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Somaliland Piracy  Law

Piracy and Somaliland Law

Ever since the piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somalian coast has started, the Republic of Somaliland has pursued a vigorous and successful strategy of denying prospective or actual pirates any safe havens on its territory and has detained and prosecuted persons who are suspected of planning or executing acts of piracy. The small and poorly equipped Somaliland Coastal Force has, with increasing recent external help, improved its capacity to monitor Somaliland’s 530 mile coast.  In order to implement its obligations under UN Convention on the Law of the Sea which has been ratified by former Somali Democratic Republic in 1989 and also the Djibouti Code of Conduct  concerning the Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, which Somaliland has signed, and to address the deficiencies of the current dated criminal laws (see below), Somaliland has recently adopted a new law on piracy.  The Law for Combating Piracy Law (or the Piracy Law) -  Law No. 52/2012 – has been passed by both Houses of Parliament and  signed, on 21 March 2012,  into law by the President of the Republic (Copy of the Presidential Decree).


Copies of the law are available here:


Xeerka La Dagalaanka Budhcad Badeedka (Xeer Lr. 52/2012) as passed and signed by the House of Representatives.  and also later passed  by the House of Elders with no changes. Here is also a much clearer copy of the Law in Somali.


Somaliland Piracy Law (Law No. 52/2012) – An English Language Translation (with a few annotations).


Somaliland has also adopted The Somaliland Transfer of Prisoners Law – Law No. 53/2012 [ Clearer Somali Copy ] and the Presidential Decree date 21/03/2012 putting the Law into force.  Here is an [English translation]  of the Law. This is a generic law which applies to prisoner transfers to or from countries with  which Somaliland has a prisoner transfer agreement (such as Sychelles in relation to agreed cases involving prisoners convicted of acts of piracy offences). 

25/04/2013:  Somaliland Counter Piracy Co-ordination (CPC) Office

Presidential Decree 0194/012012 of 24 January 2012- Establishment of the Somaliland Counter Piracy Office - The Decree establishes the CPC Office as an essential component of a national counter piracy program led by the Somaliland Minister of Foreign affairs in consultation with a National Counter Piracy Committee consisting of the following eight other members:

  • The Attorney General who shall also act as the first deputy chair of the Committee.
  • The commandant of the Coastal Guard Force (second deputy chair).
  • The Commandant of the Corrections Corps.
  • The Director General of the Ministry of Justice.
  • The Director General of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources.
  • The Director General of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
  • The Director General of the Ministry of Finance.
  • The General Manager of the Berbera port.

The Secretary of the Committee is, as set out in the Decree, the Co-ordinator of the CPC Office. The functions of the Counter Piracy Co-ordination Office, as set out in the Decree, are as follows:

  • The operational management of the counter piracy activities.
  • The co-ordination of the counter piracy pillars (prosecutions, judiciary, coastal forces, coastal development projects etc).
  • The co-with a knife ordination of the preparation of the national plans relating to counter piracy and the tackling of the problems created by piracy.
  • The implementation of the programs for tackling the causes of piracy.
  • Seeking funds for dealing with the problems posed by piracy, which are necessary for the counter piracy pillars program.
  • Preparing reports and advice relating to counter piracy.
  • Collating and keeping information relating to piracy and ways of combating it.

Finally the Decree enjoins all ministries and public agencies to work closely with the CPC.

Overview of the work of the CPC Office

1.   National Level  -  The Somaliland CPC Office leads anti-piracy efforts in Somaliland and co-ordinates the diverse counter-piracy activities, by national multi-agencies, from apprehending to imprisonment, prisoner transfer, awareness raising, capacity building, etc.  The CPC Office searches, collates, analyses and disseminates information relates to piracy issues and counter-piracy programmes. The CPC Office also acts as the secretariat and  for the National Counter-Piracy Committee.  The CPC Office guides and facilitates the work of the UN implementing agencies in Somaliland.

2.  Regional Level -  The Somaliland CPC Office represents Somaliland within the regional organisations and CP programmes.  The Somaliland CPC Office is a member of Kampala Process, Djibouti Code of Conduct (DCoC) and Djibouti Regional Training Centre (DRTC).  Somaliland CPC Office has established good working relationship with EUCAP NESTOR (the European Regional Counter Piracy Programme).

3.  International Level -  Somaliland is a strong partner of the international anti-piracy efforts and as its National Focal Point, the Somaliland CPC Office is an active member of Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) and regularly participates in the conferences and workshops of the main CGPCS Working Groups. The CPC Office acts as a vocal voice for Somaliland in these international arenas. 

