U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2003 - Solomon Islands
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||25 February 2004|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2003 - Solomon Islands , 25 February 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/403f57bcc.html [accessed 25 January 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 25, 2004
The Solomon Islands has a modified parliamentary system of government consisting of a single-chamber Legislative Assembly 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 as Prime Minister; elections were considered generally free and fair. Since 1998, conflict between two of the main ethnic groups in the country – the Malaitans and the Guadalcanalese – has forced thousands of Malaitans residing on Guadalcanal from their homes, and in June 2000, armed Malaitan militants took over Honiara, the capital. The Malaitan militants forced the then-Prime Minister to resign. Although a peace agreement formally ending the conflict was signed in October 2000, subsequent governments had limited success in their efforts to restore peace, due to political and institutional weaknesses and the public's perception that their leaders were beholden to one or the other of the conflicting parties. In late July, the Regional Assistance Mission for Solomon Islands (RAMSI), a multinational police-centered force organized by Australia, arrived in the country at the invitation of the Government and began to assist the Government in restoring law and order and rebuilding the country's institutions. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, prior to RAMSI's arrival, the judiciary was hampered by police ineffectiveness, lack of resources, and threats against judges and prosecutors.
A police force under a civilian police commissioner is responsible for law enforcement, internal security, and border security. Following the 2000 takeover of Honiara by Malaitan militants, the police force became factionalized and did not function effectively. The civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over all elements of the security forces before the arrival of RAMSI in July. Some members of the security forces, in particular the paramilitary police unit and untrained former militants who had been taken into the police force in 2001 as "special constables," committed numerous serious human rights abuses prior to RAMSI's arrival.
The economy is market based. Approximately 75 percent of the population of 480,000 engaged to some extent in subsistence farming and fishing and had little involvement in the cash economy. With the breakdown of law and order, the formal sector of the economy was on the brink of collapse at the time of RAMSI's intervention. The Government was insolvent, and most nonsubsistence economic activities had ceased, including plantation production of copra, cocoa, and palm oil, a fish cannery, a gold mine on Guadalcanal, and small resort and diving enterprises. Only the logging industry continued to operate, albeit at a reduced level. Electricity and telecommunications services faced severe difficulties, and there were frequent power blackouts in Honiara. Health and education services faltered as medical workers and teachers went on strike over the Government's failure to pay salaries. The international airport occasionally closed due to strikes over similar issues.
The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were serious problems in some areas. Basic individual rights are provided for in the Constitution, but the armed conflict between Malaitan and Guadalcanalese militants led to a serious deterioration in the human rights situation, with numerous abuses committed by the police and by militant groups on both sides since 1998. All weapons were supposed to be surrendered during an amnesty period that ended in May 2002; however, hundreds of weapons were not surrendered, and a stable peace was not secured. During the first half of the year, the security situation worsened. In the capital, former militants, many of whom had been made "special constables," were responsible for a crime wave directed at both citizens and the Government. A militant leader operated with impunity in the countryside, and he and his supporters' violent acts included killings, rape, abduction, and looting and destruction of rural communities. The Government did not encourage any judicial or independent investigation of human rights abuses that occurred during the conflict, which contributed to a climate of impunity. The judicial system functioned poorly during the first half of the year due to the ongoing violence and a lack of resources.
In response to the deteriorating situation and at the Government's invitation, Australia initiated and organized RAMSI. Consisting of approximately 250 police from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and other countries in the region, RAMSI was backed by a strong military component of approximately 4,000 troops initially, later reduced to approximately 2,000. However, the security situation stabilized so quickly that the military element was substantially withdrawn by year's end. At that point, the force largely had restored law and order in the capital and elsewhere in the country.
Violence and discrimination against women continued to be problems. At year's end, many victims of the ethnic conflict still remained displaced from their homes, although some had returned.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
In January, a masked gunman fatally shot retired Police Commissioner Sir Frederick Soaki in Auki, Malaita, where he was helping to prepare workshops organized by the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) concerning demobilization of the special constables. In March, police arrested a police sergeant for the murder; however, he later escaped from custody. At year's end, he was still at large and sought by the police, and the case remained under investigation.
