U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2002 - Solomon Islands
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||31 March 2003|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2002 - Solomon Islands , 31 March 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3e918c332.html [accessed 20 May 2013]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 31, 2003
The Solomon Islands has a modified parliamentary system of government consisting of a single-chamber Legislative Assembly of 50 members. Executive authority is vested in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. The Prime Minister, elected by a majority vote of Parliament, selects his own Cabinet. A new Parliament was elected in December 2001 with Sir Allan Kemakeza as Prime Minister; elections were considered free and fair. Since 1998 conflict between two of the main ethnic groups in the country – the Malaitans and the Guadalcanalese – forced thousands of Malaitans residing on Guadalcanal from their homes, and in June 2000, armed Malaitan militants took over Honiara, the capital. The Malaitan militants forced the then-Prime Minister to resign. Subsequent governments had limited success in their efforts to restore peace, due to political and institutional weakness and public perception that their leaders were beholden to one of the conflicting parties. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judiciary was hampered by police ineffectiveness, lack of resources, and threats against judges and prosecutors.
A police force of approximately 1,000 persons under civilian control is responsible for law enforcement, internal security, and border security. However, since the 2000 takeover of the city of Honiara by Malaitan militants, the police force has become factionalized and has not functioned as an effective institution. Militant Malaitans rather than the Police Commissioner controlled the paramilitary Police Field Force (PFF). As many as 1,200 untrained former militants were taken into the police force and remained as "special constables," operating under a loose command structure. Members of the PFF and the special constable group engaged in criminal activities, including extortion, robbery, vehicle theft, intimidation, and fraud; the police leadership did not sanction these abuses.
Approximately 75 percent of the population of 480,000 engaged to some extent in subsistence farming and fishing and had little involvement in the cash economy. With the breakdown of law and order, the formal sector of the economy was on the brink of collapse. The Government was insolvent and commercial export activities, which included some plantation production of copra, cocoa, and palm oil, a fish cannery, a gold mine on Guadalcanal, and small resort and diving enterprises, ceased to operate; only the logging industry continued to operate, albeit at a reduced level. Electricity and telecommunications services faced severe difficulties, and there were frequent power blackouts in Honiara. Health and education services faltered as medical workers and teachers went on strike over the Government's failure to pay salaries. The international airport occasionally closed due to strikes over similar issues.
The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were serious problems in some areas. Basic individual rights are provided for in the Constitution, but the armed conflict between Malaitan and Guadalcanalese militants in 2000 led to a serious deterioration in the human rights situation. Police and militants from both sides committed numerous human rights abuses in 2000, including killings, abductions, torture, rape, forced displacement, looting, and the burning of homes. The Government did not encourage any judicial or independent investigation of human rights abuses that occurred during the violence, which contributed to a climate of impunity. A team of international observers, present in the country since November 2000 to monitor implementation of the peace and verify that weapons were relinquished, was disbanded in June at the end of its mandate. All weapons were supposed to be surrendered during an amnesty period, which ended in May. Nonetheless, at year's end, while there was no resumption of overt hostilities, hundreds of weapons had not been surrendered, and a stable peace had not been secured. The Red Cross and other volunteers were able to provide appropriate assistance to rural areas. Violence and discrimination against women continued to be problems.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
Since June 2000, the police forces have been effectively disarmed, and the police no longer function on the islands of Malaita and Guadalcanal; local militia leaders controlled security. In May 2001, a police patrol boat fired upon a village on South Guadalcanal and killed several persons. The Government has not investigated the incident.
In March 2001, there were police raids against Guadalcanal leader Harold Ke'ke; there were unconfirmed reports of deaths from these attacks.
There were reports of politically motivated killings by political rivals or local militants on Guadalcanal during the year. In August the Member of Parliament for South Guadalcanal was killed while in his constituency. Ke'ke claimed responsibility. In October the police mounted an armed operation to apprehend Ke'ke. At least six of Ke'ke's followers and one civilian reportedly aiding the police were killed during the operation. In November Ke'ke's followers allegedly killed a policeman and a civilian. At year's end, Ke'ke was still at large.
