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2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Solomon Islands

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Publication Date 25 February 2009
Cite as United States Department of State, 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Solomon Islands, 25 February 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49a8f153c3.html [accessed 11 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 25, 2009

The Solomon Islands is a constitutional multiparty parliamentary democracy with a population of approximately 566,000. Parliamentary elections held in April 2006 were considered generally free and fair, although there were incidents of vote buying. In December 2007 the parliament elected Derek Sikua as prime minister. The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), a multinational police-centered force organized by Australia, arrived in the country in 2003 at the government's invitation to assist in restoring law and order and rebuilding the country's institutions following the 1998 to 2003 period of violent conflict between the Malaitan and Guadalcanalese ethnic groups. RAMSI continued its assistance during the year, and relations between RAMSI and the government remained stable. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, but there were problems in some areas. Human rights problems included lengthy pretrial detention, government corruption, and violence and discrimination against women and minorities.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no confirmed reports of such practices during the year. There were a few allegations by detainees that they were mistreated by police during questioning, but they often lacked substantiating evidence.

Since its arrival in 2003, RAMSI apprehended and charged persons allegedly responsible for human rights abuses and other criminal acts. More than 240 persons were arrested. Most of those arrested had been tried by year's end, although cases were still pending.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions generally met international standards, and the government permitted visits by independent human rights observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

d. Arbitrary Arrest and Detention

The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

A commissioner who reports to the minister of police heads the Royal Solomon Islands Police (RSIP) force of approximately 1,050 members. This force was supported by 250 RAMSI officers, who served in line positions and in logistical and finance support. During the year Police Commissioner Mohammed Jahir Khan, a Fijian, was alleged to have abused powers, and his contract was not renewed. Peter Marshall, a New Zealander, was appointed acting police commissioner.

While the police were more effective under RAMSI, the RSIP continued to be weak in investigation and reporting. The police service has an inspection unit to monitor police discipline and performance. Police corruption and impunity were not serious problems during the year. However, some observers criticized that the police were more loyal to their respective ethnic group, or wantok (extended family), than to the Solomons as a whole.

On October 20, following an investigation by the RSIP, a police officer from Honiara was arrested and charged with incest, indecent assault, and attempted rape. He was removed from his duties without pay and was released on bail. At year's end the officer was due to appear in court at a later unspecified date.

Arrest and Detention

The law provides for a judicial determination of the legality of arrests. Detainees generally were informed promptly of the charges against them and have the right to counsel. The Public Solicitor's Office provided legal assistance to indigent defendants. Detainees had prompt access to family members and to counsel. Officials found to have violated civil liberties were subject to fines and jail sentences. There was a functioning system of bail. However, delays in adjudication of the large number of cases before the courts resulted in lengthy pretrial detention for some detainees.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence in practice. On June 24, Justice Nkemdilim Amelia Izuako was appointed as the first female judge on the High Court.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.

Trial procedures normally operated in accordance with British common law, with a presumption of innocence, access to attorneys, and the right to access government-held evidence, confront witnesses, and appeal convictions. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts; there are no juries. Accused persons are entitled to counsel, and an attorney was provided at public expense for indigent defendants facing serious criminal charges.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters; local courts and magistrates' courts have civil jurisdiction. In addition the constitution provides that any person whose rights or freedoms have been contravened may apply directly to the High Court for redress.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.

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.

Individuals were allowed to criticize the government publicly and privately without reprisal. The government did not attempt to impede criticism. However, there were reports of intimidation and evidence of threats from criminal elements against individuals who criticized the government.

The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.

Internet Freedom

There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. In practice cost factors and lack of infrastructure limited public access to the Internet.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Assembly

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right in practice. Demonstrators must obtain permits, which the government generally granted.

Freedom of Association

The constitution provides for freedom of association, but at times the government restricted this right. The government has outlawed the principal militant groups. Other groups associated freely.

c. Freedom of Religion

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination, including anti-Semitic acts. The Jewish community was very small.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

The law prohibits forced exile, and the government did not use it. Native-born citizens may not be deprived of citizenship on any grounds.

Protection of Refugees

Although party to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year. In practice the government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened.

3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The constitution provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

The April 2006 national parliamentary elections were regarded as generally free and fair, although there was evidence of vote buying. In April 2006 rioting broke out in Honiara immediately following the election of Snyder Rini as prime minister. Rini resigned, and in May 2006 the parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare as prime minister. In December 2007 Sogavare's government lost a vote of no confidence, and parliament elected opposition candidate Derek Sikua as prime minister.