(My thanks to the CPC Executive Director and Secretary of the National CP Committee, Mohamed Osman Ahmed,  for this information- Editor.)

The inadequacy of the old criminal laws in tackling  piracy  (2012)

(by Editor - pdf copy available here.)

Prosecutions for acts of piracy have so far been conducted unsatisfactorily under the dated Somali Republic laws.  The 1959 Somalia Maritime Code (which with slight modifications still applies to Somaliland since 1967) deals with piracy and mutiny by masters or crews of ships under Article 205 and 206 as follows:

    “Article 205 – Piracy: The master or officer of Somaliland or foreign vessels who commits acts of depredation to the damage of a Somaliland or foreign vessel or its cargo, or for this purpose commit violence against persons on board Somaliland or foreign vessels, are punished by imprisonment from 10 to 20 years.

    Article 206 - Taking Possession of the Vessel: Crew members of a vessel who take possession of the same are punished:-

    1. by imprisonment from 10 to 20 years if the facts is committed with violence or threat against the master the other officers.

    2. by imprisonment from 3 to 10 years if the facts is committed clandestinely or by fraudulent means.

    For promoters  and heads, the punishment is increased up to one third.

    If the fact is committed by a person extraneous to the crew the punishment is reduced by one third.”

It is not possible, however, for Article 205 of the Code to be used to prosecute the use of skiffs and other small or large ships by pirates as we have witnessed in the Gulf of Aden and the coasts off Somalia, because the Article and (also Article 206) apply only to masters of ships or boats or their crew whose employment status is regulated under the Code. The appointment and duties of ship masters, the recruitment and contracts and duties of the crew and the supervisory role of the Maritime Authority over all these matters are all set out in Articles 92 to 110 of the Code. 


The 1962 Penal Code has been used in the piracy cases that have been prosecuted so far, but the Code which does not include piracy as a crime has considerable limitations. Article 486   of the Code states that the detention of a person with the object of obtaining a wrongful gain for the price of releasing him (Kidnapping) shall  incur punishment of 8 to 15 years or 12 to 18 years if the crime is successful. Article 486 is relevant to situations  where persons are held as hostages until payments by them or by third parties are made but does not apply to the holding of ships or other vessels. In contrast Article 485 covers the more general crime of extortion - compelling someone to do or refrain from doing an act so that a wrongful gain may be obtained - and carries punishment of 3 to 10 years, which can be increased by one third or  a half where there are aggravating circumstances. Article 485 is more applicable to the threat of or violence being directed at any person (and not necessarily someone who is detained) who is then made to do the act that the offender wanted done.  The threat or the violence can relate to persons or to any kind of property, including a ship.  It differs from the general offence of robbery (in Article 484) in that the latter specifically applies taking any movable property from a person by means of, or by threat of, violence, which is more immediate.


In short, taking away the personal belongings and a yacht from its owners by means of force  in the territorial seas (although there are of course problems with Somalia’s 1972 Law which defines the territorial sea as 200 nautical mile - a distance that, for various reasons,  is not applicable to Somaliland) could amount to robbery under Article 484; compelling them (or others) to pay more money by means of violence or threats can amount to extortion under Article 485 and holding them until they or anyone else makes a payment would bring Article 486 into play. In the more common cases involving ship crews who are detained by force, the more relevant provision is likely to be Article 486.


It is worth noting that one of the many draconian criminal laws enacted during the Somalian military dictatorship (between 1969 to 1990) was  the 1975 Kidnapping Law (Law No. 36 of 30 April 1975) which repealed Article 486 of the Penal Code and replaced it with a narrow and specific offence of kidnapping and/or hijacking. The Law covered all such acts committed in the territory of the Somali Democratic Republic or “abroad” but, unlike Article 7 of the Penal Code (see below), did not specify that the act should have been committed in the territory of another country.  Article 1 of this Law stated that:


    “1. Any person who kidnaps a person, [or hijacks] an aircraft or any other type of transport with the intention of securing payment of money or property or of gaining political benefit which is contrary to the public interest of the state of Somalia, its peace and the Somali Revolutionary policies shall be punished by death.

    2. Any other persons involved in the organisation of this offence shall also incur the same punishment referred to in clause 1 of this Article.” (my translation and underlining)

The Law also added that any person who was aware of such offences and did not inform the security forces would incur imprisonment of 20 to 30 years (Article 5).  All the offences in this Law were tried at the special National Security Court (Article 6) from which there was no appeal against its decisions, (and not at the ordinary courts),  and the Supreme Revolutionary Council had the power (under Article 2) to decide the fate of the offenders if the offences were not “against the public interest, independence, unity or the general policies of the Revolution”.


