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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Solomon Islands

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Solomon Islands, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3e38.html [accessed 18 April 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, populated by approximately 386,000 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, 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. Improved export performance, particularly in the forestry sector, continued in 1994.

Most basic individual rights are provided for in the Constitution, respected by the 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 press. 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 political disappearance.

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

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

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 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.

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.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitutional provisions for freedom of speech and of the press are generally respected. The Government in the past had attempted to censor the news or ban broadcasts because of political sensitivities. In March the Government lifted a ban imposed by the Hilly government on transmission by the government-financed Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) of any news about the insurrection in nearby Bougainville (Papua New Guinea), and on April 25 the Prime Minister announced that all restrictions on broadcasting about the Bougainville crisis had been removed.

The press was instrumental in exposing a scandal that led to the resignation of the nation's Finance Minister in 1994.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right of association, and this right is freely exercised. Demonstrators must obtain a permit, but permits have never been denied on political grounds.

c. Freedom of Religion

The law provides for freedom of religion. Organized religions as well as indigenous beliefs are freely practiced.

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 North Solomons province, the site of conflict on Bougainville, 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, Solomon Islands has had four parliamentary elections, most recently in June 1993, and several elections for provincial and local councils. On four other occasions, changes of government resulted from either parliamentary votes of no confidence or the resignation of the Prime Minister. Prime Minister Francis Hilly Billy, facing a certain vote of no confidence, resigned in November. Former Prime Minister Solomon Mamaloni was then elected as Prime Minister. The Parliament convened twice in 1994, first in January, to complete the work of the November 1993 budget session, and in November. Suffrage is universal over the age of 18.

Traditional male dominance has limited the role of women in government. Only 1 of 47 Members of Parliament is a woman. She also served as 1 of 18 ministers in the Hilly Government.

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

Women

The law accords women equal legal rights. However, in this traditional society males 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.

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. However, in March a Malaita man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing his wife.

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. Protection and care of the disabled are left to the traditional extended family and nongovernmental organizations. Informally, the disabled in urban areas frequently find work in the public service sector. However, 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.

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. From 20 to 25 percent of the total population participate in the formal sector of the economy. Of that, approximately 60 to 70 percent are organized: 90 percent of the public sector and about 50 percent of the private sector.

The law allows strikes, but there were none of note in 1994. 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 workers actually involved in the wage economy means that employers have an ample supply of 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' Union of Workers, is affiliated with the formerly Soviet-controlled World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU). The Union of Workers remains loosely affiliated with the WFTU.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Trade Disputes Act of 1981 provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively, and unions engage in it frequently.

Wages and conditions of employment are determined by collective bargaining. If disputes between labor and management cannot be settled between the two sides, the disputes are 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 for children under the age of 12, except when performed in the company of parents in light agriculture or domestic work. Children under 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 approximately $0.23 has been in place since 1988. All independently negotiated wages are above this figure. The legal minimum wage is not adequate to sustain a family of four in the capital of Honiara. Because most of the population is dependent to some extent on the subsistence economy, and as there is high unemployment and underemployment, workers are available at current wage rates.

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 limited to 6 days weekly. There are provisions for premium pay for overtime and holiday, work as well as provisions 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 charges of labor law violation rather than take the initiative in monitoring adherence to these laws. The extent to which the law is enforced in smaller establishments and in the subsistence sector is unclear. Safety and health standards appear to be adequate. Malaria is endemic in the Solomon Islands and affects the health of many employees. Agricultural workers have a high risk of contracting malaria but are not provided with malaria suppressants.

Corrected 1/31/95

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