Political parties could operate without restriction, but they were institutionally weak, with frequent shifts in political coalitions and unstable parliamentary majorities.

Male dominance in government limited the role of women. There were no women in the 50-member parliament. Five women served as permanent secretaries in the Sikua government.

There were two minority (non-Melanesian) members in parliament.

Government Corruption and Transparency

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Government corruption and impunity in both the executive and legislative branches continued to be serious problems.

Public officials were subject to financial disclosure laws under the leadership code of conduct. The Office of the Leadership Code Commission (LCC) investigates matters of misconduct involving members of parliament (MP) or senior civil servants. If the LCC finds that there is conclusive evidence of misconduct, the LCC sends the matter to the Department of Public Prosecution, which can then proceed with legal charges. The Ombudsman Commission is responsible for investigating public complaints of government maladministration.

On August 13, MP Peter Shanel was found guilty of unlawful wounding and possession of an unlawful weapon in a restricted area. He was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment. An appeal in the High Court was pending at year's end.

During the year the Solomon Islands Code Commission began investigating 16 MPs from the National Alliance Party of Solomon Islands (NASPI) for accepting SBD$50,000 (approximately $6,500) in loans from Bobo Dettke, a prominent Honiara businessman and founder of NASPI. Some alleged that the money was provided by logging companies that wanted to influence key ministries, including the Ministries of Finance, Forests, and Environment and Conservation. Dettke was scheduled to appear before the LCC for a hearing in March 2009.

Due to a delay in the Court of Appeal judges' annual visit to the country, at year's end a government appeal remained pending before the High Court in the cases of a former East Honiara MP and a former cabinet minister charged in 2004 and 2005, respectively, with official corruption involving the granting of certificates of naturalization to Chinese nationals. A court acquitted both on the basis of insufficient evidence, and the government appealed the verdicts.

In November 2007 a magistrate's court found MP and former Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza guilty of intimidation, larceny, and demanding money with menace in connection with a 2002 attack by a group of men on a Honiara law firm that owned shares in the country's national bank. In December 2007 the court fined Kemakeza SBD$7,500 (approximately $1,050) and sentenced him to five months' imprisonment, reduced to two months. At year's end the appeal was still pending due to a delay in the annual visit of Court of Appeal judges to the first quarter of 2009.

No law provides for public access to government information. In practice the government generally was responsive to inquiries from the media during the year.

4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.

The Guadalcanal Peace and Reconciliation Committee was formed in 2007 to plan the reconciliation and peace process on Guadalcanal. The Committee met in October to discuss and produce a plan for interprovincial peace and reconciliation activities for 2009.

The constitution provides for an ombudsman, with the power to subpoena and to investigate complaints of official abuse, mistreatment, or unfair treatment. While the Ombudsman's Office has potentially far-ranging powers, it was limited by a shortage of resources. In July a new ombudsman was appointed when the Court of Appeal upheld the decision on the ombudsman designate's appointment.

5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The constitution provides that no person – regardless of race, place of origin, color, or disability – shall be treated in a discriminatory manner with respect to 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 the male-dominated society. Unemployment was high, and there were limited job opportunities for persons with disabilities.

Women

The law does not specifically address domestic violence; however, there are provisions against common assault and rape. Violence against women, including rape and domestic abuse, remained a serious problem. Among the reasons cited for the failure to report many incidents of abuse were pressure from male relatives, fear of reprisals, feelings of shame, and cultural taboos on discussion of such matters.

The maximum penalty for forced rape is life imprisonment. Spousal rape is not a crime. Following RAMSI's arrival, rape charges were brought against a number of persons. As part of a new police curriculum, officers received specialized training on how to work with rape victims. The police have a sexual assault unit, staffed mostly by female officers, to combat the problem.

Although statistics were unavailable, incidents of domestic violence appeared to be common. In the rare cases of domestic abuse that were reported, victims often dropped charges before the court appearance, or the case was settled out of court. The magistrates' courts dealt with physical abuse of women as with any other assault, although prosecutions were rare. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) conducted awareness campaigns on family violence during the year. There was one church-run facility for abused women and an NGO-supported family center that provided counseling, legal assistance, and other support services for women.

Prostitution is illegal, but the statutes were not enforced. There is no law specifically against sex tourism, although such offenses could be prosecuted under laws against prostitution.

Sexual harassment is not illegal and was a problem.

