U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2001 - Solomon Islands
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||4 March 2002|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2001 - Solomon Islands , 4 March 2002, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3c84d996f.html [accessed 27 April 2015]|
|Comments||The report entitled "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" is submitted to the Congress by the Department of State in compliance with sections 116(d) and 502(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), as amended, and section 504 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended. The law provides that the Secretary of State shall transmit to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, by February 25 "a full and complete report regarding the status of internationally recognized human rights, within the meaning of subsection (A) in countries that receive assistance under this part, and (B) in all other foreign countries which are members of the United Nations and which are not otherwise the subject of a human rights report under this Act." We have also included reports on several countries that do not fall into the categories established by these statutes and that thus are not covered by the congressional requirement.|
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 with Allan Kemakeza as Prime Minister; elections were considered free and fair. 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 actively began to combat the Guadalcanalese. The conflict continued to escalate, and in June 2000, armed Malaitan militants, reportedly assisted by paramilitary police officers acting without authorization, took over Honiara, the capital. Following their takeover of the capital, the Malaitan militants forced the then-Prime Minister, Bartholomew Ulufa'alu, to resign, and Parliament chose a new Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare, under duress. A new government, known as the Coalition for National Unity, Reconciliation, and Peace, was formed. The Government has sought to restore peace, but its success has been limited due to its weakness – both political and institutional – and the perception that its leaders are beholden to one of the conflicting parties. The judiciary is independent, but 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 June 2000 takeover of Honiara by Malaitan militants, the police force has become factionalized and has not functioned as an effective institution. One faction, the paramilitary Police Field Force (PFF), primarily has been directed by militant Malaitans rather than the Police Commissioner. As many as 2,000 untrained former militants have been taken into the police force as "special constables;" the special constables operate under a loose command structure. Members of the PFF and the special constable group have engaged in criminal activities, including extortion, robbery, vehicle theft, intimidation, and fraud; these abuses were not sanctioned by police leadership.
Approximately 75 percent of the population of 480,000 engage to some extent in subsistence farming and fishing and have little involvement in the cash economy. The approximate per capita GNP is $578 (2,890 Solomon Islands dollars). With the breakdown of law and order, the formal sector of the economy is on the brink of collapse. During the year, the Government became insolvent due to the collapse of export industries, the granting of duty remissions to associates of those in power, and misallocation of foreign assistance grants in fraudulent compensation payments to senior government officials and their supporters. 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, have ceased to operate; only the logging industry continued to operate, albeit at a reduced level. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 persons fled their homes since 1999. Electricity and telecommunications services face severe difficulties. Power black-outs in the capital, Honiara, were frequent in the last 3 months of the year due to ill-maintained generators and the Electricity Authority's inability to pay for fuel.
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, and until the eruption of armed conflict between Guadlacanalese and Malaitan militants in 2000, generally were respected by authorities, and were defended by an independent judiciary; however, the armed conflict between Malaitan and Guadalcanalese militants led to a serious deterioration in the human rights situation. Many current and former police officers, mostly believed to be from two national police units dominated by Malaitans, sided with armed Malaitan political groups; 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, contributing to a climate of impunity. In October 2000, representatives of the central Government, provincial governments, and the opposing armed militant groups signed a peace agreement, which, among other things, included a general amnesty for members of the police who committed criminal acts in the course of the armed conflict after June 5, 2000. In accordance with the agreement, a team of international observers has been in the country since November 2000 to verify that weapons were relinquished and to monitor implementation of the peace. The Red Cross and other volunteers are able to provide appropriate assistance to rural areas. All weapons were supposed to be surrendered, and shipping containers were placed at strategic locations throughout the country for depositing them. International Peace Monitoring Team members place the surrendered weapons in the containers and hold the keys. At year's end, while there had been no resumption of overt hostilities, hundreds of weapons had not been surrendered, and a stable peace had not been secured. 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 5, 2000, the police forces effectively have been disarmed and the police no longer function on the islands of Malaita and Guadalcanal; local militia leaders control security. In May a police patrol boat fired upon a village on South Guadalcanal and killed several persons. The Government has not investigated the incident.
