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Religious freedom: a pillar of the new Somalia

The international community made an undertaking, here in Rome on 2-3 July 2012, to draw the face of a new Somalia. There is still a long way to go but two days of working here at the Farnesina, with over 150 delegates representing 43 states and international organisations, served to signpost more clearly the road to be followed in the run-up to the end of the transition, on 20 August. Just a few weeks from this deadline, the meeting of the International Contact Group was, therefore, the last opportunity to provide a concrete response to the crucial challenges for the future of Somalia. Challenges such as: how to stabilise the regions freed from terrorism? How to rebuild an effective justice system? How to find the resources to kick-start the Somali economy?

After over two decades of chaos and suffering for the Somali people, in recent years we have focused on supporting the creation of legitimate, functioning institutions. We have placed our trust in the Transitional Government, which has repaid that trust by respecting the timescale for the transition. Now, for this process to be completed and the country truly to achieve stabilisation, the break with the past must be both deep and thorough. The meeting in Rome produced results in this respect, by illustrating the prospect of a Government and Parliament working within a new constitutional framework defined through a pathway that will also give the people their say, in a referendum.

We must be realistic: this is a complex mechanism. But at the same time we must remain inflexible on the principles. Precise guarantees to protect human rights must be written large in the final text of the constitution. A new institutional architecture is not, in itself, enough.

We will not really have a new Somalia until the fundamental human rights are sanctioned by the constitutional “charter” and respected throughout the country. The litmus paper will be the freedom for each citizen to freely profess their religious beliefs: a freedom for which Italy is conducting a campaign in all the international fora. The international community expects, as reiterated firmly here at the Farnesina in the last two days, that freedom of religion and belief will be a pillar of the Somalia of the future.

On Sunday 1 July we witnessed, horrified, the cowardly attacks perpetrated in Kenya, once more against innocent people in their place of worship. The aim of certain terrorist forces is to destabilise the Horn of Africa. To combat their appalling agenda it is vital to have a Somalia that is more stable and a strong ally of the international community. And the words uttered yesterday by the Somali Prime Minister, Abdiweli, testify to the commitment to make every effort to ensure that the definitive text of the constitution enshrines the principles for which we are fighting, the only principles that can ensure that the Somali people have a future worth living.

Security is the other crucial challenge. On the ground, the situation has improved, thanks to the joint commitment of the peace forces of the African Union, AMISOM and the contingents deployed by Ethiopia and Kenya to combat the al-Shabaab terrorist movement.

We saw the fruits of these positive developments at first hand when we were able to return Bruno Pellizzari and his partner safely and soundly to their loved ones after they were freed – thanks not least to the collaboration of the Somali authorities. However, pirates and terrorists can still count on support networks on Somali territory. The meeting in Rome also served to call on all the states involved in combating piracy to base their efforts on respect for the principles of international law. Piracy is a problem for all of us, and we must all share agreed responsibilities, principles and lines of action to be followed.

In this respect too, Italy is playing its part by assisting and training the Somali security forces. Investing in the security and future of Somalia means investing in our own security. Somalia is on our doorstep – our own and that of Europe. It is much closer than a superficial glance at the atlas might lead us to believe. The Horn of Africa is, essentially, the deep south of the Mediterranean.

Only yesterday, an encouraging signal emerged from Libya, with the release of the four International Criminal Court officials,an operation in which Italy played an important role that was recognised by the Court itself. But, as we have so often reiterated in Brussels, as elsewhere, the only way to respond to the demands of the Arab Spring movements and of the entire region is to build a common security space.

If this is not to remain a mere slogan, a true regional stabilisation effort must also address the factors of instability arriving from sub-Saharan Africa and the Horn of Africa. For all these reasons, the Farnesina’s two-day meeting added more bricks to the construction of the new home for the Somali people. And served also to strengthen the foundations of our own home.



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