U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2006 - Solomon Islands
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Author||Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor|
|Publication Date||6 March 2007|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2006 - Solomon Islands , 6 March 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/45f056867.html [accessed 26 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This 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 6, 2007
The Solomon Islands is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a population of approximately 538,000. 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 April with Snyder Rini as prime minister. However, rioting broke out in the capital city of Honiara calling for his resignation, and soon after parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare as prime minister. 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. While law and order was largely restored, rioting occurred following the formation of a new government after the April elections. 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. 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 unlawful or arbitrary killings.
Since 2003 RAMSI investigated, arrested, and brought to trial a number of police officers and militants who allegedly committed murder and other criminal acts (see sections 1.c. and 1.d.). At year's end prosecutions continued. Arrests included senior political figures, one of whom was a former cabinet minister charged with, among other things, being an accomplice to murder. While he was released on bail earlier in the year, authorities arrested him on charges relating to the April rioting. He remained in custody awaiting trial on the earlier charges at year's end.
Edmund Sae, 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 at year's end.
In December 2004 an Australian Federal Police 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; the trial for two of the suspects began in October.
In October 2005 a Honiara court convicted three former members of the Guadalcanal Liberation Front for the 2003 murders of six members of the Melanesian Brotherhood, an Anglican religious order, and sentenced them to life imprisonment. In August the court tried a fourth suspect, a juvenile, separately, convicted him of murder, and sentenced him to life imprisonment. In March 2005 a court convicted former Guadalcanal Liberation Front leader Harold Ke'ke and two codefendants for the 2002 murder of cabinet minister Father Augustine Geve and sentenced them to life imprisonment. Ke'ke stood trial on 14 additional counts of murder during the year.
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.
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. Authorities lodged more than 600 charges against them. Many of those arrested were tried and convicted in 2005, while others were awaiting trial at year's end. Authorities made more arrests following the riots in April.
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 and 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 is supported by 250 RAMSI officers, who serve in line positions and in logistical and finance support. During the year an Australian police official served as commissioner on a contract funded by the Australian government. However, on December 22, authorities declared him an "undesirable immigrant" while he was out of the country and did not allow him to return. At year's end the police commissioner position remained vacant. There were 43 police stations open throughout the country.
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.
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 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 prisoners.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence in practice.
The judicial system consists of the High Court, the Court of Appeals, and magistrate's courts. RAMSI expanded the public solicitor's staff to 16, of whom 10 were foreign nationals. The number of public prosecutors increased to 12, including eight foreign nationals. During the year three magistrate's courtrooms were upgraded, and a children's court was introduced.
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.
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 for civil matters; local courts and magistrate's 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.
There were three independent newspapers, one daily and two weekly. One independent television station broadcast for four hours per day. One government-sponsored and two independent radio stations operated during the year. The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restrictions.
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chatrooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by electronic mail.
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.
The public school curriculum included a 30-minute daily class 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
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 2006 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The constitution 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 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. However, the government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Red Cross in assisting refugees and asylum seekers and did not return persons to a country where they feared persecution.
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 for persons 18 years of age and older.
Elections and Political Participation
The April national parliamentary elections were regarded as generally free and fair, although there was evidence of vote buying. Changes of government occurred on several occasions since independence, due to the resignation of the prime minister or parliamentary votes of no confidence. On April 18, rioting broke out in Honiara immediately following the election of Snyder Rini as prime minister. Rini resigned on April 26. Parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare as prime minister on May 4.
Male dominance in government limited the role of women. There were no women in the 50-member parliament. Four women served as permanent secretaries in the government.
There were two minority (non-Melanesian) members in parliament, neither of whom were in the cabinet.
Government Corruption and Transparency
Government corruption and impunity in both the executive and legislative branches continued to be problems. While there was progress made at lower levels of government as over 140 RAMSI officials worked directly with government counterparts, the auditor general released a report on corruption in October that was very critical of the government. In May Prime Minister Sogavare appointed Charles Dausabea and Nelson Ne'e to the cabinet. Both had been arrested in April and were awaiting trial at year's end for their roles in the April riots. On September 21, Prime Minister Sogavare appointed Julian Moti to be attorney general. The Australian government sought Moti on child sex charges, and the Solomon Islands police commissioner arrested Moti on October 10 for illegally entering the country. Moti was facing possible extradition to Australia at year's end.
During the year corruption-related charges were lodged against a number of current and former government officials. On October 18, authorities charged the immigration minister with multiple offenses related to Moti's illegal entry but later cleared him of all charges. At year's end trials were pending for a number of other officials charged with corruption.
In 2004 and 2005 a former East Honiara member of parliament and a former cabinet minister charged with official corruption involving the granting of certificates of naturalization to Chinese nationals were both acquitted due to lack of sufficient evidence. The government appealed the cases to the High Court; the appeal had not been heard at year's end.
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 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. 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 male-dominated 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, victims often dropped charges before the court appearance, or the case was settled out of court. The magistrate's 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 received specialized training on how to work with victims of 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. In May 2005 the police established 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. Approximately 300 cases of sexual assault were reported during the year. Nongovernmental organizations (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, 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, 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 National Council of Women 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.
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. Approximately 50 classrooms were added to existing primary schools, and 30 classrooms were added to existing high schools. 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. Most children at the primary school level, where fees were eliminated in 2005, attended school. 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, 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.
Both boys and girls may legally marry at age 15, and the law permits marriage at age 14 with parental and village consent. However, marriage at such young ages did not appear to be common.
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 returned to their villages and reentered civil society.
Trafficking in Persons
Although the law does not prohibit trafficking in persons, 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 is left to the 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. The Kilufi Hospital in Malaita operated 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 abuse by both sides. The presence of RAMSI greatly reduced ethnic tension between Malaitans and Guadalcanalese, although underlying problems between the two groups remained to be addressed, including issues related to jobs and land rights.
There was societal discrimination against ethnic Chinese. The April 18-19 riots were directed almost exclusively against Chinese business interests. The Chinatown section of Honiara was burned down during the rioting. No deaths were reported in the rioting, but several ethnic Chinese were injured. 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 about 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.
During most of the year the lengthy standoff continued between the National Union of Workers and the Russell Islands Plantation Estate, and the TDP had the dispute under review. In addition, in March approximately 160 Solomon Islands Ports Authority employees went on strike when negotiations with management over a backlog of claims ended in a deadlock. The strike ended after the dispute was referred to the TDP.
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, and there were no reports that such practices occurred, except as part of a court sentence or order.
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.