During the first half of the year, rising violent crime rates and ethnic clashes between Malaitans and Guadalcanalese, encouraged by the absence of an effective police force, resulted in a substantial number of killings. Guadalcanal Liberation Front leader Harold Ke'ke and his followers on the Weathercoast were responsible for many killings, including seven members of an Anglican order, the Melanesian Brotherhood, who were killed after being abducted. In June, Ke'ke and his followers reportedly tortured and killed three men in Marasa and razed the village. In August, Ke'ke surrendered to RAMSI forces; he and a number of his followers were charged with murder and other crimes. Their cases were pending at year's end.
In May, an Australian Seventh Day Adventist missionary was attacked and beheaded near Atoifi Hospital in Malaita; police apprehended and arrested one of two suspects in the murder.
Following the arrival of the RAMSI force in July, the level of violence declined; by year's end, law and order largely had been restored throughout the country. At year's end, it remained unclear how many of those responsible for the many killings and other human rights abuses committed by both security forces and civilians during the half-decade of conflict and breakdown in law and order would be investigated or prosecuted; however, during the year, RAMSI 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, the trials were ongoing.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances due to the actions of government officials. Militant leader Harold Ke'ke and his followers abducted and killed seven members of an Anglican religious order (see Section 1.a.) during the year; several novices of the order who also were abducted by Ke'ke's group later were released. Since the violence began in 1998, more than 100 persons have been abducted and possibly killed by militants.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices; however, since 1998, there have been numerous reports of acts of torture and mistreatment attributed both to members of the police and to Malaitan and Guadalcanalese militants, although there were fewer reported instances during the year than in the previous 2 years. In 2000, the police office dealing with complaints about official police behavior, including excessive use of force, ceased to function as the national police force generally disintegrated.
In March, Amnesty International (AI) reported that special constables and their civilian supporters committed human rights abuses against civilians on Guadalcanal while assisting regular police officers in an operation begun in 2002 to capture militant leader Ke'ke. The abuses cited included beatings of villagers, rape, torture of the wives of suspected militants with heated wire, and razing of houses. The Government stated that the special constables involved acted without government authorization.
Ke'ke and his followers reportedly burned down Marasa village on the Weathercoast after killing three residents (see Section 1.a.); following Ke'ke's arrest in August, his followers reportedly burned down the villages of Chima and Poisuvu.
Following its arrival in July, RAMSI took action to apprehend and charge persons allegedly responsible for human rights abuses and other criminal acts. By year's end, more than 340 persons, including approximately 40 police officers and Ke'ke and other militants, were arrested. A total of more than 600 charges were lodged against them.
During the first part of the year, prison conditions were poor; after RAMSI made improvements later in the year, conditions generally met international standards. In February, following a visit to the Rove national prison complex in Honiara, the national Ombudsman strongly criticized the facility as "unfit" for human habitation, citing problems with inadequate diet, substandard bathing and toilet facilities, and overcrowding. In March, AI reported that nine prisoners were diagnosed with a serious vitamin deficiency, believed to be scurvy. Escapes were common. Following its arrival in July, RAMSI completed work on new prison accommodations at Rove that had been halted a decade earlier due to lack of funds. In addition, RAMSI added exercise yards, a visitor center, and a new security fence. The new facility can accommodate 300 prisoners, somewhat more than the number incarcerated at year's end.
In 2002, the national Ombudsman visited the small provincial jail at the regional capital of Gizo and announced that conditions there were in breach of human rights standards. Overcrowding and lack of resources to provide adequate meals for prisoners remained problems during the year; as many as 46 inmates were held in the jail, which was built to hold 14. However, RAMSI undertook some renovations during the year at both Gizo and the country's other provincial prison at Aiki.
Men and women were held separately. Although the national prison in Honiara had separate facilities for juveniles, prior to RAMSI's expansion of the facility, the national Ombudsman reported that some juveniles were housed together with adult prisoners. Pretrial detainees were not separated from convicted prisoners.
The Government permitted prison visits by human rights observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, and exile, and the Government generally observed these prohibitions.
A commissioner, who reports to the Minister of Police, heads the police force of approximately 1100 members. During the year, a British police official served as Commissioner on a contract funded by the British government.
Prior to RAMSI's arrival, the police were largely ineffectual and the law and order situation had deteriorated to the point that gunmen regularly extorted funds from the Finance Ministry and the Prime Minister worked from his home because his office was not safe. Police 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 early December, 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. RAMSI also re-established 16 police stations throughout the country.
