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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Solomon Islands

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Solomon Islands, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3b20.html [accessed 31 October 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.
SOLOMON ISLANDS

 

Solomon Islands, with its approximately 395,000 people, is an archipelago stretching over 840 miles in the South Pacific. Its government is a modified parliamentary system consisting of a single-chamber legislative assembly of 47 members. Executive authority lies with the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. The Prime Minister, elected by a majority vote of Parliament, selects his own Cabinet. Political legitimacy rests on direct election by secret ballot. There have been four general elections since independence in 1978, most recently in June 1993.

A police force of about 500 men under civilian control is responsible for law enforcement. There were no reports of police abuse of human rights.

About 85 percent of the population engages to some extent in subsistence farming, obtaining food by gardening and fishing, and has little involvement in the cash economy. Approximately 10 to 15 percent of the working population (15 years and older) are engaged in nonsubsistence production. Although exports, particularly of unprocessed logs, have boomed, the number of wage earners has remained unchanged for the past several years, despite high population growth.

Most basic individual rights are provided for in the Constitution, respected by authorities, and defended by an independent judiciary. Discrimination and violence against women remain serious problems, and the Government on occasion has imposed restrictions on the media. There is a constitutionally provided Ombudsman to look into and provide protection against improper or unlawful administrative treatment.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

These practices are prohibited by law and not known to occur.

Prison conditions meet minimum international standards. As there are no human rights organizations in Solomon Islands, the question of whether the Government would permit visits by human rights monitors has never arisen.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

There was no evidence of politically motivated arrests or detentions. Exile is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary and it is independent in practice.

The judicial system consists of a High Court and magistrates' courts. Accused persons are entitled to counsel. The law provides for a judicial determination of the legality of arrests. Violations of civil liberties are punishable by fines and jail sentences.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

In addition to legal provisions, the traditional culture provides strong protection against these types of abuses. A constitutionally provided Ombudsman, with the power of subpoena, can investigate complaints of official abuse, mistreatment, or unfair treatment. While the office has potentially far-ranging powers, it focuses mainly on intervening on behalf of individuals when official administrative errors are brought to the office's attention.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Government generally respects the constitutional provisions for freedom of speech and of the press. The media comprise the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC), a statutory body which comes directly under the Prime Minister's office and whose radio broadcasts are heard throughout the country, and privately owned newspapers based in the capital, Honiara. Given the high rate of illiteracy, the SIBC is more influential than the newspapers, the most popular of which is published semiweekly. The Department of Information in the Prime Minister's office publishes a monthly newspaper which is strongly progovernment. At least one nongovernmental organization (NGO) publishes a monthly magazine which frequently deals with environmental issues and is highly critical of the Government's logging policy.

The state-owned SIBC is relatively bias free. On one occasion, however, the Government forbade provincial authorities to air their concerns about a policy of the central Government that directly affected them.

While freedom of speech is generally respected, the Prime Minister in May warned NGOs critical of his government's logging policy on a small island in the Russell Islands group that henceforth their activities would be closely monitored, especially those involving foreigners. He accused the NGO's of politicizing the issue and stated that some of their personnel wanted to destabilize the country. He said that foreigners as well as naturalized citizens had been identified and were being advised not to interfere in internal government matters.

b. Freeedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right of association, and this right is freely exercised. Demonstrators must obtain permits, but permits are not known to have been denied on political grounds.

c. Freedom of Religion

The law provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this provision in practice.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Government places neither legal nor administrative restrictions on the movement of citizens within or out of the country. Native-born citizens may not be deprived of citizenship on any grounds.

Although they have not been formally granted asylum, a limited number of displaced persons from Papua New Guinea's Bougainville Island, who fled the conflict there several years before, have been allowed to remain in the country indefinitely.

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

Citizens have the right to change their government through periodic free elections. Since independence in 1978, Solomon Islands has had four parliamentary elections, most recently in June 1993, and several elections for provincial and local councils. On four occasions, changes of government resulted from either parliamentary votes of no confidence or the resignation of the Prime Minister. Suffrage is universal over the age of 18.

Traditional male dominance has limited the role of women in government. Only one of the 47 members of Parliament is a woman.

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

While there are no restrictions on the formation of local organizations to monitor and report on human rights, none has been established to date. There were no known requests for investigation by outside human rights organizations.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution provides that no personÚÚregardless of race, place of origin, political opinions, color, creed, or subject to disabilitiesÚÚshall be treated in a discriminatory manner in respect of access to shops, hotels, public restaurants, places of entertainment, or to public places. The Constitution further prohibits any laws which 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. Due to high rates of unemployment, there are a limited number of jobs available to the disabled.

Women

While actual statistical data are scarce, incidents of wife beating and wife abuse appear to be common. In the rare cases that are reported, charges are often dropped by the women before the court appearance or are settled out of court. Police are reluctant to interfere in what they perceive as domestic disputes. In addition, many of the laws benefiting women derive from the British tradition and are viewed by many Solomon Islanders as "foreign laws" not reflective of their own customs and traditions. The magistrates' courts deal with physical abuse of women as they would any other assault, although prosecutions are rare.

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 employment opportunities throughout the country has inhibited the entry of women into the work force.

Children

Within the limits of its resources, the Government is committed to the welfare and protection of the rights of children. Children are respected and protected within the traditional extended-family system, in accordance with the 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 pattern of societal 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.

People with Disabilities

There is no law or national policy on the disabled, and no legislation mandates access for the disabled. 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 disabled persons, particularly those in rural areas, do not find work outside the family structure. A group representing the disabled, the Crippled Society of Solomon Islands, recently revived after years of inactivity, and held a fund-raising drive with the goal of setting up a home for the disabled in the capital, Honiara.

Section 6 Worker Rights.

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution implicitly recognizes the right of workers in the public and private sectors 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 employees and about 50 percent of those in the private sector).

The law allows strikes, but there were none of note in 1995. The unions seldom resort to strikes, preferring instead to negotiate. Disputes are usually referred quickly to the Trade Disputes Panel (TDP) for arbitration, either before or during a strike. Employees are protected from arbitrary dismissal while the TDP is deliberating. 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. There is some legal protection for workers against retaliatory actions by employers. Once a case has been referred to the TDP, the employer cannot undertake a lockout or summarily dismiss employees.

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 Trade Disputes Act of 1981 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, comprising 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, except as part of a court sentence or order, and this prohibition is observed.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law forbids child labor by children under the age of 12, except light agriculture 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.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The present minimum hourly wage rate of about $0.22 (0.74 Solomon Islands dollars) has been in place since 1988. The legal minimum wage would not support an urban family living entirely on the cash economy. Most families are not dependent solely on wages for their livelihoods.

The Labor Act of 1969, as amended, and the Employment Act of 1981, as well as other laws, regulate 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 ensure 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. 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. Malaria is endemic in Solomon Islands and affects the health of many employees. Agricultural workers have a high risk of contracting malaria.

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