Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.
Population: 463,000 (230,000 under 18)
Government armed forces: no armed forces
Compulsory recruitment age: not applicable
Voluntary recruitment age: not applicable
Voting age: 21
Optional Protocol: not signed
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, GC AP I and II
The minimum age for recruitment to a border force made up of police officers was 18. Children reportedly fought alongside village militias and other armed groups during civil conflict between 1998 and 2003.
Prolonged civil conflict from 1998 to 2003 led to a sharp economic decline, high unemployment, lack of basic services for the majority of the population and the forced displacement of nearly 30,000 people. A renewed campaign of intimidation of settlers and villagers by the Guadalcanal Liberation Front (GLF) displaced up to 2,500 people during 2003.1 Despite peace agreements since 2000, illegally held guns continued to lead to insecurity and instability. In 2002 ethnic violence escalated against a background of impunity for police officers and former members of rebel groups and of government corruption.2
In July 2003 the intervention of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission for the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), also known as Operation "Helpem Fren" (Helping a Friend), and the first regional intervention outside a UN mandate, ended five years of conflict and lawlessness.3 The original force consisted of 2,225 police, military and development advisers from Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Tonga.4
Following parliamentary elections in December 2001, the new parliament elected Allan Kemakeza as Prime Minister. Alex Bartlett, a former leader of the disbanded paramilitary Malaita Eagle Force (MEF), an ethnically-based armed group, was appointed Foreign Minister.5
National recruitment legislation and practice
There are no armed forces. The minimum age for recruitment to border reconnaissance forces, drawn from the domestic police force, is 18 years.6
During 2001 hundreds of former rebel combatants received training and were recruited as police Special Constables.7 They had not been properly demobilized. Many had refused to give up their guns and were accused of using them to commit human rights abuses.8 However, as Special Constables, they did not receive appropriate training and became a drain on limited governmental resources. Many remained beyond the control of the authorities, and failed to maintain order or protect the civilian population.9
In June 2002, ten mostly Malaita gunmen, including a police officer, were sent by the authorities on a secret operation to capture GLF leader Harold Keke. Nine of them were killed. By the end of the year 3,000 villagers displaced by the manhunt were living without proper shelter and suffering acute shortages of food and medical care. In October 2002 commanders of the disbanded MEF said that Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza had advised them not to give up their guns, a requirement under a UN-supported disarmament project.10
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern that "[the] recruitment of children under the age of 18 by militias occurred during the recent armed conflict in the State party and that other cases of alleged war crimes affecting children have not been duly investigated". It recommended that the government ensure an end to further recruitment by militias and bring to justice those responsible for war crimes.11
Armed political groups
In February 2001 the government and members of rebel groups signed the Marau Peace Agreement, which covered areas excluded from previous agreements. However, in the weeks preceding the December 2001 elections, civilians in Guadalcanal, Malaita and Western provinces continued to be threatened by former combatants who had refused to give up their weapons.12 Throughout 2002 villagers from the Weathercoast area of the island of Guadalcanal increasingly accused GLF members of carrying out gross human rights abuses, including killings of suspected dissidents and rapes.13 A few days before the arrival of RAMSI, Harold Keke declared a ceasefire and in August gave himself up. He was detained to await trial.14 In early 2004, court proceedings were still pending.
Amnesty International estimated that at least a hundred children between the ages of 12 and 17 had been active participants in the conflict.15 Another report suggested that there could have been several hundred youth combatants in political armed groups at the height of the conflict, about half of them recruited at the age of 15. Girls were said to have been forcibly recruited, many to provide sexual services, often after their families had been intimidated. Children from different areas told told human rights monitors in October 2003 how they became involved in the conflict. In one case, in 1998 three boys had joined the Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM), an armed opposition group from Guadalcanal, to defend their village from MEF raids. Until the arrival of RAMSI they had refused to give up their weapons, which included home-made guns and hunting rifles, for fear that hostilities would resume.16
The IFM recruited secondary school students and unemployed teenagers, usually against their will. They were often put on the front lines and suffered heavy casualties as a result. The opposing MEF reportedly sometimes refused to fire on them because they believed the young fighters were being used as "cannon fodder" by their own leaders.17
Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR)
A UN human rights office was established in 2001 to carry out training, advisory and awareness-raising activities. This included organizing debates on human rights issues, attended by former child soldiers, police officers, village elders, women's groups, and religious and youth leaders.18
The UN Development Programme began a DDR and Small Arms Collection support program aimed at demobilizing Special Constables in July 2002.19 Half of the 1,000 Special Constables registered in the program had indicated a willingness to demobilize.20 However, there appeared to be no special measures for identifying and demobilizing former child soldiers.
Nearly 4,000 guns were destroyed between August 2003 and March 2004 by RAMSI forces in weapon destruction ceremonies.21
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern that, in the initial report by the Solomon Islands to the Committee, "there are no reports of the measures taken to rehabilitate child soldiers". It recommended that the government "take immediate measures to rehabilitate child soldiers and other child victims of armed conflicts and provide them with access to educational opportunities and health care".22
3 Amnesty International Report 2004.
4 The Age (Melbourne), "War-torn country returns from the brink", 8 May 2004, http://www.theage. com.au; Australian Federal Police, "Operation Helpem Fren", 17 May 2004, http://www.afp.gov. au (International).
5 Pacific Islands Report, "Police assure security as Solomons votes", 5 December 2001, "Sir Allan Kemakeza elected new Solomon Islands Prime Minister", 17 December 2001, http://pidp.eastwestcenter.org/pireport; Amnesty International Report 2002.
7 Philip Alpers and Conor Twyford, Small arms in the Pacific, Occasional Paper No. 8, Small Arms Survey, March 2003, http://www.smallarmssurvey.org (Publications); UN Development Programme (UNDP), Support to DDR and small arms collection in the Solomon Islands, 24 February 2003.
8 Amnesty International Report 2002.
9 UNDP, Support to DDR, op. cit.
10 Amnesty International Report 2003.
11 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations: Solomon Islands, UN Doc. CRC/C/15/Add.208, 2 July 2003.
12 Amnesty International Report 2002.
13 Amnesty International Report 2003.
14 Amnesty International Report 2004.
15 Amnesty International, Solomon Islands: A forgotten conflict, 7 September 2000.
16 Confidential source, October 2003.
17 Communication from the Church of Melanesia, Solomon Islands, 10 June 2004.
18 Amnesty International Report 2003.
19 UNDP, Support to DDR, op. cit.
20 UNDP, Solomon Islands: Support to demobilization of Special Constables, Current Projects – SOI/02/001.
21 Amnesty International, "Updates: Solomon Islands", The Wire, March 2004.
22 UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding observations, op. cit.
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