Early in the year, the Government abolished the paramilitary Police Field Force (PFF), whose members allegedly committed numerous human rights abuses, and replaced it with a new special operations group, the STAR division; former PFF members who wished to transfer to the STAR division were required to undergo a new examination process. However, in December, citing continuing human rights concerns, the Government disbanded the STAR division.
In February, the Government began to demobilize the special constables, who also had been cited for numerous human rights abuses and other criminal acts. Under a UNDP assistance program, demobilized special constables were offered 6 months of business and vocational training and $450 (3,000 Solomon Islands dollars) in small business start-up costs to help reintegrate them into civilian society. By year's end, the special constables had been removed from the police rolls and over 800 had participated in the UNDP training program.
The law provides for a judicial determination of the legality of arrests. Officials found to have violated civil liberties are subject to fines and jail sentences. There was a functioning system of bail. However, in the first half of the year, the work of the judiciary was slowed considerably by the conflict. During the year, delays in adjudication of the large number of cases before the courts resulted in lengthy pretrial detention for some prisoners.
The Constitution prohibits forced exile, and the Government did not use it.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice; however, the courts were hampered by a lack of resources and by threats against the lives of judges and prosecutors.
The judicial system consists of a High Court, a Court of Appeals, and magistrates' courts. Accused persons are entitled to counsel. In 1999, the Public Solicitor, who is charged with providing counsel to persons who cannot afford a private attorney, reported that due to limited resources, his office could accept only those cases in which persons faced serious charges or those involving the protection of children; this situation has continued.
Judicial trial procedures normally operated in accordance with British law, with a presumption of innocence, right of appeal, access to attorneys, and right to confront witnesses.
In the first half of the year, the judicial system barely functioned. The Government did little to investigate or prosecute persons responsible for killings and other abuses, contributing to a pervasive climate of impunity. In the last half of the year, RAMSI made the rehabilitation of the courts and judicial system a priority and increased the capacity of the courts to adjudicate cases, although backlogs in the investigation and prosecution of cases remained at year's end.
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. However, with the breakdown of law and order in 2000, there was widespread looting and burning of homes in rural Guadalcanal, including by police (see Section 1.c.).
From 1999 to 2001, militants from all sides forced inhabitants from their homes. Many of those forced out were not affiliated with the militant movements, and some were not even members of the combating ethnic groups. The forced expulsions ended during 2001, following the departure of virtually all non-Guadalcanalese from the areas of Guadalcanal Province adjacent to Honiara; none have returned.
g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal and External Conflicts
Since ethnic conflict began in 1998, both police and militants have committed serious human rights abuses, including killings and abductions of civilians (see Sections 1.a, 1.b., and 1.c.). Militants have blocked the free and safe passage of relief supplies, food, and fuel, as well as access by humanitarian organizations to Guadalcanal. Red Cross volunteers and relief workers reported being threatened, harassed, and even fired upon by both Guadalcanalese and Malaitan militants, although the incidence of such attacks declined during the year. Red Cross and other volunteers were able to provide appropriate assistance in rural areas.
During the year, Guadalcanal militants allegedly burned down several villages (see Section 1.c.). Since the violent phase of the conflict on Guadalcanal began, some 30,000 Malaitans, Guadalcanalese, Western Province persons, and others living on Guadalcanal have been displaced from their homes (see Section 2.d.). The arrival of RAMSI has seen the return of the majority of internally displaced Guadalcanalese to their former villages; however, many Malaitans and other ethnic group members remained displaced (see Section 5). U.N. human rights officials confirmed the use of child soldiers by both Guadalcanalese and Malaitan militants during the ethnic conflict (see Sections 5 and 6.c.).
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. During the year, print and broadcast media continued to operate on a regular basis.
There was a privately owned daily and a privately owned weekly newspaper. The Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC), a statutory body directly under the Prime Minister's office, broadcast to most of the country; however, due to technical problems, SIBC reception on the outer islands was limited to early morning and evening hours. There also were two privately owned FM radio stations. Two television channels broadcast Australia's Asia-Pacific service and BBC International to Honiara and its environs.
Given the high rate of illiteracy, radio broadcasting was more influential than the print media. At least two nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) published periodic news journals; their environmental reporting was frequently critical of the Government's logging policy and foreign logging companies' practices.
In September, the mayor of Honiara allegedly went to the office of the Solomon Star newspaper and demanded that the paper stop coverage of matters relating to the City Council; the Council had criticized the paper's coverage of its affairs.
