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3. The Right to Self-Determination of the People of Somaliland

3.1.           Conceptual Underpinnings on the Right to Self-Determination

The primary emergence of the principle of self-determination was materialized after the First World War (Shaw, 2003). It is possible to say that; self-determination was “the benchmark for peacemakers at Versailles”. The President of the United States of America Woodrow Wilson described national self-determination as “an imperative principle of action” (Henry & Philip, 2000). The right to self-determination in the context of International Law is the right of the people to determine their own fate. Unless the inhabitants of a certain territory are recognized as people, they are not entitled to enjoy their right to self-determination. In particular, the principle allows the people to choose their own political status and to determine their own form of economic, cultural and social development (Malcolm, 1986). The right to self-determination can be exercised in a variety of different outcomes ranging from political independence through to full integration within a state. The importance lies in the right of choice so that the outcome of a people’s choice should not affect the existence of the right to make a choice.

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The principle of the right to self-determination is significantly included in Article I of the UN Charter. Before the issue was included under the UN Charter, it was explicitly embraced by the former US President Woodrow Wilson, Lenin, and others, and became the guiding principle for the reconstruction of Europe following WWI. Moreover, the principle of self-determination of peoples has been subject to a conceptual evolution which began in the post-Second World War era and accelerated in 1960’s due to the decolonization process. This evolution pertains to the transformation of self-determination which was firstly conceived as a political principal to a peremptory legal norm, i.e. jus cogens. Self-determination has many characteristics formulated on different legal platforms. However, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (hereinafter referred to as “ICCPR”) and the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Civil Rights (hereinafter referred to as “ICESCR”) constitute perhaps the most crucial phase in the evolution of this right. The implementation of self-determination has always been more controversial than its content which has been laid down by the Covenants. In addition, the concept is also included in other international as well as regional human rights and other treaties and also in the decisions of the International Court of Justice in different cases.

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Declaration of Statehood by Somaliland and the Effects of Non-Recognition under International Law
People stand next to the Independence Monument, depicting a hand holding a map of the country, in the city of Hargeisa, Somaliland, on September 19, 2021.DUARDO SOTERAS / Contributor / Getty Images

3.2. The Right to Self-Determination in the Context of the Inhabitants of Somaliland

The inhabitants of Somaliland have the right to self-determination under international law. There are different legal grounds that justify the right to self-determination and an independent declaration of statehood of Somaliland under international law from three different perspectives.

3.2.1. The Right to Self-Determination Is People’s Right

First, I argue that the inhabitants of Somaliland have the right to self-determination as they are considered to be a people under international law. In understanding the word what “people” mean, there are objective and subjective criteria. From the point of view of objective criteria “people” are defined from the context of having their own distinct language, ethnicity, and religion (Markus, 2006) from the rest of the inhabitants living in a certain area. When we literally evaluate the case of the inhabitants of Somaliland from this objective criteria point of view, they may not deserve the status of “people.” Because they speak Somali language, are ethnically Somali, and practice Sunni Islam as do almost all Somalis. But, this standard is overly broad and even doesn’t consider some practical cases in most of the European and African countries. In Europe for instance, Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes are considered different “peoples” despite their shared language, ethnicity, and religion (Lars, 2000). Moreover in Africa, Swahili serves as a national or official language of four African nations: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo though they are considered as different “people” (Lambert, 1995). The mere fact that the inhabitants of Somaliland are speaking the same language with the rest of Somalis, follow Sunni Islam and are ethnically Somali does not affect their status of being considered as people. As Somalilanders, they have their own identity, culture and they do consider themselves as Somalilanders, not as the rest of Somalis.

When we see the subjective criteria, it is totally different from the objective one. To determine whether the inhabitants or groups of certain territory to deserve what “people” mean, it only focuses on the perception of the inhabitants or the groups themselves as if they are a distinct people and existed there (Jean, 1948). This standard gives a room for the inhabitants of certain area themselves in what context and what sense they identify themselves. As long as the inhabitants perceive themselves in a certain way, it is only their own business.

In addition to the self-perception of the inhabitants themselves, the understanding of others towards the inhabitants has its own effect. Totally, the proponents of subjective criteria argue that group recognition may exist because the group perceives itself as existing and different, or because outsiders define the group as different from them or some mixture of internal and external identification. Sartre, for example, argues that “the Jew is a man that other men consider to be Jewish… it is the anti-Semite that makes the Jew” (Jean, 1948). That means anti-Semite attitude of others has contributed a lot for the recognition of Jew people. As long as the group identify themselves as a distinct and other groups consider them different, they should be considered as “people” based on the subjective criteria.

The inhabitants of Somaliland, ethnic Somalis tremendously of the Isaaq clan, were singled out by the past administration for persecution because of their clan affiliation (Jean, 1948). By committing murder against a segment of its own people, and by defining that section with an immutable and collective characteristic like clan affiliation, the state may have raised the Isaaq to the status of a “people” with rights of self-determination independent of the “greater Somali” community. The inhabitants of Somaliland have built the identity of Somalilander from common colonial history and their struggle against Siyad Barre regime in their process of nation-building since 1991. Based on the above arguments, I strongly argue that the inhabitants of Somaliland deserve and fulfill the status of “people.” As long as the inhabitants of Somaliland deserve the status of people, they are entitled to enjoy their right to self-determination as the other people who are enjoying the same right.

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