The law accords women equal legal rights, including the right to own property. However, women were limited to customary family roles, and this situation prevented women from taking more active roles in economic and political life. A shortage of jobs also inhibited the entry of women into the work force. An estimated 80 percent of women were illiterate; this was attributed in large part to cultural barriers. The Solomon Islands National Council of Women and other NGOs attempted to make women more aware of their legal rights, including voting rights, through seminars, workshops, and other activities. The government's Women's Development Division also addressed women's issues.

Children

While constrained by resources, the government was committed to the welfare and protection of children. During the year major foreign assistance continued to bolster the educational system, but education was not compulsory, and the high cost of school fees severely limited attendance at secondary and higher institutions.

The law grants children the same general rights and protections as adults, and there are laws designed to protect children from sexual abuse, child labor, and neglect. Child sexual and physical abuse remained significant problems, according to the coordinator of the Family Support Center in Honiara. However, children generally were respected and protected within the traditional extended family system, in accordance with a family's financial resources and access to services. Virtually no children were homeless or abandoned.

Both boys and girls may legally marry at age 15, and the law permits marriage at age 14 with parental and village consent, but marriage at such young ages did not appear to be common.

Trafficking in Persons

The law prohibits trafficking in persons for labor or sexual exploitation. There were no confirmed reports that persons were trafficked to, from, through, or within the country, but there were anecdotal reports that young women were trafficked internally, and from China and several Southeast Asian countries, for the purpose of sexual exploitation on foreign ships and in logging camps.

See also the State Department's 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report.

Persons with Disabilities

There is no law or national policy on persons with disabilities, and no legislation mandates access to buildings for such individuals. Their protection and care is left to the extended family and NGOs. A disability center in Honiara assisted persons with disabilities in finding employment; however, 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 Ministry of Home Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

The country had one educational facility for children with disabilities, which was supported almost entirely by the ICRC. An education unit at the College of Higher Education, staffed by Australian volunteers, trained teachers in the education of persons with disabilities. Such training was compulsory for all student teachers at the college. Persons with mental disabilities were cared for within the family structure; there were very limited government facilities for such persons. The Kilufi Hospital in Malaita operated a 10-bed ward for the treatment of psychiatric patients.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country comprises more than 27 islands with approximately 70 language groups. 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. Tensions and resentment between the Guadalcanalese and the Malaitans on Guadalcanal culminated in violence beginning in 1998. The presence of RAMSI greatly reduced ethnic tension between the two groups, and the Peace and Reconciliation Ministry organized reconciliation ceremonies. However, underlying problems between the two groups remained, including issues related to jobs and land rights.

Unlike in prior years, there were no known instances of societal discrimination against Chinese or Australians.

Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination

Same-sex relationships are illegal, and persons engaged in same-sex relationships were often the subject of societal discrimination.

While there were fewer than 200 confirmed HIV/AIDS cases, there were reports that HIV-positive individuals were often disowned by their families.

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, and workers exercised them in practice. Only an estimated 10 percent of the population participated in the formal sector of the economy. According to the chief of trade unions, approximately 55 percent of employees in the public sector and 25 percent of those in the private sector were organized.

The law permits strikes. Private-sector disputes usually were 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 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.

In May Solomon Islands Telikom workers were on a two-week strike. A deed of settlement was drafted and was pending formal recognition by stakeholders at year's end.

On October 21, after the Heritage Park Hotel construction workers' demands for better pay and improved working conditions had not been met, they went on strike for several weeks. With the assistance of a dispute panel, a deal was reached between the hotel management and the Solomon Islands National Union of Workers, which represented the workers in negotiations to settle the dispute, and the employees returned to work.

The standoff between the National Union of Workers and the Russell Islands Plantation Estate continued during the year, and estate workers were still on strike. At year's end the case was pending with the high courts.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides for the right to organize and to bargain collectively, and unions exercised these rights. Wages and conditions of employment were determined by collective bargaining, usually at the level of individual firms. Disputes between labor and management that cannot be settled between the two sides are 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 were no areas where union activity was officially discouraged.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, except as part of a court sentence or order; however, there were some unconfirmed reports of internal trafficking in young women for purposes of sexual exploitation.

d. Prohibition of Child Labor 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 commissioner of labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but few resources were devoted to investigating child labor cases. Given low wages and high unemployment, there was little incentive to employ child labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage rate was SBD$1.50 ($0.20) per hour for all workers except those in the fishing and agricultural sectors, who received SBD$1.25 ($0.17). 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 six days per week. There are provisions for maternity leave and for premium pay for overtime and holiday work.

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 are responsible for enforcing labor laws; however, they usually reacted to complaints rather than routinely monitoring adherence to the law. 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. Laws on working conditions and safety standards apply equally to foreign workers and citizens.

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