U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2005 - Solomon Islands
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||8 March 2006|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2005 - Solomon Islands , 8 March 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4418219325.html [accessed 30 May 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 8, 2006
The Solomon Islands is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a population of approximately 480 thousand. Citizens elect a single-chamber parliament of 50 members. Executive authority is vested in the prime minister, who is elected by a majority vote of Parliament, and his cabinet. A new parliament was elected in 2001 with Sir Allan Kemakeza of the People's Alliance party as prime minister; the elections were considered generally free and fair. Between 1998 and 2003, conflict between two of the main ethnic groups in the country – the Malaitans and the Guadalcanalese – led to a serious deterioration in the human rights situation. In 2003 the Regional Assistance Mission for Solomon Islands (RAMSI), a multinational police-centered force organized by Australia, arrived in the country at the government's invitation to assist in restoring law and order and rebuilding the country's institutions. By the end of 2004 law and order largely had been restored. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. The following human rights problems were reported:
- lengthy pretrial detention
- government corruption
- violence and discrimination against women
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 unlawful or arbitrary killings.
Since 2003 RAMSI has investigated and arrested a number of police officers and militants who allegedly had committed murder and other criminal acts, and brought them to trial (see sections 1.c. and 1.d.). At year's end prosecutions were ongoing. Arrests have included senior political figures, one of whom was a former cabinet minister charged, among other things, with being an accomplice to murder. He remained in custody awaiting trial at year's end.
At year's end a former police sergeant arrested for murder in the 2003 killing of retired police commissioner Sir Frederick Soaki, and who subsequently escaped from custody, remained at large.
In July a former police officer was convicted of murder in the 2000 death of an arson suspect detained in Rove Prison. The detainee was shot in the prison and died en route to a hospital. A former militia commander was convicted of inflicting grievous bodily harm on another suspect in the same arson case (see section 1.c.). A second former police officer was acquitted in the case.
In December 2004 an Australian Federal Police (AFP) officer attached to RAMSI was shot and killed while on patrol in Honiara. Police arrested four suspects and charged them with murder in the case; at year's end they were detained awaiting trial.
In October a Honiara court convicted three former members of the Guadalcanal Liberation Front of the 2003 murders of six members of the Melanesian Brotherhood, an Anglican religious order, and sentenced them to life imprisonment. A fourth suspect, a juvenile, was scheduled to be tried separately in 2006. In March former Guadalcanal Liberation Front leader Harold Ke'ke and two codefendants were convicted of the 2002 murder of cabinet minister Father Augustine Geve and sentenced to life imprisonment. At year's end Ke'ke faced charges on 14 additional counts of murder, scheduled for trial in 2006.
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 by the police during the year. There were a few allegations by detainees that they were mistreated by police during questioning. In October a court acquitted two RAMSI officers of wrongdoing against a local citizen. The citizen alleged that the officers mistreated him during a police search for the killer of an AFP officer (see section 1.a.).
During the year one person was sentenced to prison for burning down at least 30 houses at Marassa on the Weathercoast of Guadalcanal and committing other acts of violence against Guadalcanal residents in August 2004. Thirteen others charged in the case were in jail awaiting trial at year's end. An additional eight suspects were freed on bail and were in hiding at year's end.
Since its arrival in 2003, RAMSI apprehended and charged persons allegedly responsible for human rights abuses and other criminal acts. More than 240 persons, including approximately 40 police officers and Ke'ke and other militants, were arrested. More than 600 charges were lodged against them. Some of those arrested were tried and convicted during the year, while others were awaiting trial at year's end.
In July a former leader of the militant group Malaita Eagle Force was convicted of inflicting grievous bodily harm in the beating of a suspect in a 2000 arson case.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions generally met international standards.
In 2002 the national ombudsman found conditions at the provincial jail in Gizo to be in violation of human rights standards. In 2003 RAMSI began renovations at the provincial jails in Gizo and Auki; rehabilitation of those jails continued at year's end. Overcrowding at those facilities was alleviated by transferring persons jailed for serious offenses to the newly renovated Rove Prison in Honiara, where more space was available.
On October 14, approximately 200 inmates at Rove Prison staged a protest, reportedly demanding that the authorities provide them with television sets and more privacy for spousal visits. Violence broke out when the inmates refused to return to their cells and some attacked prison officials and police; police used pepper spray to subdue the inmates and no serious injuries were reported. In August 2004 between 100 and 200 inmates broke out of their cells at Rove Prison, occupied part of the compound, and reportedly threw stones at police. During the year the government and RAMSI completed an inquiry into the incident, but the resulting report's findings and recommendations were not made public.
Rove Prison had separate facilities for juveniles. Provincial jails did not have separate facilities for juveniles, but juveniles in long-term custody were sent to Rove Prison.