In March there were machine gun raids carried out by the police, using the patrol boat Lata against Guadalcanal leader Harold Ke'ke; there were unconfirmed reports of deaths from these attacks.
There were reports of at least eight politically motivated killings on Guadalcanal during the year; however, these were not confirmed, and purportedly they were committed by political rivals or local militants, not by government officials.
According to the previous Government, 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, when the police were battling the Guadalcanalese militants, police officers were involved in extrajudicial killings and unwarranted use of lethal force against civilians. In September 1999, several paramilitary police officers in a speedboat shot and injured a man near shore; they followed him onto the shore, dragged him back into the water, and reportedly beat him to death with a paddle. The Government has taken no action to address this case.
There also have been reports that police in some areas of Guadalcanal have declined to stop or investigate abuses by Guadalcanalese militants, have cooperated with them, or have fled from attacks by Guadalcanalese militants, in order to protect their own security. Displaced persons stated that they fled their homes in 2000 because they feared police operations as much as the activities of the Guadalcanalese armed groups.
Although violence diminished somewhat during the year, the Sogavare Government did little to investigate or prosecute those responsible for previous killings and other abuses, contributing to an atmosphere of impunity. There is 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.
There is no reliable estimate of the total number of civilians killed, missing or presumed dead as a result of attacks attributed to Malaitan and Guadalcanalese militants, although at least 25 persons, including several civilians, were reported killed between early June and early July 2000. 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 reportedly was 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 reportedly was found later in a Malaitan suburb of Honiara. In late June 2000, two Malaitan men were captured by Guadalcanalese militants outside Honiara. 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.
In June there was an unsuccessful attempt to kill the Guadalcanal Provincial Premier, Ezekiel Alebua. The attack allegedly was committed by Alebua's political rivals. Neither Malaitan militants nor government officials were implicated in the attack. The Government has not investigated the attack.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances due to the actions of government officials. However, many Malaitan police officers, who joined 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 early 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, reportedly was abducted from his home near Honiara by Malaitan militants and taken to a Malaitan militant camp. Witnesses state that he was beaten to death by militants at the camp; 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; however, at year's end, they had not been made public. The committee did no significant work on missing persons during the year, and no action has been taken on its report.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
These practices are prohibited by law; however, there were numerous reports that police tortured and mistreated persons. In 2000 the police authorities 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 2000.
In 2000 Honiara residents reported that it was common knowledge that abducted Malaitans had been 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 are 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 has taken no action in any of these cases.
The only prison complex in use during the year was completed with the assistance of a foreign government. It provides separate facilities for short-, medium-, and long-term prisoners, as well as for juvenile offenders, and it generally meets international standards.
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 have not attempted to recapture the inmates, some of whom reportedly joined the militants. The Government permits prison visits by human rights monitors. An International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) team in Honiara monitored the prisons regularly during the year.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, and exile, and the Government observes these prohibitions in practice. However, the work of the judiciary has been dramatically slowed by the conflict. Slow adjudication of the large number of cases before the courts has resulted in long delays before cases go to trial. This has meant that some prisoners have endured long periods of pretrial detention.
Militants from both sides arbitrarily have detained persons since June 2000; it is not known how many persons were arbitrarily detained during the year.
Forced exile is not practiced.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respects 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 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 operate 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.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
The Government has done little to investigate or prosecute those responsible for killings and other abuses, contributing to an atmosphere of impunity. There is an apparent 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.).
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, and the Government generally respects 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, motivated by resentment, retaliation, and criminal opportunism, forced long-time inhabitants from their homes. Many of those forced out were not affiliated with the respective militant movements, and some were not even members of the combating ethnic groups. The forced expulsions ended during the year, following the departure of virtually all non-Guadalcanalese citizens 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, and continuing during the year, both Guadalcanalese and Malaitan militants have used excessive force and committed numerous abuses against civilians, at times aided by or permitted to function by the police. 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.