Approximately 75 percent of the country's 897 police officers in June 2000 were Malaitan. Many Malaitan police officers participated in abuses committed by Malaitan militants. In 1998 and 1999, police officers were involved in extrajudicial killings and unwarranted use of lethal force against civilians when battling the Guadalcanalese militants. In September 1999, several paramilitary police officers in a speedboat shot a man near shore, then dragged him back into the water and reportedly beat him to death with a paddle. The Government investigated this case, and the police officer wielding the paddle was charged and convicted.
There were reports that police in some areas of Guadalcanal declined to stop or investigate abuses by Guadalcanalese militants, cooperated with them, or fled militant attacks to protect their own security. Displaced persons stated that they fled their homes in 2000 because they feared police operations as much as they did the activities of Guadalcanalese armed groups.
Although violence attributed to the police diminished during the year, the Government did little to investigate or prosecute those responsible for previous killings and other abuses, which contributed to a pervasive atmosphere of impunity. There was almost no accountability for police officers involved in killings, and only one police officer has been charged and convicted in connection with events during the conflict.
The U.N Human Rights Office has reports of over 80 persons killed or missing and presumed dead as a result of attacks attributed to Malaitan and Guadalcanalese militants since 1999. Many of these victims were civilians. None of these cases has been investigated. In April 2000, unidentified gunmen entered a village south of Honiara's international airport and shot three persons, including a 7-year-old boy and a 20-year-old man, as they tried to flee. In April 2000, a Guadalcanalese man was reportedly abducted by Malaitan militants in Honiara and taken to a nearby Malaitan militant camp, where he was beaten and hung by the ankles and wrists with wire. His body was reportedly found later in a Malaitan suburb of Honiara. In late June 2000, Guadalcanalese militants outside Honiara captured two Malaitan men. Subsequently, the men, who showed signs of beatings, were paraded through the captors' villages, killed, and buried. In July 2000, Malaitan militants forced their way into Honiara's central hospital and killed two Guadalcanalese militants who were being treated for wounds sustained in combat the previous day. During the year, Harold Ke'ke's group killed 10 Malaitan men who were reportedly trying to capture Ke'ke to claim the reward for his capture. Also during the year, at least a dozen persons, mostly civilians and including children, died on Guadalcanal in militant-related violence.
In June 2001, there was an unsuccessful attempt to kill the Guadalcanal provincial premier, Ezekiel Alebua. Alebua's political rivals allegedly committed the attack. Neither Malaitan militants nor government officials were implicated in the attack. The Government did not investigate the attack.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances due to the actions of government officials. However, many Malaitan police officers, joining the Malaitan militants, participated in disappearances allegedly committed by the militants in 1999 and 2000. Since the violence began in 1998, more than 50 persons have been abducted and possibly killed by militants. In July 2000, Catholic catechist Juan Bosco disappeared in Honiara after allegedly being abducted by Malaitan militants and taken to a Malaitan camp. Several persons reported seeing him brutally beaten. In July 2000, Walter Tavai, a Guadalcanalese villager, was reportedly abducted from his home near Honiara by Malaitan militants and taken to a Malaitan militant camp. Witnesses stated that militants at the camp beat him to death; his body has not been found.
In January 2000, the Government formed a Committee on Missing Persons. However, its work was hampered by the reluctance of witnesses to come forward and by ongoing threats of violence. The Committee's final report and recommendations to the Government were submitted in April 2000 but were not made public. The Committee did no significant work on missing persons during the year, and apparently has ceased functioning. No action has been taken on its report.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices; however, there were numerous reports that police tortured and mistreated persons. In 2000 the police office dealing with complaints about official police behavior, including excessive use of force, ceased to function as the national police force generally disintegrated.
