Somalia’s iceberg problem

A day after representatives from more than 35 countries and international organizations met in Rome to discuss piracy off the coast of the Somalia, the UN today reports the astonishing figure that over 100,000 Somalis have been displaced in the last month.  Even by the standards of Somalia’s recent turmoil, this is a shockingly high rate — the highest, in fact, in “many, many years.”  Amidst this gross displacement, all sides of the conflict have committed egregious human rights violations, with an appalling frequency of rape, impressment of child soldiers, and reckless shelling of civilians.

Compared with the widespread travesties faced by these thousands of Somalis, the international community’s focus on piracy, whatever its impact on the global economy, seems almost an affront to human dignity.  Yet there are signs that leaders in Rome yesterday understand the connection between Somalia’s humanitarian crisis and the headline-grabbing antics of pirates.  From Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini:

The minister said that piracy is linked to phenomena like the “criminality and infiltration of extreme elements easily recruited also by Al-Qaeda”.

“Piracy is only the tip of the iceberg,” Frattini said. “We are convinced that piracy is related to the political and socioeconomic crisis on land, not on the sea.

He said piracy and terrorism, illegal immigration, human trafficking are ” a threat not only to Somalia but to the entire international community”.

How they choose to address this larger problem is, of course, the big question.  Pirate courts and an enhanced Somali coast guard are nice steps, but the iceberg is much, much bigger.