In May a police patrol boat fired upon a village on South Guadalcanal killing several persons.
In June 2000, Malaitan militants in a police patrol boat used a heavy machine gun to support an attack on Guadalcanalese positions, killing perhaps six Guadalcanalese militants. Following this action, the militants used the weapon to fire indiscriminately on civilian targets, far from the fighting. 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.).
In 1999 there were reports that police killed noncombatants while shooting indiscriminately at villages.
In 2000 Amnesty International reported that Guadalcanalese militants included a number of child soldiers (see Sections 5 and 6.d.). These reports have not been confirmed or repeated.
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 respects these rights in practice. During the year, print and broadcast media continued to operate on a regular basis.
The country's media consists 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 three privately owned weekly or semiweekly newspapers. Given the high rate of illiteracy, the SIBC is more influential than the print media. The Department of Information in the Prime Minister's office publishes a monthly newspaper, which is strongly progovernment. At least two nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) publish periodic news journals; their environmental reporting frequently is critical of the Government's logging policy and foreign logging companies' practices. A private company transmits one Australian television channel to the country. The system incorporates occasional government press conferences in its program.
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 opened during the year; the Government does not limit or control access to the Internet.
Academic freedom is respected.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for the freedom of assembly and the Government generally respects this right in practice. Demonstrators must obtain permits, which generally are granted.
The Constitution provides for the freedom of association, and, in the past, this right generally was respected. However, in February 2000, the Government formally outlawed the Malaitan militant groups; Guadalcanalese militant groups were outlawed in 1999. This ban was suspended in May 2000; 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, emerged during the year and criticized the Government (see Section 4).
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.
In general the Government does not subsidize religion. Several schools and health services in the country were built by and continue to be operated by religious organizations. There are schools sponsored by Roman Catholics, the Church of Melanesia, the United Church (Methodist), the South Sea Evangelical Church, and Seventh-Day Adventists. Upon independence the Government recognized that it had neither the funds nor the personnel to take over these institutions and agreed to subsidize partially their operations. The Government also pays the salaries of most teachers and health staff in the national education system.
The Department of Home and Cultural Affairs has a nominal policymaking role concerning religion. It characterizes this role, on the one hand, as keeping a balance between constitutionally protected rights of religious freedom, free speech, and expression; and, on the other hand, maintenance of public order. All religious institutions are required to register with the Government; however, there is no evidence that registration has been denied to any group.
The public school curriculum includes 30 minutes daily of religious instruction, the content of which is agreed upon by the Christian churches; students whose parents do not wish them to attend the class are excused. However, the Government does not subsidize church schools that do not align their curriculums with governmental criteria. There is 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 is no such instruction at present.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Government places no restrictions on the movement of citizens within or out of the country. However, the militants have demanded that the people indigenous to each island be given authority to determine who may or may not enter their island. Native-born citizens may not be deprived of citizenship on any grounds.
During the year, non-Guadalcanese, especially Malaitans, effectively were 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 Guadacanal 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 whom 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 reportedly are unable to offer protection to displaced Malaitans on the island since Malaitan militants raided a police armory in January 2000, seized hundreds of weapons, and set up headquarters on the island. Malaitan militants reportedly have forced displaced Malaitan families to "contribute" money or food to support the militants. Displaced persons on Guadalcanal also lack effective police protection, since most local police were evacuated as a result of Guadalcanalese militant raids in 1999.
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 cooperates 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 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 have returned home. According to the UNHCR, fewer than 50 persons from Bougainville remained in the country who meet the criteria for refugee status.
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, and several elections for provincial and local councils. National parliamentary elections held in December 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 on June 5, 2000, armed Malaitan militants assisted by paramilitary police officers acting without authorization, took over Honiara, 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. A new government, the Coalition for National Unity, Reconciliation, and Peace was formed after the new Prime Minister was selected. 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.
