ogadenmapLegal and historical document written by Professor Reisman who teaches at Yale Law School. The present essay draws on work he and Professor Myres S. McDougal (Yale Law School) have been engaged in jointly.


W. Michael Reisman


1.Background 3
2.The Boundary Issue and Ethiopian Claims 5
3.Decolonization and the Right of Self-Determination 8
4.Self-determination and Non-Self-Governing Territories 10
5.Conflicts Between International and Regional Law 12
6.Conclusion 13

1. Background

Somaliland, as a geographical term, refers to vast areas in the Horn of Africa, inhabited almost exclusively by the Somali people for centuries. Western Somaliland the extensive inland area between the mountain ranges of Ethiopia and the plains of the Somali Republic has been claimed by both countries. It is inhabited almost entirely by Somalis, who appear to identify, to all intents and purposes, with the Somali Republic; ecologically, the area appear to be more integral to Somalia than to Ethiopia. Ethiopia exercises jurisdiction in the area. However, throughout most of this century it has been the theater of international warfare, sometimes local but increasingly international.

Any consideration of the legal issues in the conflict in Somaliland-in particular, to whom it rightly belongs requires some historical perspective. The dismemberment of the Somaliland and the division of its people were effected in the last half of the 19th and the early part of 20th centuries by four expanding Empires: Great France. Italy, and Ethiopia. Britain’s original interest in Somaliland was as a food source for Aden. By the 1870’s , the UK had agreed to Egyptian jurisdiction as far south as Ras Hafun, primarily to preserve other European powers from entering there. Meanwhile the French established themselves at Obock and the Gulf of Tadjoura, while the Italians entered the wings, as it were at Asseb in Eritrea. In 1889, Italy tried to establish a protectorate over Abyssinia. But Ethiopia repudiated the interpretation of Italy’s claims and developed its own imperial ambitions, circulated in the letter by Menelik II, in 1891, in which he made allegedly historical claims over vast areas of East Africa1.

From 1884 to 1889. Britain concluded protectorate agreements with coastal Somalis in order to fill the vacuum created by Egypt’s precipitous withdrawal from the region In 1816, a treaty with the Ogaden was signed. Comparable agreements were struck with other Somalis by French and Italy. Among themselves, the three imperial powers had worked out basic spheres of influence and some boundary agreements2. In 1884, for example, Britain purported to establish boundaries with Italy for their respective protectorates. Neither had been authorized to do this under the express terms of the treaties with the Somalis by the local authorities party to the original protector to agreements.

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Why not speak: The Imposing Question of Somalis in the Ogaden.



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