Amnesty International Report 2003 - Solomon Islands
|Publication Date||28 May 2003|
|Cite as||Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2003 - Solomon Islands , 28 May 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3edb47df14.html [accessed 17 September 2014]|
Covering events from January - December 2002
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by John Ini Lapli
Head of government: Allan Kemakeza
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
International Criminal Court: signed
At least 20 civilians and four police officers were killed in an upsurge of violence within and between rival ethnic groups. Impunity for human rights abuses continued to prevail among both police officers and former members of armed groups. Government failure to secure basic public services, including effective policing, health and education, accelerated the country's decline. Thousands of civilians suffered from a lack of food, medical supplies and freedom of movement in areas controlled by gunmen or affected by police operations. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights extended a human rights program in the country.
The widespread availability of illegal guns, including hundreds stolen from police armouries, was the single most important factor affecting law and order, human rights and governance. The Australian government estimated that there were more illegal guns in the country than before the end of military-style fighting in October 2000. In October commanders of the disbanded paramilitary group the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) confirmed reports that Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza had advised them not to give up their guns as required under a UN-supported disarmament project.
Armed violence temporarily escalated between and within rival ethnic groups, against a background of government corruption and payments of so-called "compensation" for alleged property destruction during the civil war between 1998 and 2000. Gunmen repeatedly raided government offices demanding money. The payments contrasted with the government's failure to pay outstanding debts and salaries for basic public services.
National medical institutions and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) reported increased malnutrition and preventable fatalities among children and mothers, some of whom died from a lack of medical supplies at hospitals and rural clinics whose staff frequently went without pay. In July the Health Minister reported that doctors were leaving the country; one of the reasons for this was that armed groups were entering clinics seeking revenge against sick rivals from opposing ethnic groups. Some schools and clinics remained closed all year or opened only temporarily.
The authorities made little progress in reducing the number of Police Special Constables, 1,600 of whom had been recruited from armed ethnic groups after the 2000 Townsville Peace Accord (TPA). About 500 of these Special Constables were fraudulently on the police payroll. Most were paid without being subject to police discipline and accountability. There were many reports that Special Constables were involved in crime or hampered efforts by regular police officers trying to restore law and order.
In March, Deputy New Zealand High Commissioner Bridget Nicholls died from a knife wound to her heart. A day earlier national radio had reported her role in her government's assistance plans for law and order in the Solomon Islands. Local authorities found that she had accidentally fallen onto her own knife, but a New Zealand coroner could not confirm this finding.
In August, the regional Pacific Forum organization, under its new crisis response mechanism, sent an Eminent Persons' mission from Australia, Fiji and Samoa to the Solomon Islands. The mission reported to a Forum summit about the seriousness of the overall situation and about complaints that government "compensation" payments were "available only to those with guns" or criminals. The summit extended the mission's monitoring mandate to 2003.
A UN human rights office established in late 2001 carried out a diverse program of training, advisory and awareness-raising activities. This included organizing debates on human rights issues such as a proposed truth and reconciliation commission to examine the 1998-2000 ethnic conflict. Among those participating at human rights workshops were police officers and trainers, former child soldiers, village elders, women's groups, and religious and youth leaders from various provinces. The program also assisted the judiciary which had suffered serious neglect by the government.
At the Prime Minister's request, a UN inter-agency assessment mission visited in October to examine the security and human rights situation, but no details were made public about its findings.
Peace monitors withdraw
In March, gunmen widely held responsible for acts of torture, extortion and intimidation of civilians openly participated in major public peace marches through Auki and Honiara. The police made no attempt to arrest them.
In June, an unarmed International Peace Monitoring Team withdrew from Guadalcanal and Malaita islands following threats by gunmen. In October, the government announced that a National Peace Council would be created to continue the conflict resolution work of a national Peace Monitoring Council established under the TPA.
Political and ethnic violence
Unreliable reports made it difficult to distinguish criminal opportunism from violence linked to the consequences of the ethnic conflict.
In June, during preparations for a reconciliation ceremony on Guadalcanal island's Weathercoast, a secret mission of 10 mostly Malaitan gunmen, including a police officer, was sent to capture rebel leader Harold Keke. Weathercoast villagers had increasingly blamed Harold Keke's men for leading a reign of terror among them, arbitrarily executing suspected dissidents and raping young women. One of Keke's men and all but one of those sent to capture him were killed.
In August, Harold Keke told the national radio station that he took responsibility for the killings and for shooting dead Augustine Geve, a government minister and former Roman Catholic priest who visited the Weathercoast on a peace mission that same month. Weathercoast gunmen were also suspected of involvement in an ambush in July of a stolen police vehicle carrying children and their mothers to a clinic for health checks. Two children and one woman died and six people were injured. Police officers had reportedly tried earlier to recover the vehicle by negotiations.
In September, seven leading former MEF commanders wrote to the Prime Minister threatening not to cooperate in peace efforts unless police took action against Guadalcanal rebels such as Harold Keke. Police then launched a major joint operation with armed members of illegal Guadalcanal groups, whose leaders were paid as Police Special Constables, to pursue Harold Keke. In October, the Police Commissioner called for urgent humanitarian assistance to an estimated 3,000 Weathercoast villagers displaced by the police hunt who were suffering from lack of food, shelter and medical services. Police patrol boats brought some relief supplies and evacuated hundreds of vulnerable villagers from the conflict zone.
In November and December, two police officers and a civilian police scout were killed in the operation, triggering threats and violence against indigenous Guadalcanal people in Honiara. Five men and one woman arrested for allegedly assisting Harold Keke were ill-treated and received treatment for injuries after their transfer to Honiara; police claimed they had been beaten by rival villagers supporting the police who also burned down villages deserted by displaced families. No one was brought to justice for these actions.
From April onwards, police in Honiara and Auki began to take action against gunmen including police constables who misused their authority. In September, about 150 police recaptured a Malaitan ferry seized by gunmen led by former MEF commander Jimmy "Rasta", but arrested only three guards.