In 2002, Minister for Communications Daniel Fa'funua and several armed supporters allegedly coerced the Solomon Star newspaper into paying him $1,000 for publishing an article that he claimed had insulted him. In November, police arrested Fa'funua after an unrelated incident; among other offenses, he was charged with "demanding money with menaces" in the Solomon Star case. The case remained pending at year's end.
According to local news reports, in July, a New Zealand television crew covering the export of dolphins from the country reported that members of a local militia chased them and assaulted their local driver as they were filming captive dolphins on a Honiara beach.
Internet use was expanding, and privately operated Internet cafés were available in Honiara and Gizo; the Government did not limit or control Internet access.
The Government did not restrict academic freedom. Foreign assistance enabled the country's College of Higher Education to operate pending its restructuring.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. Demonstrators must obtain permits, which generally were granted.
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, which emerged in 2001, continued to raise issues of concern with the Government (see Section 4).
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 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 theoretically non-Christian religions can be taught in the schools, there was no such instruction in practice.
During the year, Guadalcanal militants abducted a number of members of an Anglican religious order, and killed seven of them. In May, an Australian Seventh Day Adventist missionary was killed in Malaita; police arrested one of two suspects in the case (see Section 1.a.). However, there was no evidence that these killings were related to the victims' religious affiliation.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2003 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Government placed no restrictions on the movement of citizens within or out of the country. However, the militants demanded that the people indigenous to each island be given authority to determine who might or might not enter their island. Native-born citizens may not be deprived of citizenship on any grounds.
During the year, non-Guadalcanalese, especially Malaitans, were effectively barred from entering Guadalcanal Province for fear of being attacked, while many non-Malaitans, especially Guadalcanalese, were afraid to enter Honiara.
Since the violent phase of the conflict on Guadalcanal began, an estimated 30,000 Malaitans, Guadalcanalese, Western Province persons, and others living on Guadalcanal have been displaced from their homes as a result of armed conflict and intimidation. In December, over 200 displaced Guadalcanalese returned to their villages on Guadalcanal's Weathercoast from Honiara; RAMSI deployed troops to the area to maintain security. The Government provided very limited help to internally displaced persons, who generally relied on their extended families and subsistence farming for survival. The national Red Cross Society, funded by the European Union, provided some assistance.
Although a party to the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, the Government has not enacted domestic legislation or procedures for making formal refugee determinations. The Government cooperated with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Red Cross in assisting refugees 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 Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage for persons 18 years of age and over. The Government is a modified parliamentary system consisting of a single-chamber Legislative Assembly of 50 members. Executive authority is vested in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. Since independence in 1978, there have been six parliamentary elections, the latest in December 2001, and several elections for provincial and local councils. The 2001 national parliamentary elections were regarded as generally free and fair, although there was evidence of vote buying and coercion with weapons 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.
Successive governments were unable effectively to address the ongoing violence that began in 1998 between the Malaitan and Guadalcanalese ethnic groups (see Section 5), despite the October 2000 peace agreement that formally ended the conflict and mandated the surrender of weapons. In August, RAMSI instituted a new weapons amnesty; as of year's end, approximately 3,700 firearms, believed to be a majority of those illegally in circulation, had been removed from circulation and destroyed. RAMSI also implemented reform of the police force (see Section 1.d.) and provided assistance to the Finance Ministry for budget stabilization and to the justice sector for improving the effectiveness of the legal system. The aid included both funding of improvements and provision of civilian expertise, with approximately 50 personnel placed in key government agencies.
Traditional male dominance has limited the role of women in government. There were no women in the Parliament. During the year, two women were appointed as permanent secretaries in the Government.
4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
There are no restrictions on the formation of local organizations to monitor and report on human rights. The Solomon Islands Development Trust has both development and human rights objectives. The ICRC periodically visited the country from its regional office in Suva, Fiji; after RAMSI's arrival, the ICRC re-established a permanent presence in Honiara. The Government generally cooperated with human rights organizations and requested assistance from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in formulating policies to restore peace and justice.
Numerous domestic NGOs operated freely; most were engaged in developmental or religious activity. In 2001, a number of NGOs and individual citizens established an umbrella organization, the Civil Society Network, to provide oversight of government activity. It regularly criticized practices such as remission of taxes and custom duties for associates of high-ranking government officials. The Government did not interfere in its operations.
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 Based on Race, Sex, Disability, Language, or Social Status
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.