The government permitted prison visits by human rights observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The ICRC also facilitated visits to Rove Prison by family members of some prisoners.
d. Arbitrary Arrest and Detention
The law 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 police force of approximately 1,100 members. During the year an Australian police official served as commissioner on a contract funded by the Australian government.
Prior to RAMSI's arrival, the police were largely ineffectual. Corruption was a problem, and there was a lack of accountability for police officers involved in abuses. The situation improved after RAMSI's arrival. By late 2003 nearly 40 police officers, including some of senior rank, had been arrested on more than 90 charges, including murder, assault, intimidation, robbery, and inappropriate use of firearms. During the year some of the arrested officers, including two former deputy commissioners, were tried and convicted of criminal offenses and received prison terms. By year's end RAMSI had re-established 20 police stations throughout the country. The police service has an inspection unit to monitor police discipline and performance.
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. Detainees 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 are 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 prisoners.
There were no reports of political detainees.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected this provision in practice.
The judicial system consists of the High Court, the Court of Appeals, and magistrates' courts. RAMSI expanded the public solicitor's staff to 16, of whom 10 were foreign nationals. The number of public prosecutors increased to 10, including 7 foreign nationals. During the year four additional courtrooms were completed for the High Court and two additional High Court judges were hired.
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.
Backlogs in the investigation and prosecution of cases remained a problem at year's end (see section 1.d.), but all persons in custody prior to September had initial trial dates assigned.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law 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 law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice and did not restrict academic freedom or the Internet.
Given the high rate of illiteracy, radio broadcasting was more influential than the print media.
In April eight secondary school students in Central Province were suspended for alleged violation of school regulations after the students complained about a lack of adequate resources at their school. A member of Parliament (MP) from the province criticized the suspension, and the students later were reinstated.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The law 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 law 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, and a good governance oversight group, the Civil Society Network, continued to raise issues of concern with the government.
c. Freedom of Religion
The law provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.
The public school curriculum included 30 minutes daily of religious instruction, the content of which was agreed upon by the Christian churches; students whose parents did not wish them to attend the class were excused. However, the government did not subsidize church schools that did not align their curriculums with governmental criteria. Although non-Christian religions theoretically can be taught in the schools, there was no such instruction in practice.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
The Jewish community was very small, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2005 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The law provides for these rights, and the government generally respected them in practice.
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 a 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 cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Red Cross in assisting refugees and asylum seekers, and has not returned persons to a country where they feared persecution.
3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The law 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 for persons 18 years of age and older.
Elections and Political Participation
The 2001 national parliamentary elections were regarded as generally free and fair, although there was evidence of vote buying and of coercion by armed persons in a number of constituencies. On several occasions since independence, changes of government resulted from either parliamentary votes of no confidence or the resignation of the prime minister.
Traditional male dominance limited the role of women in government. There were no women in the 50-member Parliament. Three women served as permanent secretaries in the government.
There were three members of minorities (non-Melanesians) in Parliament, two of whom were in the cabinet. In addition, one of the prime minister's advisors was a member of a minority group. During the year an indigenous chief in Gela criticized other local leaders for supporting the candidacy of an ethnic Chinese for Parliament in the 2006 national elections rather than an indigenous candidate. However, in response, another chief in Gela supported the right of ethnic minorities to run for Parliament.
Government Corruption and Transparency
Government corruption and impunity in both the executive and legislative branches were serious problems, compounded by the breakdown in law and order that resulted from the ethnic conflict. During the year RAMSI continued to work with the government and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to reform the public service, including financial support and administrative reorganization of existing "watchdog" agencies such as the auditor general and the ombudsman's office. Despite this progress the government declined to implement a RAMSI proposal to establish an independent leadership integrity commission. During the year a number of provincial officials and community leaders attended workshops on good governance.
During the year corruption-related charges were lodged against a number of current and former government officials. In February the prime minister replaced two cabinet ministers charged with corruption-related offenses, including the minister of police. In October the minister of health was charged with theft of development aid funds and was released on bail pending trial. During the year a former East Honiara MP and a former cabinet minister charged, respectively, in October 2004 and in January with official corruption involving the granting of certificates of naturalization to Chinese nationals were acquitted due to lack of sufficient evidence. The government appealed the cases to the High Court; a hearing was scheduled for early 2006.
According to an audit performed by the auditor general and reported to Parliament in November, nearly $800 thousand (SI$6 million) of a loan from the Taiwan export-import bank for compensation payments to persons whose property was damaged during the period of ethnic tensions was unaccounted for, and many of the claims submitted were either excessive or entirely false. The auditor general stated that the then finance minister was informed of the audit results in 2004 but took no action on them; the former finance minister asserted that action on the matter would have been divisive.