Understandably, this Law (and other similar security related laws passed by the military dictatorship between 1969 to 1990) are considered in Somaliland as not compatible with Article 130(5) of the Constitution which allows the continued use and implementation of the pre 1991 laws unless they conflict with fundamental rights and freedoms or with the provisions of the Constitution. Indeed the 1993 Somaliland National Charter which preceded the Constitution that was initially adopted in 1997 (prior to its adoption after a national referendum) only authorised the use of pre 1969 laws which predated the military regime but the Article 130(5) formula was adopted in 1997 to avoid too many gaps in the legislation until new laws are promulgated.  The 1975 Kidnapping Law is therefore considered as having been disapplied and is no longer in use in Somaliland.  It is unlikely also that  this Law will be used in areas of Somalia (such as Puntland) where the Penal Code is currently used.


The Penal Code, following its civil law tradition, addresses attempts and instigation, but does not deal with other inchoate crimes adequately in the same manner as is normally dealt with in the common law countries. Attempts are defined in Article 17 of the Code as acts “unequivocally directed  towards causing the event which has not be entirely completed or where the event has not resulted” and the reduced punishments are set out in Article 125. Although the joint participation in an offence that is committed or attempted is covered by Articles 71 and 73, agreements (conspiracy, in common law countries) to commit an offence which has not been committed are not punishable with imprisonment, unless they are “political conspiracies” to commit offences against the state (Article 232).  Instead Article 76 (which is identical  to Article 115 of the pre 1962 Italian Penal Code) states that, except as otherwise provided by law, where two or more persons agree to commit an offence which is not committed, they shall not be  punished for making the agreement but the Court may apply security measures (police surveillance etc) to them. The same applies to situations where in cases of instigation (or incitement) to commit an offence but the offence was not committed (Article 76(2)). 


As part of the public order offences, however, if the instigation or incitement was done publicly in an open place, it is a public order offence under Article 320 punishable with imprisonment from 1 to 5 years!  Another public order offence of association under Article 322 may be used to prosecute any group associating to commit more than one crime and if they roam about carrying arms, they may incur punishment from 5 to 15 years.  But  there is no offence in the Penal Code comparable to “going equipped” to commit acts of theft or robbery, and, unless the matter can be dealt with as an attempt, preparatory acts of  mere possession of skiffs or boats for piracy may be difficult to prosecute adequately under the Penal Code.  There is also no general offence of conspiracy to commit a crime separate from the actual commission as a part of group which is adequately covered and can increase the individual sentences incurred (as set out in Articles 71, 73 and 74 of the Code).


Because of these shortcomings of the Penal Code, it has been reported that other less relevant articles of the Penal Code may have been used.  The provisions mentioned were Article 230 (instigation to commit crimes against the personality of the state), Article 234 (participation in armed groups to commit crimes referred to in Article 230), Articles 222 (Devastation, Pillage and Slaughter whilst making an attempt against the state); and 324 (Devastation and Pillage).  This simply underlined the inadequacy of the Penal Code in addressing acts of piracy and the crimes arising from them.


There is also the issue of territoriality.  There are only a few crimes listed in Article 7 (and 8) of the Penal Code, such as crimes against the state, which can be tried in Somaliland/Somalia even though they were committed “abroad” (i.e outside the territory of the state)  but in a foreign country and these include “e) any offences in respect of which (the) Somali penal law is made applicable by … international conventions”(Article 7).  The reference to a foreign territory means, however, that crimes committed in the high seas cannot be brought within the purview  of Article 7 even though the acts may be covered by an international convention, such as UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which was ratified by the pre 1991 Somali Democratic Republic in 1989.  (Incidentally the 1975 Kidnapping Law applied simply to the crimes committed “abroad” and did not confine them to those committed in foreign countries).


The New Piracy Law

It is for these reasons and the need to ensure laws implementing UNCLOS and the Djibouti Code of Conduct on Piracy that that the Somaliland Parliament has now passed a new (Anti) Piracy Law which defines acts of piracy along the lines of Article 101 of UNCLOS, with slightly different wording only respect of participation (which, in my view, appears to be more  due to the initial translation to of the text to Somali, rather than by design).  Article 2A of the new Law states that an act of piracy is:

    “1. Any illegal act of violence or detention or depredation committed by the crew or the passengers of a private ship or a private aircraft  or by armed pirates for the purposes of illegal financial gain and directed –   

    a) on the high seas, against a ship or aircraft, or against persons or property on board such a ship or aircraft;

    b) against a ship, an aircraft, a person or property on board a ship or an aircraft in a place outside the jurisdiction of any state;

     c) against a ship, an aircraft, a person or property on board a ship or an aircraft within the territorial waters of the Republic of Somaliland.