Statistics were unavailable, but incidents of domestic violence appeared to be common. The law does not address domestic violence; however, there are provisions against common assault and rape. The Government took no action during the year to address domestic abuse. In the rare cases 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 effectively functioning police force after June 2000, women and teenage girls in particular were vulnerable to abuse, including rape, and many rapes have been reported since the ethnic conflict began in 1998. Following RAMSI's arrival, rape charges were brought against a number of persons and additional persons were under investigation at year's end.
The law accords women equal legal rights. 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 are 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 Development Division also addressed women's issues.
Prostitution is illegal, but the statutes were not enforced. Although there is no law against sex tourism, none has been reported. Sexual harassment is not prohibited by law and was a problem.
Within the limits of its resources, the Government was committed to the welfare and protection of children. There was no compulsory education, and, according to some estimates, less than 60 percent of school-age children had access to primary education; the percentages of those attending secondary and tertiary institutions were much smaller. Few children proceeded beyond primary school, and a higher percentage of boys than girls attended school. School fees required of all students were very high relative to local incomes. Since 1999, the already poor state of education has worsened. Infrastructure has deteriorated and financial resources have almost disappeared; the Government has not paid teachers regularly. Some schools have ceased to function, although RAMSI expressed a commitment to restore such basic government services.
The Constitution 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. As a result, virtually no children were homeless or abandoned. All medical care for children was free; however, the lack of resources seriously reduced the quality and availability of medical care.
In 2000, AI reported that Guadalcanalese militants included a number of child soldiers. U.N. human rights officials confirmed the use of child soldiers by both Guadalcanalese and Malaitan militants. Several hundred children (generally boys) under the age of 18 were active combatants or assisted in militants' camps. With the decrease in fighting, dozens of these underage militants remained in quasi-criminal gangs affiliated with their former militant commanders.
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 nongovernmental organizations. 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 country had one educational facility for disabled children, which was supported almost entirely by the Red Cross.
Persons with mental disabilities were cared for within the family structure; there were no government facilities for such persons.
The country is composed of over 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 (see Sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., 1.g., and 2.d.), when Guadalcanalese militants began a campaign of threats and intimidation against Malaitans on Guadalcanal. Scores of Malaitans have been killed or injured by Guadalcanalese militants. Since 1998, approximately 30,000 persons, mainly Malaitans, have fled their homes as a result of the conflict. Civilians were the victims of abuses by both sides; such abuses reportedly included abductions, torture, rape, forced resettlement, looting, and the burning of homes. Although a peace agreement was concluded in 2000, tension and violence between Malaitans and Guadalcanalese continued. Violence between rival militant groups also was a problem during the year.
The level of ethnic conflict declined after the arrival of the RAMSI force in July (See Sections 1.a. and 1.c.).
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. 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).
Unions are free to affiliate internationally, and the largest trade union, the Solomon Islands' National Union of Workers, is affiliated with the World Federation of Trade Unions, the South Pacific Oceanic Council of Trade Unions, and the Commonwealth Trade Union Congress.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law provides for the rights to organize and to bargain collectively, and unions exercised these rights frequently.
Wages and conditions of employment are determined by collective bargaining. If a dispute between labor and management cannot be settled between the two sides, it is 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. During the year, government employees conducted numerous strikes over the Government's failure to pay salaries on time and the payment of preferential "danger" allowances that excluded certain groups of government employees. Schools, medical facilities, and airports were among the institutions that suffered significant strikes. There were no significant private sector 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.
The law protects workers against anti-union activity, and there were no areas where union activity was officially discouraged.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor
The Constitution prohibits forced or bonded labor, including by children, and, normally, except as part of a court sentence or order, there were no reports that such practices occurred. However, there were reports of child soldiers with militant groups (see Section 5).
d. Status of Child Labor Practices 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 Labor Division of the Ministry of Commerce, Trade, and Industry is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. Given low wages and high unemployment, there was little incentive to employ child labor.
The Government has not ratified International Labor Organization Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labor. It does not have a comprehensive policy for the elimination of such abuses; there are no regulations defining the worst forms of child labor.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage rate is $0.30 per hour (1.50 Solomon Islands dollars) for all workers except those in the fishing and agricultural sectors, who receive $0.25 (1.25 Solomon Islands dollars). 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 premium pay for overtime and holiday work and for maternity leave.
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. Their efforts were severely restricted by the conflict and ensuing political instability. 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.
f. 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.