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2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Solomon Islands

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Publication Date 11 March 2008
Cite as United States Department of State, 2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Solomon Islands, 11 March 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47d92c81c.html [accessed 27 August 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.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 11, 2008

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. On December 13, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare's coalition government lost a parliamentary vote of no confidence, and on December 20, 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 a period of violent conflict between the Malaitan and Guadalcanalese ethnic groups from 1998 to 2003. RAMSI continued its assistance during the year. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces; however, relations between RAMSI and the Sogavare government were increasingly strained after the controversial July appointment of Julian Moti, wanted by Australia on child sex offense charges, as attorney general. In December the Sikua government dismissed Moti and deported him to Australia.

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.

During the year a former cabinet minister was released from custody due to lack of evidence related to his alleged participation in rioting in Honiara following the April 2006 elections. Earlier in 2006 he had been released on bail after being charged with, among other things, being an accomplice to murder; those charges also were dropped.

On May 10, the High Court acquitted two men charged with the 2004 murder of Adam Dunning, an Australian Federal Police officer attached to RAMSI who was shot and killed while on patrol in Honiara. In the same proceeding, two other defendants were acquitted of the 2004 attempted murder of two additional RAMSI police officers, from Tonga and Nauru, respectively. The judge cited lack of sufficient evidence in both cases.

On August 24, former Guadalcanal Liberation Front leader Harold Ke'ke was convicted of murder for ordering the killings of seven men in 2002 and sentenced to an additional life term, to be served concurrently with a 2005 life sentence imposed for the killing of Father Augustine Geve in 2002.

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 by the police 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, including approximately 40 police officers, Ke'ke, and other militants, were arrested. Most of those arrested had been tried by year's end, although some 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). The ICRC also facilitated visits by family members of some prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or 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. In February Fijian national Mohammed Jahir Khan was appointed as the new 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. In July a commission of inquiry reported its findings concerning the April 2006 post-election riot. The commission concluded that the police were not adequately prepared and that a police riot squad should have been on standby to deal with possible civil unrest.

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. During the year the authorities appointed more magistrates and High Court judges and completed two new High Court buildings. These developments assisted in reducing the number of backlogged cases.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence in practice. However, the July appointment of controversial Attorney General Julian Moti, who was wanted in Australia on child molestation charges, raised concerns on the part of NGOs, the bar association, and the public about the independence of the judiciary, until the new government removed him from office in December.

The judicial system consists of the High Court, the Court of Appeals, and magistrates' courts. RAMSI expanded the public solicitor's staff to 27, of whom 13 were foreign nationals. The number of public prosecutors increased to 13, including nine foreign nationals.

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, and a good governance oversight group, the Civil Society Network, continued to raise issues of concern with the government.

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 2007 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 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 refoulement, the return of persons to a country where there was reason to believe they feared persecution. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.

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 Parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare as prime minister. On December 13, Sogavare's government lost a vote of no confidence, and on December 20, Parliament elected former education minister and 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 Sogavare 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. In May 2006 Prime Minister Sogavare appointed Charles Dausabea and Nelson Ne'e to the cabinet, although they had been arrested for their roles in the April 2006 riot. Both were reportedly released on medical grounds, and on October 11, a court dismissed their criminal case due to insufficient evidence.

On July 10, Prime Minister Sogavare appointed Julian Moti as attorney general. The Australian government sought Moti, an Australian national, on child sex offense charges. The then Solomon Islands police commissioner arrested Moti in October 2006 for illegally entering the country; however, a court subsequently dismissed those charges. The political opposition and NGOs strongly criticized the appointment, and the opposition leader asserted that the government had manipulated the justice system to obtain dismissal of the immigration charges against Moti. The government denied the allegation. On September 5, the government announced its rejection of an Australian request for Moti's extradition, which it characterized as politically motivated. In December the new Sikua government removed Moti from his post and deported him to Australia.

In July Ezekiel Alebua, a former Guadalcanal premier and former prime minister, was convicted of embezzlement of provincial government funds and sentenced to 42 months in prison. On September 24, the High Court overturned the July conviction of former finance minister Francis Zama on corruption charges. Zama was appointed minister of justice and legal affairs. In November Sogavare announced the intention to switch ministerial positions between Zama and Treasury Minister Darcy Lilo. Lilo and several additional ministers and other Members of Parliament (MPs) resigned from the government in protest and called for Sogavare's resignation, leading to Parliament's December 13 ouster of Sogavare as prime minister.

At year's end a government appeal was still 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 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. Kemakeza was accused of ordering the attack to intimidate Australian partners of the firm into leaving the country. On December 6, the court fined Kemakeza $1,072 (SI$7,500) and sentenced him to five months' imprisonment, reduced to two months. At year's end Kemakeza was appealing the prison sentence.

Public officials were subject to financial disclosure laws under the leadership code of conduct. The Ombudsman Commission was responsible for combating government corruption.

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 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. Appointment of a new ombudsman was nullified due to complaints from the Governor General's Office, and a court appeal by the ombudsman designate was pending at year's end.

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. The unit was well received by the public; women felt more comfortable reporting abuses.

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. On August 24, the Solomon Islands National Council of Women (NCW) reportedly appealed to the government to introduce tougher laws against domestic violence. 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 specifically against sex tourism, although such offenses could be prosecuted under laws against prostitution. There were some press reports of sex tourism during the year.

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. The majority of women were illiterate; this was attributed in large part to cultural barriers. The NCW 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

Within the limits of its 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. A higher percentage of boys than girls attended school, particularly at the higher grade levels. According to a UN Children's Fund report (based on 2000-2005 data), net primary school enrollment rates were 80 percent for boys and 79 percent for girls. All medical care for children was free, and boys and girls had equal access to government-provided care; however, a lack of resources seriously limited its quality and availability.

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. 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. However, there was an increase in reported cases of incest.

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, 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.

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 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. 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.

There was societal discrimination against ethnic Chinese. The April 2006 riots were directed almost exclusively against Chinese business interests. Australians were also targets of discrimination and threats of violence.

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.

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 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.

In July teachers went on strike to protest the government's failure to implement certain pay and other benefits agreed upon in January. In August the strike was settled after the Treasury Department cleared all payments to the teachers. At year's end a standoff continued between the National Union of Workers and the Russell Islands Plantation Estate, and estate workers were still on strike.

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 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 is $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 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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