Freedom in the World 2014 - Solomon Islands
|Publication Date||22 August 2014|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2014 - Solomon Islands, 22 August 2014, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/53fc36609.html [accessed 17 December 2017]|
|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.|
Status: Partly Free
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst): 3.5
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst): 3
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst): 4
In summer 2013, the military component of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) – which has kept peace between the country's two dominant ethnic groups, the Gwale and Malaitans, since 2000 – withdrew. The police component – a 150-member force from Australia, New Zealand, and other Pacific Island countries – will remain through 2017 to train and support the local police.
POLITICAL RIGHTS AND CIVIL LIBERTIES
Political Rights: 22 / 40
A. Electoral Process: 6 / 12
Elections in the Solomon Islands have been plagued with problems from flawed voter rolls and allegations of bribery to fraudulent ballots, stealing of ballot boxes, and voter intimidation and violence.
Members of the 50-seat, unicameral National Parliament are elected for four-year terms. A parliamentary majority elects the prime minister. Gordon Darcy Lilo was elected prime minister in 2011 after his predecessor Danny Philip resigned amid allegations of corruption. 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. To prepare for general elections in 2014, the Electoral Office will establish a new voter registry using biometrics and 700 registration centers across the country. By year's end, biometric registration had begun.
B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 10 / 16
Though there are multiple political parties, alliances are driven more by personal ties and clan identities. The last general election was in 2010.
In October, the government withdrew the Political Party Integrity Bill, citing lack of support. The bill has been in existence since 2010. The goal is to curb the frequent changing of party affiliations by lawmakers, which has a destabilizing effect on government. Opponents questioned constitutionality of the bill, which calls for a commission to regulate political parties, including their registration, constitutions, and rules.
C. Functioning of Government: 6 / 12
Public offices are widely seen as opportunities for personal enrichment. Many lawmakers and officials have faced charges of official abuse and corruption and even former prime ministers have been convicted.
The Leadership Code Commission, which investigates allegations of misconduct against lawmakers, resumed its work in March 2013. The commission had been unable to perform its duties because Prime Minister Lilo – who is among the politicians being investigated – had not appointed replacements for two members whose terms ended in 2012. In June, the commission reported that 36 lawmakers, including 26 cabinet members, have yet to declare their personal finances.
In March 2013, the government pushed through the Constituency Development Fund bill. The government says the new law will increase transparency and accountability in the use of constituency development funds, monies that lawmakers can spend at their discretion on roads, services, assistance among others to improve livelihood for their constituent communities. Critics say the new law puts more money in lawmakers' hands – effectively creating a slush fund – without clear measures to monitor how funds are managed and spent, and that little time was given to public consultation.
Lawmakers have been criticized for giving themselves pay raises and other benefits despite the economic hardship suffered by the population. In April 2013, public controversy compelled the government to withdraw a bill that would provide former prime ministers and their surviving spouses with generous monthly pension payments (80% of current pay for sitting prime ministers) and other benefits including free housing and utilities, free health care, and a service staff.
Civil Liberties: 43 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 14 / 16
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. In April 2013, the country's first university, the Solomon Islands National University, opened in Honiara.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 9 / 12
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. The teachers' union went on strike three times in 2013 to demand pay increases and other benefits. In July, the High Court ordered the teachers to return to work but also required the government to provide them with back pay.
F. Rule of Law: 8 / 16
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. Prison escapes are not uncommon.
The country went several months without a police commissioner in 2013 after the government failed to renew commissioner John Michael Lansley's contract in May; a new commissioner was finally appointed in September.
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission, modeled after South Africa's, was launched in 2009 to investigate crimes and address impunity connected to ethnic violence between 1998 and 2003. The commission submitted a report to Prime Minister Lilo in February 2012, though he has yet to send it to parliament for approval and release to the public, claiming that more time is needed for review. There have been widespread calls for the report's release. In April 2013, commission member Terry Brown posted a copy of the report on the internet, a move Lilo claimed was illegal.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 12 / 16
The Chinese economic presence in the Solomon Islands continues to grow, fostering public resentment; many have urged the government to enforce laws that reserve certain jobs for native islanders.
Discrimination limits the economic and political roles of women. Rape and other forms of abuse against women and girls are widespread. While rape is illegal, no laws prohibit domestic violence and marital rape. A 2012 World Bank study ranked the country worst in the world for violence against women. The country is also a source and destination for men and women trafficked for forced prostitution and labor. The government rejected a call by the United Nations to decriminalize homosexuality in 2011, saying it is against traditional values.
Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year