The percentage of women in government and politics does not correspond to their percentage of the population. 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 has an office in Honiara. The Government cooperated with human rights organizations to the best of its ability, and requested assistance from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in formulating policies to restore peace and justice.
Numerous domestic NGO's operate freely; most are engaged in developmental or religious activity. However, during the year, a variety of other NGO's and individual citizens established a separate NGO (Civil Society) 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, even 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.
There is a constitutionally provided ombudsman, with the power of subpoena, who can investigate complaints of official abuse, mistreatment, or unfair treatment. The Ombudsman's Office did not report any incidents involving interference with these rights. While the Ombudsman's Office potentially has far-ranging powers, it is limited by a shortage of resources; it took no noticeable action during the year.
5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 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 remain the victims of discrimination in this tradition-based society. Unemployment is high, and there are limited job opportunities for persons with disabilities.
While actual statistics are scarce, incidents of domestic violence appear 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 are reported, charges often are dropped by the victims before the court appearance or are settled out of court. The magistrates' courts deal with physical abuse of women as with any other assault, although prosecutions are 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 are 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.
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 inhibits the entry of women into the work force. The majority of women are illiterate; this is attributed in large part to cultural barriers. The National Council of Women and other NGO's have attempted to make women more aware of their legal rights through seminars, workshops, and other activities. The Government's Women Development Division also addresses women's issues.
Prostitution is illegal, but the statues are not enforced. Although there is no law against sex tourism, none has been reported. Sexual harassment is not prohibited by law and is a problem.
Within the limits of its resources, the Government is committed to the welfare and protection of the rights of children. There is no compulsory education, and, according to some estimates, less than 60 percent of school-age children have access to primary education; the percentages of those attending secondary and tertiary institutions are much smaller. Few children proceed beyond primary school, and a higher percentage of boys than girls attend school. School fees are very expensive in terms of local incomes; all students must pay. Since 1999 the already poor state of education worsened. Infrastructure has deteriorated and financial resources have almost disappeared; the Government has not paid teachers regularly.
Children are 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 are homeless or abandoned. Although some cases of child abuse are reported, there is 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 is free; however, the lack of resources has reduced seriously the quality and availability of medical care.
In 2000 Amnesty International reported that Guadalcanalese militants included a number of child soldiers; however, this report has not been confirmed or repeated.
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, do not find work outside of the family structure.
Persons with mental disabilities are cared for within the family structure; there are 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 endemic 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 have 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 have been 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 (who are largely 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 Malaitan and Guadalcanalese continued at reduced levels.
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 participate in the formal sector of the economy. Approximately 60 to 70 percent of wage earners are organized (90 percent of employees in the public sector and about 50 percent of those in the private sector).
The law permits strikes; however, there were no significant strikes or labor actions during the year. Disputes usually are referred quickly to the Trade Disputes Panel (TDP) for arbitration, either before or during a strike. In practice the small percentage of the work force in formal employment means that employers have ample replacement workers if disputes are 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 have disrupted economic activity and have resulted in the loss of many formal employment opportunities. Mainstays of the cash economy such as the Solomon Taiyo fish cannery and the country's only gold mine closed as a result of the conflict and remained closed during the year. 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 whom are Malaitan.
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 exercise 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 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 protects workers against antiunion activity, and there are no areas where union activity is officially discouraged.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution prohibits forced labor, including forced and bonded labor by children, and, except as part of a court sentence or order, there were no reports that such practices occurred.
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 is 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.
The Government prohibits forced and bonded labor by children, and such practices are not known to occur (see Section 6.c.).
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 does not provide a decent standard of living for an urban family living entirely on the cash economy. However, most families are 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 provide widespread enforcement of labor laws in major state and private enterprises. The Commissioner of Labor, the Public Prosecutor, and the police are responsible for enforcing labor laws; however, they usually react to complaints rather than routinely monitor adherence to the law. Their efforts have been restricted severely by the conflict and ensuing political instability. The extent to which the law is enforced in smaller establishments and in the subsistence sector is unclear. Safety and health laws appear 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.