There were numerous reports of acts of torture and mistreatment attributed to both Malaitan and Guadalcanalese militants, and to members of the police, although there were fewer reported instances than in the previous two years.
In 2000 Honiara residents reported that abducted Malaitans were taken to a camp widely known as a "panel beating shop," where Guadalcanalese militants beat them. The Malaitan encampment near Honiara, as well as the former Guadalcanal provincial government headquarters, also reportedly was used for the torture of captured Guadalcanalese and the punishment of Malaitans. Twenty homes were burned in Independence Valley, Honiara, in late July 2000, according to press reports. This event followed the burning of homes in the Matanikau and Tasahe areas of Honiara. The Government took no action in any of these cases.
The only national prison complex in use during the year provided separate facilities for short-, medium-, and long-term prisoners, as well as for juvenile offenders, and generally met international standards.
Late in the year, the national Ombudsman visited the small provincial jail at the regional capital of Gizo and announced that conditions there were in breach of human rights standards. No action has been taken to correct these deficiencies.
In June 2000, Malaitan militants closed the prison in Honiara following the escape of approximately 20 Guadalcanalese inmates and the subsequent release of all remaining prisoners by the Malaitans. Police did not attempt to recapture the inmates, some of whom reportedly joined the militants. The Government permitted prison visits by human rights observers. An International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) team based in Fiji monitored the prisons regularly during the year.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, and exile, and the Government observed these prohibitions in practice. However, the work of the judiciary has been slowed considerably by the conflict. Delays in adjudication of the large number of cases before the courts have resulted in lengthy pretrial detention for some prisoners.
Militants from both sides have detained persons arbitrarily since June 2000; it is not known how many were detained arbitrarily during the year.
Forced exile is constitutionally prohibited, and it was not practiced.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice; however, the courts are hampered by a lack of resources and by threats against the lives of judges and prosecutors. During the year, the judicial system barely functioned.
The judicial system consists of a High Court, a Court of Appeals, and magistrates' courts. Accused persons are entitled to counsel. In 1999 the Public Solicitor, who is charged with providing counsel to persons who cannot afford a private attorney, reported that due to limited resources, his office could accept only those cases in which persons faced serious charges or those involving the protection of children; this situation continued during the year. The law provides for a judicial determination of the legality of arrests. Officials found to have violated civil liberties are subject to fines and jail sentences.
Judicial trial procedures normally operated in accordance with British law, with a presumption of innocence, right of appeal, access to attorneys, and the right to confront witnesses. However, during the year, the entire judicial system barely functioned.
The Government has done little to investigate or prosecute those responsible for killings and other abuses, which contributed to an atmosphere of impunity. There was a lack of accountability for police officers involved in killings, and only one police officer has been charged and convicted in connection with events during the conflict (see Section 1.a.)
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, and the Government generally respected these prohibitions in practice. However, with the breakdown of law and order in 2000, there was widespread looting and burning of homes in rural Guadalcanal, including by police (see Section 1.c.).
In 1999 and 2000, militants from all sides forced long-time inhabitants from their homes. Many of those forced out were not affiliated with the militant movements, and some were not even members of the combating ethnic groups. The forced expulsions ended during 2001, following the departure of virtually all non-Guadalcanalese from the areas of Guadalcanal Province adjacent to Honiara; none have returned.
g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts
Since ethnic conflict began in 1998, militants have blocked the free and safe passage of relief supplies, food, and fuel, as well as access by humanitarian organizations to Guadalcanal. Red Cross volunteers and relief workers reported being threatened, harassed, even shot at by both Guadalcanalese and Malaitan militants, although the incidence of such attacks declined during the year. Red Cross and other volunteers were able to provide appropriate assistance in rural areas.
Since the violent phase of the conflict on Guadalcanal began in 1998, some 30,000 Malaitans, Guadalcanalese, and Western Province persons living on Guadalcanal have been displaced from their homes (see Section 2.d.).