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 generally cooperative and responsive to their views.
The law 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. It organized occasional workshops and undertook a few tours during the year.
5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
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 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 this tradition-based society. Unemployment was high, and there were limited job opportunities for persons with disabilities.
Although statistics were unavailable, incidents of domestic violence appeared to be common. The law does not address domestic violence; however, there are provisions against common assault and rape. In the rare cases of domestic abuse that were reported, charges often were dropped by the victims 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. In part due to the breakdown in law and order and the lack of an effective, functioning police force after June 2000, women and teenage girls in particular were vulnerable to abuse, including rape. Following RAMSI's arrival rape charges were brought against a number of persons. As part of a new police curriculum, officers were given specialized training on how to work with victims of rape.
According to a 2004 study by Amnesty International, violence against women, including rape and domestic abuse, remained a serious problem, with nearly 200 rapes reported to police in the first 6 months of 2004. 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. To combat the problem, in May the police established a sexual assault unit, staffed mostly by female officers, and NGOs conducted awareness campaigns on family violence during the year. There were two church-run facilities 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 against sex tourism specifically, although such offenses could be prosecuted under laws against prostitution. There were some press reports of sex tourism during the year, but no specific cases were reported to the police.
Sexual harassment is not prohibited by law and was a problem.
The law accords women equal legal rights, including the right to own property. 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 also inhibited the entry of women into the work force. The majority of women were illiterate; this was attributed in large part to cultural barriers. The National Council of Women and other NGOs attempted to make women more aware of their legal rights through seminars, workshops, and other activities. The government's Women's Development Division also addressed women's issues.
Within the limits of its resources, the government was committed to the welfare and protection of children. During the year major foreign assistance helped to bolster the educational system, which had languished over the previous several years. With foreign assistance, all of the country's schools were operating at year's end, and an additional 200 classrooms were being built. However, education was not compulsory, and high school fees severely limited attendance at secondary and tertiary institutions. A higher percentage of boys than girls attended school. During the year primary school fees were eliminated, and reports indicated that most children at the primary school level were attending school, a significant improvement compared with past years, when less than 60 percent were enrolled. All medical care for children was free; however, the lack of resources seriously reduced the quality and availability of medical care.
The law grants children the same general rights and protections as adults. Existing laws are designed to protect children from sexual abuse, child labor, and neglect. Children generally were respected and protected within the traditional extended family system, in accordance with a family's financial resources and access to services, although some cases of child abuse were reported. 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. Marriage at such young ages did not appear to be common; however, a church worker reported cohabitation and sometimes marriage between young girls and foreign loggers on Makira island. Reportedly the loggers often abandoned the girls when they moved on to another village.
Several hundred children (generally boys) under the age of 18 were active combatants during the ethnic conflict or assisted in militants' camps. Many of these underage militants joined criminal gangs immediately following the conflict, but most have returned to their villages and reentered civil society. However, some unemployed youth in urban areas were involved in petty crime.
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.
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 are left to the traditional extended family and NGOs. 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 Red Cross. 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. In late 2004 the Kilufi Hospital in Malaita opened a 10-bed ward for the treatment of psychiatric patients.
The country is composed of more than 27 islands with approximately 70 language groups. In the precolonial era these groups existed in a state of continual 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 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 1998, when Guadalcanalese militants began a campaign of threats and intimidation against Malaitans on Guadalcanal. Civilians were the victims of abuses by both sides. Ethnic tension between Malaitans and Guadalcanalese was greatly reduced with the presence of RAMSI in the country, although underlying problems between the two groups remained to be addressed, including issues related to jobs and land rights.
There was occasional societal discrimination against ethnic Chinese.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Same-sex relationships are illegal, and persons engaged in same-sex relationships are often the subject of societal discrimination.
6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law 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 about 10 to 15 percent of the population participated in the formal sector of the economy. Approximately 60 to 70 percent of wage earners were organized (approximately 90 percent of employees in the public sector and 50 percent of those in the private sector).
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 are 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 Trade Disputes Panel (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 permits strikes. Private sector disputes usually were referred quickly to the 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.
During most of the year the longstanding standoff continued between the National Union of Workers and the Russell Islands Plantation Estate, Limited (RIPEL), and the TDP had the dispute under review. In December the workers' strike ended after an agreement was reached with RIPEL's owners. Approximately 12 persons were charged with willful destruction of company property and were awaiting trial at year's end.
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 law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and normally, except as part of a court sentence or order, there were no reports that such practices occurred.
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 is US $0.20 (SI$1.50) per hour for all workers except those in the fishing and agricultural sectors, who receive $0.17 (SI$1.25). 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 6 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.