This article explores the legal validity of Northern Somaliland’s assertion of independence and argues for the recognition of Somaliland as an independent state.

By Anthony J. Carroll and B. Rajagopal


Violent political convulsions have gripped the Horn of Africa since the end of 1990. While the human drama unfolds, revealing its tragic dimensions, the international community continues to linger in a haze of apathy. Few countries have experienced as much carnage, destruction, and instability as Somalia. The economic costs of the destruction are staggering, and the extent of human rights violations, appalling. Ironically, this chaos was not supposed to happen.

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The Somalis are a cluster of indigenous peoples who have inhabited the Horn of Africa for well over a thousand years. During this millennia, they have existed in a land devoid of peace and prosperity. European colonial powers appeared in the nineteenth century, creating yet another episode of the African scramble and placing new pressures upon the Horn of Africa. The experience of colonialism at the hands of Britain and Italy, and the political flux that marked their departure from the core causes of Somalia’s current turmoil.

The state of Somalia came into existence in 1960, resulting from a merger between two independent states, Northern Somaliland, a British Protectorate, and Southern Somalia, an Italian Trust territory. In 1969, after a few years of civilian rule, the military, led by General Mohammed Siyad Barre, overthrew the government in a bloodless coup, General Barre ruled for the next two decades, with the alleged support of the Soviet Union. This regime, marked by internal repression and external aggression, ended when the combined might of several liberation movements, including the Somali National Movement (SNM), the Somali Salvation, Democratic Front, Somali Patriotic Movement, and the United Somali Congress, deposed General Barre in 1991.

Instead of salvation, however, the overthrow of General Barre’s regime only worsened the situation and resulted in a Hobbesian nightmare of internal fighting. While the war raged in and around Mogadishu, the capital of modem day Somalia, the northern part of Somalia remained stable. Taking advantage of this situation, the SNM declared Northern Somaliland independent on May 18, 1991.

This Comment explores the legal validity of Northern Somaliland’s assertion of independence and argues for the recognition of Somaliland as an independent state. Section I discusses the validity of such independence from a historical perspective, dealing with the nature of sovereign rights over Somaliland.

Section II posits arguments under international law for the exercise of such a right by the people of Somaliland. Section III analyzes the concept of recognition and its conformity with existing international law. This Comment concludes that Somaliland should be recognized as an independent nation.

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