U.N human rights officials confirmed the use of child soldiers by both Guadalcanalese and Malaitan militants during the ethnic conflict (see Sections 5 and 6.c.).
2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice. During the year, print and broadcast media continued to operate on a regular basis.
The country's media consisted of the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC), a statutory body that comes directly under the Prime Minister's office and whose radio broadcasts are heard throughout the country; two other AM stations; a privately owned FM radio station; and two privately owned weekly or semiweekly newspapers. Given the high rate of illiteracy, radio broadcasting was more influential than the print media. At least two nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) published periodic news journals; their environmental reporting was frequently critical of the Government's logging policy and foreign logging companies' practices.
During the year, militants occasionally threatened the print and broadcast media; however, no journalists were known to have been killed or injured.
Internet use is expanding, and a privately operated Internet café was available; the Government does not limit or control access to the Internet.
Academic freedom was not restricted; however, tertiary education has ceased functioning.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. Demonstrators must obtain permits, which generally were granted. However, in mid-June police authorities, citing a threat to public order, denied a permit for a planned protest march. The organizers appealed to the High Court, which upheld the police authorities. There were no further developments at year's end.
The Constitution provides for freedom of association, but at times the Government restricted this right. In February 2000, the Government formally outlawed the Malaitan militant groups; Guadalcanalese militant groups were outlawed in 1999, but this ban was suspended in May 2000, and during the year, militant groups continued operations but at a reduced level of violence. Other groups associated freely, and a government oversight group, Civil Society Network, which emerged in 2001, frequently criticized the Government (see Section 4).
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice.
In March the High Court upheld the right of a small evangelical church to establish facilities in an area where most persons were members of a large established church. In its ruling, the High Court stated that that the coexistence of different religious groups in the same community was an accepted phenomenon in the country.
The public school curriculum included 30 minutes daily of religious instruction, the content of which was agreed upon by the Christian churches; students whose parents did not wish them to attend the class were excused. However, the Government did not subsidize church schools that did not align their curriculums with governmental criteria. There was mutual understanding between the Government and the churches but no formal memorandum of understanding. Although theoretically non-Christian religions can be taught in the schools, there was no such instruction in practice.
For a more detailed discussion see the 2002 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Government placed no restrictions on the movement of citizens within or out of the country. However, the militants demanded that the people indigenous to each island be given authority to determine who might or might not enter their island. Native-born citizens may not be deprived of citizenship on any grounds.
During the year, non-Guadalcanese, especially Malaitans, were effectively barred from entering Guadalcanal Province for fear of being attacked, while many non-Malaitans, especially Guadalcanalese, were afraid to enter Honiara.
Since the violent phase of the conflict on Guadalcanal began in 1998, an estimated 30,000 Malaitans, Guadalcanalese, and Western Province persons living on Guadalcanal have been displaced from their homes as a result of armed conflict and intimidation. The U.N. estimated that in 1999 some 15,000 to 20,000 Malaitans (20 percent of the population of Guadalcanal) were displaced. The majority of these were evacuated to Malaita, while as many as 12,000 Guadalcanalese fled their homes for other parts of that island. The Government provided very limited help to internally displaced persons, who generally relied on their extended families and subsistence farming for survival. The national Red Cross Society, funded by the European Union, provided some assistance.
Police on Malaita were reportedly unable to offer protection to displaced Malaitans on the island after Malaitan militants raided a police armory in 2000, seized hundreds of weapons, and set up headquarters on the island. Malaitan militants have reportedly forced displaced Malaitan families to support the militants through contributions of money or food. Displaced persons on Guadalcanal also lacked effective police protection, since most local police were evacuated as a result of Guadalcanalese militant raids in 1999. During the year, there were a number of violent clashes between rival gangs of Malaitan militants on Malaita and Guadalcanalese militants on Guadalcanal.
Although a party to the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, the Government has not enacted domestic legislation or procedures for making formal refugee determinations. The Government cooperated with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Red Cross in determining refugee status and has not returned persons to a country where they fear persecution.