    2. Any act of willful participation in an act directed knowingly as a pirate’s attack against a private ship or private aircraft.

    3. Any act which incites or facilitates or aids piracy as defined in Clauses 1 and 2 of this Article.”

Clause 2 above deviates from the corresponding provisions in the UNCLOS Article 101(b) definition of Piracy and which states:

    “b) any act of  voluntary participation in the operation of a ship or an aircraft with knowledge of facts making it a pirate ship or a pirate aircraft.” ( in Somali: fal kasta oo ah ka qaybgel habeynta markab ama diyaarad iyadoo la ogsoonyahay xaqqiiqada ah in uu markabku yahay ama diyaaradu tahay mid budcad badeed ah”.

This UNCLOS provision has as its centre the participation in the operation of a pirate ship/aircraft with the knowledge of the nature of the enterprise and is a separate and different offence from participation in “an attack” or attempted attack.  It is similar to the offence of “going equipped” to commit a crime such as theft, robbery or fraud which constitutes, in some jurisdictions, a separate crime of its own. Participation in an attack or an attempted attack is already covered by Clause 1 read with Articles 71 of the Penal Code (joint participation in a crime), but there is no parallel provision in the Penal Code to the  “going equipped” offence that can be used to deal with the participation in the operation of a pirate ship or aircraft  as a separate crime. Clause 3 of the Law could possibly also catch some of the acts of participation in the operation of a ship/aircraft as being acts of aiding or facilitating once the act is committed or attempted (Article 17 and 125 of the Penal Code).  As discussed above,  Article 76 of the Penal Code covers cases where two or more persons agree to commit a crime  but does not lay any punishment if the actual crime is not committed but  Article  322 may be used to prosecute any group associating to commit more than one crime. Nevertheless, in other jurisdictions cases of conspiracy to commit a serious crime can attract a severe sentence, and whilst there is understandable concern in Somaliland about the past politically motivated “conspiracy offences” which were used so wantonly during the dictatorship era, the UNCLOS Clause 101(b) will adequately address this specific  gap and  should be added to this Law as soon as is practicable.


The Somaliland courts shall have jurisdiction, under Article 5(2) of the Law  to try any offences of piracy committed within the Somaliland territorial sea or, regardless of the citizenship of the perpetrators, when the offences are committed  outside the Somaliland territorial sea  in an area not falling within the territorial sea of any other country when  the Somaliland Coastal Forces detained the accused persons.


The punishment for acts of piracy is imprisonment from 5 to 20 years (Article 4). The pirate boats and the proceeds of the offence shall also be confiscated (Article 11).






World Bank & Others 2013: Pirates’ Trails - Tracing the illicit financial flows. Full Report.

April 2013: Two reports on the cost of Somalian piracy (see below for links to the reports)


Security Council Renews Authorisations for International Action on Piracy off Somalia’s Coast - Resolution 2077(2012) - 21 November 2012


The US Government’s approach to countering Somali Piracy - Thomas Kelly, US State Department, 25 October 2012


Penalties for Piracy 2012 - Discussion Paper - Kontorovich E (Oceans Beyond Piracy )


Somaliland Anti-Piracy Awareness - (25/04/2012)


Somaliland’s New Anti-Piracy Law - Article (30/04/2012) by Matteo Crippa, blogg


The Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia

(CGPCS) was established, pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1851, on January 14, 2009 to facilitate the discussion and coordination of actions among states and organizations to suppress piracy off the coast of Somalia. The CGPCS is an international forum that brings  together more than 60 countries and international organizations all working towards the prevention of piracy off the Somali coast.


The Djibouti Code of Conduct concerning the Repression of Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden was signed on 29 January 2009 by the representatives of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Maldives, Seychelles, Somalia, the United Republic of Tanzania and Yemen. According to the IMO, “Comoros, Egypt, Eritrea, Jordan, Mauritius, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates have since signed Code making the current total 18 countries from the 21 eligible to sign the Djibouti Code of Conduct”. Somaliland and Puntland have also signed the Code.

The Code takes into account and promotes the implementation of those aspects of UN Security Council resolutions 1816 (2008), 1838 (2008), 1846 (2008) and 1851 (2008) and of UN General Assembly resolution 63/111, which fall within the competence of IMO.


