As a long term admirer of Somaliland's record as a beacon of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in a region where these qualities are in short supply, I was alarmed to read of the arrests of Dr Mohamed Abdi Gaboose, Engineer Mohamed Hashi and Mr Jamal Aideed on July 28. These three gentlemen were architects of Somaliland's freedom, and are surely entitled to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and of association, and the right to take part in the government of their country, which are found in Articles 19-21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Whilst the constitution of Somaliland provides that there shall be only three political parties, there is no law that I am aware of which says that the current three parties will always be the three accepted under the constitution. The constitution like all others also guarantees the right to association and the persons who have been arrested are arguing that they are simply exercising their rights to form a political association and to be given a chance to compete freely to become one of the three political parties allowed under the constitution. May I respectfully urge you to release the three gentlemen, and to convene a representative assembly to determine how to secure maximum popular participation at the forthcoming elections, by a process that would determine which three parties have the greatest support and whose candidates' names should therefore appear on the ballot papers. I need hardly emphasise the damage to the cause of Somaliland's recognition that will result from failure to resolve this problem by discussion and agreement, rather than arbitrary detentions.
In the longer term, Somaliland may wish to consider whether it is necessary to place any constitutional limit on the number of parties. In most democratic countries the electors tend to support just a few parties, though others may put up candidates without harming the process.
Lord Eric Avebury