The issue of first asylum did not arise during the year. The Government previously provided first asylum to persons from Papua New Guinea's Bougainville Island, who fled the conflict that started there in 1989. Following the 1998 peace settlement, many returned home. According to the UNHCR, fewer than 50 persons from Bougainville who met refugee status criteria still remained in the country.
3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. Suffrage is universal for those 18 years of age and over. The Government is a modified parliamentary system consisting of a single-chamber Legislative Assembly of 50 members. Executive authority is vested in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. The Prime Minister, elected by a majority vote of Parliament, selects his own Cabinet. Since independence in 1978, there have been six parliamentary elections, the latest in December 2001, and several elections for provincial and local councils. National parliamentary elections held in December 2001 were regarded as free and fair. On four occasions, changes of government resulted from either parliamentary votes of no confidence or the resignation of the Prime Minister. However, in 1998 tensions between two of the main ethnic groups in the country – the Malaitans and the Guadalcanalese – resulted in violence. Throughout 1999 Guadalcanalese militants forced thousands of Malaitans residing on Guadalcanal from their homes. Beginning in January 2000, Malaitan militants stole large quantities of weapons from the police and began actively to combat the Guadalcanalese. The conflict continued to escalate, and in June 2000, armed Malaitan militants, assisted by paramilitary police officers acting without authorization, took over the capital. After the takeover, the Malaitan militants forced Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa'alu to resign; Parliament selected a new Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, under duress. Since June 2000, the police have not operated as an effective force, and there is no governmental institution that can effectively address the ongoing violence.
Traditional male dominance has limited the role of women in government. Although 15 women ran for Parliament in the December election, none was elected; no women were selected to be permanent secretaries in the new Government.
4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
There are no restrictions on the formation of local organizations to monitor and report on human rights. The Solomon Islands Development Trust has both development and human rights objectives. The ICRC periodically visited the country from its regional office in Suva, Fiji. The Government generally cooperated with human rights organizations, and requested assistance from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in formulating policies to restore peace and justice.
Numerous domestic NGOs operated freely; most were engaged in developmental or religious activity. However, in 2001 a number of NGOs and individual citizens established an umbrella organization, the Civil Society Network, to provide oversight of government activity. It regularly criticized practices such as remission of taxes and custom duties for associates of high-ranking government officials. The Government did not interfere in its operations.
During 2000 Red Cross volunteers and relief workers reported being threatened, harassed, shot at, and prevented from carrying out relief work by both Guadalcanalese and Malaitan militants; such incidents continued during the year, but at a reduced level.
The Constitution provides for an ombudsman, with the power to subpoena and to investigate complaints of official abuse, mistreatment, or unfair treatment. The Ombudsman's Office did not report any incidents involving interference with these rights during the year. While the Ombudsman's Office has potentially far-ranging powers, it was limited by a shortage of resources. It organized occasional workshops and undertook a few tours during the year.
5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution provides that no person – regardless of race, place of origin, political opinion, color, creed, or disability – shall be treated in a discriminatory manner in respect of access to public places. The Constitution further prohibits any laws that would have discriminatory effects and provides that no person should be treated in a discriminatory manner by anyone acting in an official capacity. Despite constitutional and legal protections, women remained the victims of discrimination in this tradition-based society. Unemployment was high, and there were limited job opportunities for persons with disabilities.
While actual statistics were scarce, incidents of domestic violence appeared to be common. The law does not address domestic violence; however, there are provisions against common assault and rape. The Government took no action during the year to address domestic abuse. In the rare cases that were reported, charges were often dropped by the victims before the court appearance or the case settled out of court. The magistrates' courts dealt with physical abuse of women as with any other assault, although prosecutions were rare. In part due to the breakdown in law and order and the lack of a police force after June 2000, women and teenage girls in particular were vulnerable to abuse including rape, and many rapes have been reported since the ethnic conflict began in 1998. During the year, no charges were brought against militants in these cases; however, charges have been brought in other cases against persons regarded as criminals.
