel. But this is a very serious matter that requires some review and some thinking. I can assure you that we have listened to you and we will take your input as great learning for us.

Now, it’s quite possible that this was just the latest instance of Chehade “doing a Chehade” and telling his perceived audience what he perceived they wanted to hear.

His predecessor, Rod Beckstrom, was similarly accommodating to Salinas Porto during the Costa Rica meeting in 2012.

Chehade did not actually commit ICANN to address the issue.

But the Brits were in the audience too. And I think it’s fair to say that when we hear Argentinians bang on about the “Malvinas” — and we hear the ICANN board pay them heed — we either a) get angry or b) shake our heads and tut.

At the start of this article I compared the Argentinian argument to the BNP. To avoid doubt, I’m not saying that it’s racist. I could not begin to construct such an argument. I am saying that it’s silly, and probably based more on Argentinian nationalism than it is on any deficiencies in ICANN policy.

When ICANN in future responds to Argentinian arguments about the Falklands, these are some things to bear in mind:

  • ICANN does not decide, and is not qualified to decide, what arbitrary subdivisions of our planet are or are not worthy of a ccTLD delegation.
  • ICANN long ago decided to take its cues from the International Standards Organization, which in turn looks to the United Nations, when assembling its list of ccTLD identifiers.
  • ICANN, via its IANA department, always pays attention to the wishes of the local populace when it decides whether to redelegate a ccTLD to a new operator.

These three bullet points are the only things an ICANN director needs to know when responding to anyone who uses the word “Malvinas” in a Public Forum statement.

“Taking it seriously” should only be an option if you’re trying to be polite.