SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association)- Barack Obama has cleared the way for the US to provide military assistance to Somalia as it rebuilds itself following years of conflict.
Mr Obama issued a memo to Secretary of State John Kerry saying it would "strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace".
The move now gives Mr Kerry the option to provide defence aid to Somalia.
Last month, the UN Security Council agreed to partially lift its ban on selling arms to Somalia for a year.
The decision allows Somalia's new government to buy light arms to help it in its fight against the al-Qaeda-aligned al-Shabab Islamist militant group.
Some countries had been reluctant to ease the ban for fear of fuelling insecurity in Somalia.
But a lifting of the embargo - the world's oldest, having been imposed in 1992 - had been pushed for by the new government of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.
Black Hawk Down
Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House's National Security Council, said that Mr Obama's decision was "not based on any particular new threat assessment or any specific plans to undertake action".
"It does not constitute a decision to provide particular assistance or to change the nature of our assistance for Somalia's security sector," she added.
The US officially recognised Somalia in January, acknowledging the new government's progress towards political stability and attempts to end the al-Shabab insurgency.
Washington never formally cut diplomatic ties with Somalia, but the 1993 Black Hawk Down incident, when 18 American servicemen were killed after militia fighters shot two US military helicopters out of the sky, marked the country's descent into anarchy.
President Mohamud took office in 2012 after the first election of its kind since the fall of President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
A relative newcomer to politics with no association to the violence and corruption of the past, he has won the backing of the West as he attempts to reunite a country torn apart by two decades of civil conflict.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Somalia's state security forces and armed groups have raped and beaten people who sought shelter and safety in emergency camps, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.
The New York-based rights group said the victims were people arriving in the capital, Mogadishu, after fleeing famine and armed conflict since 2011.
In an 80-page report released on Tuesday, the HRW said the new Somali government had done little to change the situation.
The rights body called on the Somali government to urgently improve the protection and security of Mogadishu's internally displaced population.
The report details serious violations, including physical attacks, restrictions on movement and access to food and shelter.
It also highlights clan-based discrimination against the displaced in the capital from the height of the famine in mid-2011 through 2012.
Leslie Lefkow, HRW's deputy Africa director, said displaced people had been subjected to hostility and abuse instead of being granted a safe haven.
"The new Somali government should quickly remedy the failures of the previous government, improve protection of displaced people, and hold to account members of the armed forces and others responsible for abuses," she said.
HRW's report said interviews with 70 displaced people documented the ways in which government forces, affiliated militias, and private parties, notably camp managers known as "gatekeepers", preyed upon the vulnerable community.
Somalia is slowly emerging from two decades of conflict, which began with the overthrow Siad Barre's government in 1991.
In 2011 a combination of fighting involving Somalia's Transitional Federal Government and African peacekeepers against al-Shabab armed group and unrelenting drought caused a devastating famine
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has welcomed Somalia's release from jail of a woman who told a journalist she was raped by security forces, but expressed regret the journalist she spoke to would remain behind bars.
A Somali appeals court dropped charges on Sunday against the woman, who had been sentenced to a year in jail for "offending state institutions".
The sentence for Abdiaziz Abdinuur, the reporter, was cut in half to six months.
Abdinuur had also been found guilty of offending state institutions, as well making a false interview and entering the house of a woman whose husband was not present.
In a statement issued on Monday, the UN secretary-general's spokesperson said that Ban was "gratified" by the appeals court overturning of the conviction of the alleged rape victim.
"He regrets, however, that the sentence against a journalist charged in connection with the case, while shortened, has been upheld," the spokesperson said.
Ban urged "the government of Somalia to ensure that allegations of sexual violence are investigated and perpetrators are brought to justice".
Abdinuur, 25, was detained on January 10 while researching sexual violence in Somalia, but did not air or print any report after interviewing the woman.
"The court orders the release of the woman, while the journalist will spend six months in jail for offending state institutions," Judge Hassan Mohamed Ali said at the court on Sunday.
"The court has learned that the journalist misled the alleged rape victim into the interview."
The court had initially deemed the woman's story to be false after a midwife conducted a "finger test" to see if she had been raped, a method that Human Rights Watch called an "unscientific and degrading practice that has long been discredited".
The woman, who had originally been granted a six-month reprieve before the start of her jail term to allow her to breastfeed her infant child, left the court in the capital Mogadishu after the ruling.
'Insane and unjust'
Abdinuur was led away in handcuffs and put into a truck that took him back to the central prison, sparking angry reactions from rights groups and fellow journalists.
"This is completely insane and unjust," said Omar Faruk Osman from Somalia's national journalists' union.
"How can they jail someone for interviewing a victim? The lawyers will appeal again and take the case to the Supreme Court."
Abdinuur works for several Somali radio stations and international media.
Amnesty International, HRW and the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a joint statement during the trial that the case was "linked to increasing media attention given to the high levels of rape" including by security forces.
Daniel Bekele, HRW's Africa director, criticised the continued jailing of Abdinuur.