EU NAVFOR Operation ATALANTA was launched on 8 December 2008 and is conducted in accordance with United Nations Security Council’s resolutions. The objectives of the operation are:

  • protect vessels of the World Food Programme, humanitarian aid and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) shipping
  • help deter, prevent and repress acts of piracy and armed robbery
  • protect vulnerable shipping
  • also monitor fishing activities off the coast of Somalia

Other than EU NAVFOR   anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia are carried out by the Combined Task Force 151 of the Combined Maritime Forces; and the Standing Naval Group of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. These are  complemented by the naval forces of other States, including China, India, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Yemen.


The EU Council extended on 23 March 2012 the EU's counter-piracy operation Atalanta by two more years, until December 2014.  The Council has also “extended the force's area of operations to include Somali coastal territory as well as its territorial and internal waters”. The Council stated that this will enable Operation Atalanta to work directly with the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and other Somali entities to support their fight against piracy from the coastal area.

Recent UN Security Council Reports & Resolutions on Somalia coast piracy


Report of the Secretary General on Piracy of the coast of Somalia - 21 October 2013


Security Council Renews Authorisations for International Action on Piracy off Somalia’s Coast - Resolution 2077(2012) - 21 November 2012


Report of the Secretary General on specialized anti-piracy courts in Somalia and other States in the region (20 January 2012)


SC Resolution 2020 (2011) on Somalia coast piracy Adopted by the Security Council at its 6663rd meeting, on 22 November 2011


S/2011/662 25 October 2011: Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1950 (2010) (Piracy)


Report of the Secretary-General on the modalities for the establishment of specialized Somali anti-piracy courts (15 June 2011)


S/2010/394  26 July 2010: Report of the Secretary-General on possible options to further the aim of prosecuting and imprisoning persons responsible for acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia.

UN Documents on Piracy (Regularly updated by the Division for Ocean Affairs) - Includes Security Council Resolutions on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia.


IMO Piracy & Armed Robbery against ships      

IMO  Resolution on  piracy and armed robbery against ships in waters off the coast of Somalia (November 2011)


Communis Hostis Omnium: Piracy-Law .com


exploring the complicated legal issues relating to combatting piracy off the coast of Somalia


Kontorovich E (2012)  Penalties for Piracy 2012 - Discussion Paper -  (Oceans Beyond Piracy )


Treves T (2009) Piracy, Law of the Sea, and Use of Force: Developments off the Coast of Somalia, European Journal of International Law (2009), Vol. 20 No. 2 , 399 – 414


 Gathii J T (2010) Jurisdiction to Prosecute Non-National Pirates Captured by Third States Under Kenyan and International Law, Loy. L.A. Int’l & Comp. L. Rev. (2010), Vol XX, 101 - 140


Rahmonov A (2011) Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia: In Search of the Solution, Cornell Law School Inter-University Graduate Student Conference Papers. Paper 54.


Roach J A (2010)   Agora: Piracy Prosecutions - Countering Piracy off Somalia: international law and international institutions, The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 104:397.


Elagab O (2010) Somali Piracy and International Law: Some Aspects  (2010) 24 A&NZ Mar LJ


Totten T & Bernal M (2010) Somali Piracy: Jurisdictional Issues, Enforcement Problems and Potential Solutions, Georgetown Journal of International Law, Volume 41, Issue 2, 377-424, available at:

McKay L (2011) Piracy off the Coast of Somalia - Towards a domestic legal response to an international concern in Sharamo & Mesfin (eds) (2011) Regional security in Post-Cold war Horn of Africa, Monograph 178, April 2011. Available at:


Ince & Co. - Piracy off Aden and Somalia: an overview of legal issues for the insurance industry. Available at



World Bank (2013) The Pirates of Somalia: Ending the Threat, Re-building a Nation.

 Full Report (large file)


The Economic Cost of Piracy (2012) Oceans Beyond Piracy (ECoP) Report.  Also : A short Summary of the Report


Shortland A (2012) Treasure Mapped: Using Satellite Imagery to Track the Developmental Effects of Somali Piracy, Chatham House Africa Programme Paper AFP PP/2012/01


House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (2011) Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia, Tenth Report of Session 2010/12, HC137, London.


Piracy off the Horn of Africa, Congressional research Service, 27 April 2011


Organised Maritime Piracy & Related Kidnapping for Ransom, FATF/OECD  Report, 2011


International Expert Group on Pircay of the Somali Coast (2008) Piracy off the Somali Coast Workshop, Final Report.

Middleton R (2008) Piracy in Somalia Threatening Global trade, Feeding Local Wars, Chatham House Briefing Paper October 2008

Sorenson K (2008) State Failure on the High Seas  Reviewing the Somali Piracy, FOI Somalia papers Report 3


 Oceans Beyond Piracy:     [ The Human Cost of Somali Piracy 2011]    [The Economic Cost]


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