Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April 2014, 13:11 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Solomon Islands

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Solomon Islands, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4924.html [accessed 21 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, with its population of over 340,000 people, is an archipelago stretching over 840 miles in the South Pacific and the second largest (after Papua New Guinea) of the Melanesian countries. Its government is based on 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. This system, adopted on independence in 1978, accords with both Solomon Islands' experience and the Melanesian tradition of leadership based upon individual achievement and political consensus. Political legitimacy rests on direct election by secret ballot. There have been four general elections since independence, the most recent in June. The courts are independent and vigorously protect individual rights.

A police force of about 500 men is under civilian control. There are no armed forces.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the village economy. 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 Solomon Islands export performance, particularly in the forestry sector, continued in 1993. However, the resulting improvements in Solomon Islands' fiscal and balance of payments positions are likely to be temporary.

Most basic individual rights are provided for in the Constitution, respected by the authorities, and defended by the courts, but discrimination and violence against women and restrictions on the press remain serious problems. 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 Killings

Political and other extrajudicial killing did not occur.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of political disappearance.

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

Torture is prohibited by law and not practiced.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

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

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judicial system is a blend of British and traditional systems. There is a high court, plus magistrates' courts.

Accused persons are entitled to counsel. Provision is made for writs of habeas corpus under the law. It is illegal to coerce statements. 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

Although freedom of the press is provided for in the Constitution, the Government placed severe restrictions on the media's news coverage on several occasions in 1993. The former government banned all coverage by local media of the border tensions between Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea from May, when clashes were first reported, until the election of the new Government in June. The Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) initially defied this ban by relying on outside coverage provided by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and other sources, but this was later stopped by the Government. The new Government, elected in June, has pledged to abolish the media restrictions imposed by the previous government and has hired as press spokesperson a journalist who was fired from the SIBC for defying a censorship order of the former Prime Minister.

Freedom of speech and academic expression is recognized in the Constitution, supported by the courts, and honored by the Government.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

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

c. Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by law. Organized religions as well as indigenous beliefs are freely practiced.

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

There are no legal or administrative restrictions on movement of Solomon Islands' 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 Island, are 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 (the most recent in June 1993) and several elections for provincial and local councils. The Governor General declared Francis Billy Hilly Prime Minister following his election by one vote in Parliament in June. The result was contested by former Prime Minister Solomon Mamaloni, but the courts confirmed Hilly's election.

Besides the general elections, three additional changes of government occurred because of votes of no confidence in Parliament. Suffrage is universal over the age of 18.

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

Solomon Islands law accords women equal legal rights, however, in most traditional Solomon Islands societies males are dominant, and women are limited to customary family roles. This has hampered women from taking more active roles in economic and political life. Only 1 of the 47 members of Parliament is female, and none of the 15 government ministers is female. 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 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 are from the British tradition and are viewed by many Solomon Islanders as "foreign laws" not reflective of their own customs and traditions. The magistrate courts deal with physical abuse of women, on the basis of inherent common law powers, as they would any other assault, although prosecutions are rare.

There is no national policy on women. The government-supported National Council of Women is the principal women's organization involved in trying to improve the status of women in society. While the Council continues to hold workshops and to conduct programs to train women in skills needed to enhance their self-confidence, and to strengthen their participation in the political and economic life of Solomon Islands, its efforts on the legislative front seemed to have slackened. The Government provides support for these efforts through the Women's and Development Division of the Ministry of Health. Various nongovernmental organizations and church groups also actively train women and support their empowerment.

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. Nevertheless, due to limited access to health care, infant mortality rates for children under 5 years of age were estimated to be 42.9 per 1,000 live births in 1989, the latest year for which statistics are available. An estimated 25 percent of children under 5 are malnourished. Although education is a government priority, access is limited and school attendance is not compulsory. An estimated 25 percent of school-age children never begin primary studies. Total enrollment for primary-school-aged children was estimated to be 66 percent in 1990. 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. Within the limits of its resources, the Government is committed to the welfare and protection of the rights of children.

People with Disabilities

There is no law or any national policy on the disabled, and no legislation mandates access for the disabled. Protection and care of the disabled is left to the traditional extended family and nongovernmental organizations. Informally, the disabled in urban areas frequently find work through 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 Solomon Islands' 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. Approximately 20-25 percent of the total population participates in the formal sector of the economy. Of that, approximately 60-70 percent are organized: 90 percent of the public sector and approximately 50 percent of the private sector. There are two major private sector unions: the Solomon Islands National Union of Workers and the National Bank Officers Association. The major unions in the public sector are: the Public Employees Union, National Teachers Association, Nurses Association, Medical Association, and two unions at the College of Higher Education (one each for lecturers and nonacademic staff). Labor seldom resorts to strikes and prefers to negotiate. Disputes are usually quickly referred to the Trade Disputes Panel for arbitration, either before or during a strike. Employees are protected from arbitrary dismissal while the Panel 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 employer retaliatory actions. Once a case has been referred to the Trade Disputes Panel, the employer cannot undertake a lockout or summarily dismiss employees. The definition of "summarily dismiss" has yet to be resolved, however. In 1993 the only strikes of note were a successful work stoppage at an oil palm plantation in support of a pay raise and a contentious strike, followed by a lockout, at the National Provident Fund. The latter may provide the courts an opportunity to define further the rights of those dismissed during a strike. 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. It is also affiliated with the South Pacific Organization Congress of Trade Unions.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

The right to organize and bargain collectively is provided for by the Trade Disputes Act of 1981, 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 Trade Disputes Panel (TDP) for arbitration. The three-member TDP is made up of a chairman appointed by the judiciary, a labor representative, and a business representative. The panel is independent and neutral.

In a labor-management dispute, either party may refer the dispute to the panel for arbitration. While a dispute is before the panel for arbitration, labor is prohibited from striking, and management is prohibited from dismissing workers who are party to the dispute. During arbitration both public and private sector workers may be legally required to return to work. A decision by the TDP is legally binding but may be adjusted by the Government "in the interest of the economy," according to Section 8 of the Trade Disputes Act of 1981. The Government has never taken such action.

Workers are protected by law against antiunion activity, and there are no areas where union activity is officially discouraged. Charges of antiunion activity would be referred either to the High Court or to the TDP for resolution. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced labor is prohibited by the Constitution, except as part of a court sentence or order, and this prohibition is observed.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of children

Child labor is forbidden 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 cannot work underground or in mines. The labor division of the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, and Industry is charged with enforcing child labor laws. Given low wages and high unemployment, there is little incentive to employ child labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Although the minimum wage is supposed to be adjusted annually to reflect changes in the retail price index, the present rate of 23 cents per hour has been in place since 1988. 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 the current wage.

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 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. There appear to be no legal safety and health standards. Workers at construction sites are not required to wear protective clothing or helmets. 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.

Search Refworld

Countries