"The court of appeals missed a chance to right a terrible wrong, both for the journalist and for press freedom in Somalia," Bekele said in a statement.
"The government has argued that justice should run its course in this case, but each step has been justice denied."
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Al Jazeera has launched a series of reports called "One Year, Four Families" that looks back at some of this year's major stories as seen through the eyes of the people who experienced them.
Somalia has been wracked by decades of internal conflict, but new hope blossomed with the election of a new president earlier this year.
In the last part of the series, Peter Greste spoke to one Somali family struggling for survival in Mogadishu.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) - A police official says a security guard died while fending off suicide bombers who were trying to storm into a popular Mogadishu restaurant.
Yusuf Abdi said Saturday that security guards at the gate of The Village restaurant shot at the two suicide bomber who tried to enter without going through the security check.
Abdi said the bombers detonated their explosives killing one guard. The blast shattered the restaurant's glass windows and punctured the tires of luxury cars parked outside.
The attack was likely carried out by the Islamist extremist rebels of al-Shabab which has been fighting the Somali government for nearly five years. Africa Union forces pushed the al-Qaida affiliated group out of Mogadishu in August 2011 but the rebels continue to carry out suicide attacks in the capital.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Members of parliament in Somalia will vote for a new president in the first vote of its kind in decades amid fears that the election will be rigged and do little to alter the political landscape.
Billed as a milestone in the war-ravaged country's quest to end two decades of violence, graft and infighting, a newly elected parliament will convene at the police academy in Mogadishu on Monday to vote for the next head of state by secret ballot.
More than two dozen candidates are vying for the position, including the current president and prime minister, as well as prominent Somalis who have returned from overseas.
If no one candidate secures a two-thirds majority in the first round of voting and a simple majority in the second, the election would go to a third round.
Afyane Emli, professor of international affairs at Qatar University, told Al Jazeera the election is based on an arbitrary procedure where traditional elders and clan members select the parliamentarians.
"Somali people do not elect the MP's that are electing the so called president. So technically we have an arbitrary and corrupt process that has produced the MP's now and there are so many things that are far from transparency and openness", he said.
"The three incumbents that are in power have manipulated the process to their advantage. The front runners, the president, the prime minister and the former speaker of the parliament have had significant impact on how the process develops for quite some time", he added.
There has been no effective central government control over most of the country since the outbreak of civil war in 1991 and Monday's vote is seen as a culmination of a regionally brokered and UN-backed roadmap to end that conflict, during which tens of thousands were killed and many more fled.
The vote is the first to take place in Somalia in decades and has been made possible by African Union, Kenyan and Ethiopian troops who have pushed al-Qaeda-linked fighters out of more and more areas.
Some presidential contenders and Somalis have criticised the election process saying it will merely bring in a new government that will look much like previous ones.
A diplomatic source in Mogadishu said millions of dollars were being used to bribe lawmakers to vote for the incumbent, President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.
"Seven million dollars is estimated to have come from Gulf sources and the money is intended to ensure that President Sharif is re-elected," said the source, who declined to be named, due to the sensitivity of the matter.
The source said the money was coming from Somali business interests in Gulf Arab countries, some of whom have connections to warlords and want to maintain the status quo.
"Thus far the process has delivered very impressive results, we're afraid it'll be hijacked at the last minute ... there is a struggle now between those who want the status quo and those who want change," the source added, urging lawmakers to "vote with their conscience.”
The president's office could not be reached to comment on the allegation on Sunday but Ahmed has repeatedly denied any suggestion of wrongdoing.
In July, a UN Somalia monitoring group report said it had found that out of every $10 received by the transitional federal government between 2009-2010, $7 had never made it into state coffers. Ahmed dismissed those allegations.—www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Two Somali children found sailing with pirates are being sent home. The children, aged 12 and 11 – were captured in January and arrested with 12 others on suspicion of piracy. The 11-year-old was acquitted because of his age. The 12-year-old was given a provisional release based upon being sent back to Somalia. Seychelles police said on Monday that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime was helping fly the two back to their families in northern Somalia. A recent report by the UN monitoring group on Somalia and Eritrea criticised the international community for investing huge resources to pursue pirates at the bottom of the chain – such as illiterate young people – instead of going after piracy's powerbrokers.—www.shafaqna.com/english
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Somali leaders are debating a new constitution that protects the right to have an abortion to save the life of the mother, and an international law group says the draft guarantees more fundamental rights than the U.S. Constitution.
That's one reason some women are celebrating the document and hardline conservatives are protesting some of its more liberal promises.
But some of the rights introduced, such as the right to medical care or clean, potable water, will be hard for the government to guarantee in a country where basic needs like food are not always met. While other elements, such as banning the circumcision of girls, a practice the U.N. says more than 95 percent of women have undergone, will take years to banish.
Somali leaders - 825 of them - began a nine-day meeting on Wednesday to examine, debate and vote on the constitution, a document that's been years in the making. A vote by the group, known as the National Constituent Assembly, is likely to be held late next week and is a key step in a flurry of political activity in Somalia over the next month.
