Freedom in the World 2013 - Solomon Islands
|Publication Date||10 April 2013|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2013 - Solomon Islands, 10 April 2013, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5171047918.html [accessed 23 September 2017]|
Status: Partly Free
Freedom Rating: 3.5
Civil Liberties: 3
Political Rights: 4
In August 2012, Vika Lusibaea, the wife of convicted lawmaker Jimmy Lusibaea, won a by-election to fill his seat in Parliament, becoming the second female parliamentarian in the country's history. In January, the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands announced a shift in its police activities to training and technical assistance. In October, Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo reshuffled his cabinet in an apparent bid to survive a no-confidence vote.
The Solomon Islands gained independence from Britain in 1978. Tensions between the two largest ethnic groups – the Gwale and the Malaitans – over jobs and land rights turned into open warfare in 1998. Scores were injured or killed before peace was gradually restored through the 2000 Townsville Peace Agreement, brokered by Australia and New Zealand. A UN mission initially maintained order, while the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) has kept the peace since 2003.
In 2007, Derek Sikua was elected prime minister and made political stability a priority in his government. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission, modeled after South Africa's, was launched in 2009 to investigate crimes and address impunity connected to the 1998-2003 violence. In 2010, the commission began its first hearings, during which witnesses told stories of threats, torture, and death. The commission's report was submitted to the prime minister, who by year's end had not yet released it to the public.
In the 2010 general elections, independents won 19 seats, the Solomon Islands Democratic Party captured 13 seats, the Reform Democratic Party (RDP) and the Ownership, Unity, and Responsibility Party each took 3 seats, and smaller parties captured the remainder. RDP leader Danny Philip, who was chosen as the new prime minister, resigned in November 2011 amid allegations of corruption. Parliament selected Philip's former finance minister, Gordon Darcy Lilo, to replace him. In October 2012, Lilo reshuffled his cabinet in what some said was a bid to secure support ahead of a no-confidence motion engineered by Sikua; the motion failed when Sikua did not appear for the vote.
In January 2012, RAMSI announced a scaling back of its police activity, shifting attention to police training and technical assistance. Despite being criticized by some local leaders who disapprove of its foreign influence, a recent poll indicated that 86 percent of the country's residents believe RAMSI should stay in the Solomon Islands. In February, John Michael Langsley, a British national who had worked with RAMSI, was named police commissioner; the position had been vacant since early 2011.
Also in February, foreign minister Peter Shanel Agovaka was fired for holding an unauthorized meeting with his Russian counterpart. Recent Russian offers of developmental assistance to the Solomon Islands have been met with skepticism from many critics, including prime minister Lilo, who believe that Russia has ulterior motives and that the Solomon Islands should instead strengthen ties with traditional partners like Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
The Solomon Islands are not an electoral democracy. Members of the 50-seat, unicameral National Parliament are elected for four-year terms. A parliamentary majority elects the prime minister. A governor-general, appointed on the advice of Parliament for a five-year term, represents the British monarch as head of state. The governor-general appoints the cabinet on the advice of the prime minister.
New parties often form before elections and are disbanded afterward as lawmakers switch allegiance after taking office. Political activity is driven more by personalities and clan identities than party affiliation.
Corruption is rampant, and public offices are seen as opportunities for personal enrichment. Many current and former lawmakers have faced a variety of corruption charges. In 2012, lawmakers decided to give themselves a 4 percent pay raise and to spend $578,000 to buy themselves new vehicles. In October, former prime minister Danny Philip was found guilty of misconduct and fined $540 for having sold government property to a political supporter while he was premier. In January 2012, the government ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.
Freedoms of expression and of the press are generally respected, but politicians and elites sometimes use legal and extralegal means to intimidate journalists. The print media include a privately owned daily, a weekly, and two monthly publications. The government operates the only radio station. There is no local television station, but foreign broadcasts can be received via satellite. Internet use is growing, but access is limited by lack of infrastructure and high costs.
Freedom of religion is generally respected, as is academic freedom.
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, and the government generally recognizes this right in practice. Organizers of demonstrations must obtain permits, which are typically granted. Civil society groups operate without interference. Workers are free to organize, and strikes are permitted. In 2012, lawyers, teachers, and health care workers threatened to strike or resign over pay and work conditions.
Threats against judges and prosecutors have weakened the independence and rigor of the judicial system. Judges and prosecutors have also been implicated in scandals relating to corruption and abuse of power. A lack of resources limits the government's ability to provide legal counsel and timely trials. Victims in rural areas have even less access to the formal justice system. The ombudsman's office has far-reaching powers to investigate complaints of official abuse and unfair treatment, but generally lacks funds to do so. Poor training, abuse of power, and factional and ethnic rivalries are common in the police force.
Discrimination limits the economic and political roles of women. In August 2012, Vika Lusibaea became the second woman elected to Parliament after she won a special by-election to fill a seat left empty by her husband Jimmy Lusibaea, who was sentenced to prison for assault, attempted murder and other crimes committed in 2000. Rape and other forms of abuse against women and girls are widespread. While rape is illegal, no law prohibits domestic violence and marital rape is not a crime. The World Bank ranked the Solomon Islands the worst country in the world for violence against women in 2012, and a United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women concluded that existing laws do not offer sufficient protection to women. The Solomon Islands is both a source and destination country for men and women trafficked for the purposes of forced prostitution and labor.
In 2011, the government rejected a call by the United Nations to decriminalize homosexuality, saying that it is against traditional values.