Political Rights Score: 4 *
Civil Liberties Score: 3 *
Status: Partly Free
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was launched in April 2009 to investigate and address human rights violations committed during ethnic violence that lasted from 1998 to 2003. Throughout the year, Prime Minister Derek Sikua continued efforts to improve governance and political stability, including the creation of an Anti-Corruption Taskforce in November.
The Solomon Islands gained independence from Britain in 1978. Tensions between the two largest ethnic groups – the Guadalcanalese and the Malaitans – over jobs and land rights erupted into open warfare in 1998. Scores were injured or killed before peace was restored with the 2000 Townsville Peace Agreement, brokered by Australia and New Zealand. Order was maintained initially by a UN mission and after 2003 by the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI).
No single party secured a majority in the April 2006 parliamentary elections, with independents winning 30 of the 50 seats. The new chamber chose Snyder Rini as prime minister, though bribery allegations against him sparked two days of riots in the capital, leading to Rini's resignation. In May, Parliament elected former prime minister Manasseh Sogavare to replace Rini. Sogavare was ousted in a no-confidence vote in December 2007 following a series of controversial decisions, including the appointment to attorney general of his close friend Julian Moti – who was wanted in Australia for alleged sex crimes against a minor. Lawmakers then chose Derek Sikua as prime minister, who immediately tried to rectify some of his predecessor's most egregious and controversial actions, including making a formal apology to the Malaitans and a pledge to address official corruption.
National efforts to promote political stability and national reconciliation continued in 2009. The government launched a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Aprilto investigate crimes and address impunity connected to the 1998-2003 ethnic war. The Commission, which is modeled after South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and has received international financial backing, will begin hearings in 2010.
There was considerable public dissatisfaction throughout the yearsurrounding allegations that legislators and their wives had received thousands of dollars per year in special entitlements. In October, the High Court ruled against the Parliament Entitlement Commission's decision to award $6,700 in annual allowances to the spouses of legislators.
In May, the government announced an indefinite freeze on hiring and the creation of new positions in public services due to a significant shortfall in the budget. The country's economic crisis, fueled by the global recession, has increased unemployment, and Sikua openly stated in October that idle youths are a threat to public safety.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
The Solomon Islands are not an electoral democracy. Recent elections, including the 2006 parliamentary elections, have been marred by allegations of fraud. A governor-general, appointed on the advice of Parliament for a five-year term, represents the British monarch as head of state. Members of the 50-seat, unicameral National Parliament are elected for four-year terms. A parliamentary majority elects the prime minister, and the cabinet is appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister.
There are several political parties, but most politicians run as independents and then align themselves with parties and interests. Political activity is driven more by personalities and clan identities than party affiliation.
Rampant corruption at all levels of government is a major source of public discontent and hinders economic development. In November 2009, several officials, including four former lawmakers, faced corruption charges for allegedly selling passports.Prime Minister Derek Sikua vowed to improve governance, appointing a new ombudsman in 2008 to investigate alleged government abuses.In February 2009, the government launched a new Anti-Corruption Taskforce to develop a national anticorruption policy and make recommendations on reforms. The country was ranked 111 out of 180 countries in Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedoms of expression and the press are generally respected, but legal and extralegal means are sometime used by politicians and elites to intimidate journalists. The print media include a 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. Although government harassment of the media has eased since Manasseh Sogavare's administration, Sikua sued a newspaper, Island Sun, for defamation in May for an article alleging that he and a cabinet minister had been drunk and acted inappropriately at their New York hotel while attending the 2008 United Nations General Assembly. Separately, the Leadership Code Commission, the government's top accountability watchdog agency, was criticized for intimidation and violating media freedom by requesting that two journalists reveal their sources in relation to articles alleging wrongdoing by members of Parliament. Internet penetration is low, mainly due to technical and cost barriers.
Freedom of religion is generally respected. Academic freedom is observed, but the lack of public funds severely undermines the quality of education.
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, and the government generally recognizes this right. 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.
Threats against judges and prosecutors have weakened the independence and rigor of the judicial system. Judges and prosecutors have also been implicated in corruption and abuse scandals. A lack of resources limits the government's ability to provide legal counsel and timely trials. Traditional chiefs have sought more funds for traditional courts in rural areas to ease the strain on the formal court system. The ombudsman's office has potentially far-reaching powers to investigate complaints of official abuse and unfair treatment, but generally lacks the funds to do so.
There is no military. Domestic security and law enforcement are provided by a civilian-controlled police force of about 1,000 people, but poor training, the widespread abuse of power, and factional and ethnic rivalries have undermined public trust in the service. Six police officers were suspended in May 2009 for helping several Chinese nationals in custody for visa violations to escape from prison. Prison conditions meet minimum international standards.
Growing anti-Chinese sentiment in reaction to their perceived economic dominance and influence over politicians was a central factor in the 2006 riot, which destroyed nearly 80 percent of Chinese-owned businesses in the capital. In April 2009, the government released a report which found no evidence of a conspiracy to instigate the riots.
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 law prohibits domestic violence.
*Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.
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