The U.N. mandate for Somalia's current government expires on Aug. 20, and Somali leaders are to vote on the constitution, vote in a new 275-member parliament and then vote on a president all before then. If the assembly votes down the constitution, the new parliament will have to debate it and then vote on it.
Somali Prime Minister Abdiwali Mohamed Ali, who for years lived in western New York, called the gathering of Somali leaders a milestone and said the new constitution "is a symbol of justice and equality for our people and country." He said that the new constitution is only meant to be temporary. The eventual goal is to pass a constitution by countrywide vote, but the security, money and organization needed to hold a nationwide vote is still years away. Al-Shabab militants were pushed out of Mogadishu last year but still rule south-central Somalia.
The current constitution is the Transitional Federal Charter, which was written in 2004. Meant only as a temporary charter, it contains fewer rights than are spelled out in the new draft constitution.
The draft constitution makes it clear that Islamic law is the basis for Somalia's legal foundation. No religion other than Islam can be propagated in the country and all laws must be compliant with Shariah - Islamic - law. Despite those clauses, the constitution also says that "every person is free to practice his or her religion," though no other religions are mentioned in the document.
The draft guarantees minority rights but does not mention homosexuality. It says no marriage is legal without the consent "of both the man and woman," a formula that appears to define marriage as a heterosexual institution but one that also forbids child marriage.
Augustine P. Mahiga, the U.N. representative for Somalia, said the constitution will "bring Somalia into the 21st century on issues such as fundamental human rights and freedoms, including empowerment of women."
But women's rights in a country as conservative as Somalia is sparking debate between conservative hard-liners, progressive leaders and women. Draft language in some government documents stipulates that 30 percent of the parliament seats should be held by women, but the draft constitution offers no such guarantee.
"Our religion does not allow women to hold an elected position in the country," Sheikh Mohamed Abdi, the leader of a Mogadishu mosque. "So this is a clear contradiction to the teaching of Islam."
The prime minister's office, in an emailed news release, sent out a picture showing a woman holding up a sign at the meeting of 825 leaders on Wednesday: "Where is our 30 percent?" it said in English.
"We believe this is the best constitution we have ever seen in Somalia," said Salado Nur, a member of the assembly. "We hope the violation of women's rights will decrease or be stopped completely."
The English translation of the Somali language constitution is 88 pages long. It was drafted by international law experts and members of the Somalia Diaspora who have lived in the U.S., Canada, Britain and Australia, said Kym Smithies, a U.N. spokeswoman.
That international expertise and the overseas experience of the Somali ex-pats may explain the draft's numerous individual rights.
The International Development Law Organization, a group that offers legal expertise and resources to governments and civil society groups, said earlier this month that it compared Somalia's draft constitution for the presence of fundamental rights to those from 53 of the 56 member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, as well as the constitutions of Italy and the U.S.
"Notably, across the 45 fundamental rights surveyed, the draft Somali constitution guarantees 36, which places Somalia in the top five of the countries surveyed in terms of these rights," the group said. "The Somali (draft constitution) guarantees six more fundamental rights than the Constitution of Italy, and 15 more than the Constitution of the United States of America."
For all of the rights that the constitution enshrines, its most controversial issue for some members of the constituent assembly is that it does not expressly cite Mogadishu as Somalia's capital.
"Mogadishu has been Somalia's capital for the past hundreds of years and that has been stipulated in all of Somalia's constitutions and charters," Yusuf Nor, a high school teacher in Mogadishu said. "Why not just say Mogadishu is the capital of Somalia? What is the problem with that?"
Somalia adopted an initial constitution after gaining independence from Britain and Italy in 1960 and updated it in 1979. But Somalia's government structure broke down completely in 1991, when the country fell into civil war, and the country has not seen a true federal government since.
The international community is now working to help legitimize a new federal government that can assert control over the country, a task made more difficult by years of warfare and corruption.
Also, the new draft constitution appears to make promises that will be hard for the government to keep. In a country where basic needs like food are not always met, the constitution says that every person has the right to clean, potable water. Every person has the right to health care, even if they can't pay for it, the draft says, another difficult-to-fulfill promise.
No marriage is legal without the consent of both the man and the woman, it says. No child may perform work that is not suitable for a child's age - another clause that defies reality in a country where an enormous number of children work. Each child is to be protected from armed conflict, it says. Somalia has a history of child soldiers on both the government and insurgent side.
"All citizens, regardless of sex, religion, social or economic status, political opinion, clan, disability, occupation, birth or dialect shall have equal rights and duties before the law," it says. Circumcision of girls is "a cruel and degrading customary practice, and is tantamount to torture. The circumcision of girls is prohibited."
The draft constitution says that abortion is contrary to Shariah law and is prohibited "except in cases of necessity, especially to save the life of the mother."
Sheema Sen Gupta, head of child protection at UNICEF Somalia, lauded the government's work to ban female circumcision. "There is however a need now to work closely with the religious leaders who have been very supportive of our efforts to end this practice and with community elders to ensure that it is abandoned as soon as possible," she said.—www.shafaqna.com/english
Source: AP News