During the year, the country became a state party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
The law accords women equal legal rights. However, in this traditional society men are dominant, and women are limited to customary family roles. This situation has prevented women from taking more active roles in economic and political life. A shortage of jobs inhibited the entry of women into the work force. The majority of women are illiterate; this was attributed in large part to cultural barriers. The National Council of Women and other NGOs attempted to make women more aware of their legal rights through seminars, workshops, and other activities. The Government's Women Development Division also addressed women's issues.
Prostitution is illegal, but the statutes were not enforced. Although there is no law against sex tourism, none has been reported. Sexual harassment is not prohibited by law and was a problem.
Within the limits of its resources, the Government was committed to the welfare and protection of the rights of children. There was no compulsory education, and, according to some estimates, less than 60 percent of school-age children had access to primary education; the percentages of those attending secondary and tertiary institutions were much smaller. Few children proceeded beyond primary school, and a higher percentage of boys than girls attended school. School fees required of all students were very high relative to local incomes. Since 1999 the already poor state of education has worsened. Infrastructure has deteriorated and financial resources have almost disappeared; the Government has not paid teachers regularly. Some schools have ceased to function.
Children were respected and protected within the traditional extended family system, in accordance with a family's financial resources and access to services. As a result, virtually no children were homeless or abandoned. Although some cases of child abuse were reported, there was no societal pattern of abuse. The Constitution grants children the same general rights and protection as adults. Existing laws are designed to protect children from sexual abuse, child labor, and neglect.
All medical care for children was free; however, the lack of resources seriously reduced the quality and availability of medical care.
In 2000 Amnesty International reported that Guadalcanalese militants included a number of child soldiers. U.N. human rights officials confirmed the use of child soldiers by both Guadalcanalese and Malaitan militants. Several hundred children (generally boys) under the age of 18 were active combatants or assisted in militants' camps. With the decrease in fighting, dozens of these underage militants remained in quasi-criminal gangs affiliated with their former militant commanders.
Persons with Disabilities
There is no law or national policy on persons with disabilities, and no legislation mandates access for such individuals. Their protection and care are left to the traditional extended family and nongovernmental organizations. With high unemployment countrywide and few jobs available in the formal sector, most persons with disabilities, particularly those in rural areas, did not find work outside of the family structure.
The country had one educational facility for disabled children, which was almost entirely supported by the Red Cross.
Persons with mental disabilities were cared for within the family structure; there were no government facilities for such persons.
The country is composed of over 27 islands with approximately 70 language groups. In the precolonial era, these groups existed in a state of continual warfare with one another, and even today many islanders see themselves first as members of a clan, next as inhabitants of their natal island, and only third as citizens of their nation. Over the past century, and particularly since World War II, many persons from the poor, heavily populated island of Malaita settled on Guadalcanal, the island on which the capital of Honiara is located. The tensions and resentment between the Guadalcanalese and the Malaitans on Guadalcanal culminated in violence beginning in late 1998 (see Sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., 1.g., and 2.d.). In 1998 Guadalcanalese militants began a campaign of threats and intimidation against Malaitans on Guadalcanal. Scores of Malaitans have been killed or injured by Guadalcanalese militants. Since 1998 approximately 30,000 persons, mainly Malaitans, have fled their homes as a result of the conflict. Civilians were the victims of abuses by both sides; such abuses reportedly included abductions, torture, rape, forced resettlement, looting, and the burning of homes.
Beginning in January 2000, Malaitan militants began seizing weapons from the police; many police officers (the majority of whom are Malaitans) joined the Malaitan militants. On June 5, 2000, Malaitan militants took over the capital of Honiara (which is largely populated by Malaitans), forced the Prime Minister to resign, forced Parliament to choose another Prime Minister, and precipitated a brief period of ethnic warfare.
During the year, tension and violence between Malaitans and Guadalcanalese continued. During the year, violence, including murder, between rival Malaitan groups on Malaita and rival Guadalcanalese groups on Guadalcanal emerged as a serious problem.
6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution implicitly recognizes the right of workers to form or join unions, to choose their own representatives, to determine and pursue their own views and policies, and to engage in political activities. The courts have confirmed these rights. Only about 10 to 15 percent of the population participated in the formal sector of the economy. Approximately 60 to 70 percent of wage earners were organized (90 percent of employees in the public sector and about 50 percent of those in the private sector).
Unions are free to affiliate internationally, and the largest trade union, the Solomon Islands' National Union of Workers, is affiliated with the World Federation of Trade Unions, the South Pacific Oceanic Council of Trade Unions, and the Commonwealth Trade Union Congress.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law provides for the rights to organize and to bargain collectively, and unions exercised these rights frequently.
Wages and conditions of employment are determined by collective bargaining. If a dispute between labor and management cannot be settled between the two sides, it is referred to the Trade Disputes Panel (TDP) for arbitration. The three-member TDP, composed of a chairman appointed by the judiciary, a labor representative, and a business representative, is independent and neutral.
The law permits strikes. During the year, government employees conducted numerous strikes over the Government's failure to pay salaries on time and the payment of preferential "danger" allowances that excluded certain groups of government employees. Schools, medical facilities, and airports were among the institutions that suffered significant strikes. There were no significant private sector strikes. Private sector disputes were usually referred quickly to the TDP for arbitration, either before or during a strike. In practice, the small percentage of the work force in formal employment meant that employers had ample replacement workers if disputes were not resolved quickly. However, employees are protected from arbitrary dismissal or lockout while the TDP is deliberating. Since 1998 ethnic tensions and conflict on Guadalcanal, the most economically developed island in the country, seriously disrupted economic activity and resulted in the loss of many formal employment opportunities. In June 1999, Solomon Islands Plantation Ltd. closed its facilities following attacks on its workers. About 2,000 employees were evacuated. During the year, Guadalcanal militants prevented the return of the work force, 60 percent of which are Malaitan.
The law protects workers against antiunion activity, and there were no areas where union activity was officially discouraged.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor
The Constitution prohibits forced or bonded labor, including by children, and, normally, except as part of a court sentence or order, there were no reports that such practices occurred. However, there were reports of child soldiers with militant groups (see Section 5).
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The law forbids labor by children under the age of 12, except light agricultural or domestic work performed in the company of parents. Children under age 15 are barred from work in industry or on ships; those under age 18 may not work underground or in mines. The Labor Division of the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, and Industry is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. Given low wages and high unemployment, there was little incentive to employ child labor.
The Government has not ratified ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor. It does not have a comprehensive policy for the elimination of such abuses; there are no regulations defining the worst forms of child labor.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage rate is $0.31 per hour (1.50 Solomon Islands dollars) for all workers except those in the fishing and agricultural sectors, who receive $0.25 (1.25 Solomon Islands dollars). The legal minimum wage did not provide a decent standard of living for an urban family living entirely on the cash economy. However, most families were not dependent solely on wages for their livelihoods.
The law regulates premium pay, sick leave, the right to paid vacations, and other conditions of service. The standard workweek is 45 hours and is limited to 6 days per week. There are provisions for premium pay for overtime and holiday work and for maternity leave.
Both an active labor movement and an independent judiciary provided enforcement of labor laws in major state and private enterprises. The Commissioner of Labor, the Public Prosecutor, and the police were responsible for enforcing labor laws; however, they usually reacted to complaints rather than routinely monitoring adherence to the law. Their efforts were severely restricted by the conflict and ensuing political instability. The extent to which the law was enforced in smaller establishments and in the subsistence sector was unclear. Safety and health laws appeared to be adequate. The Safety at Work Act requires employers to provide a safe working environment and forbids retribution against an employee who seeks protection under labor regulations or removes himself from a hazardous job site.
f. Trafficking in Persons
The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons; however, there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country.