U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Solomon Islands

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997   Solomon Islands, with its approximately 400,000 people, is an archipelago stretching over 840 miles in the South Pacific. Its government is a modified parliamentary system consisting of a single-chamber legislative assembly of 47 members. Executive authority lies with the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. The Prime Minister, elected by a majority vote of Parliament, selects his own Cabinet. Political legitimacy rests on direct election by secret ballot. There have been four general elections since independence in 1978, most recently in June 1993. A police force of about 500 men under civilian control is responsible for law enforcement. There were occasional reports of police abuse of human rights. About 85 percent of the population engages to some extent in subsistence farming, obtaining food by gardening and fishing, and has little involvement in the cash economy. Approximately 10 to 15 percent of the working population (15 years and older) are engaged in nonsubsistence production. Although exports, particularly of unprocessed logs, have boomed, the number of wage earners has remained unchanged for the past several years, despite high population growth. Most basic individual rights are provided for in the Constitution, respected by authorities, and defended by an independent judiciary. Discrimination and violence against women remain problems, and the Government on occasion has imposed restrictions on the media. There is a constitutionally provided ombudsman to look into and provide protection against improper or unlawful administrative treatment.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

These practices are prohibited by law. There were a few complaints of excessive use of force by police in making arrests. These are handled either by the police's internal investigations office or by the courts. In one instance, the Honiara magistrate's court in August fined a police constable for striking a drunk with his baton when arresting him. Prison conditions meet minimum international standards. Prisons are overcrowded, and new facilities are under construction at the central prison in Rove. The new prison complex, due to open in 1997, is designed to provide separate facilities for short-, medium-, and long-term prisoners, as well as for juvenile offenders. Since there are no human rights organizations in Solomon Islands, the question of whether the Government would permit visits by human rights monitors has never arisen. A government-appointed Committee of Mercy, comprised of church and social leaders, recommends pardons for rehabilitated prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

There was no evidence of politically motivated arrests or detentions. Exile is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary and it is independent in practice. The judicial system consists of a High Court and magistrates' courts. Accused persons are entitled to counsel. 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 were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

In addition to legal provisions, the traditional culture provides strong protection against these types of abuses. A constitutionally provided ombudsman, with the power of subpoena, can investigate complaints of official abuse, mistreatment, or unfair treatment. While the Ombudsman's office has potentially far-ranging powers, it is limited by a shortage of investigators and other resources.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Government generally respects the constitutional provisions for freedom of speech and of the press. The media comprise the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC), a statutory body that comes directly under the Prime Minister's office and whose radio broadcasts are heard throughout the country; a privately owned FM radio station; and three privately owned weekly or semiweekly newspapers. Given the high rate of illiteracy, the SIBC is more influential than the print media. The Department of Information in the Prime Minister's office publishes a monthly newspaper which is strongly progovernment. At least two nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) publish periodic news journals; their environmental reporting frequently is critical of the Government's logging policy and foreign logging companies' practices. In addition to the three established newspapers, a newspaper in Solomon Islands Pidgin, the language understood by most of the population, began semiweekly publication in late 1996. A private company has been given a license to begin limited television operations in 1997. The state-owned SIBC is relatively bias free. In April the Prime Minister banned SIBC from broadcasting any statements by the Honiara-based spokesman of the Papua New Guinea secessionist movement, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA). This action followed demands from the Papua New Guinea Government that the Solomon Islands not allow BRA rebels to operate in its territory. In May, following a news report that the Government believed unfounded and prejudicial to the national security, the SIBC governing board directed that all news and current affairs programs have executive management clearance before being broadcast. Several SIBC newswriters and producers subsequently staged a short sit-in in protest against management statements that adversely reflected on their professionalism. The Solomon Islands Media Association also reacted strongly, saying that the prescreening of news broadcasts was unnecessary. The Government is acutely sensitive to international media coverage of the politically sensitive logging issue. Although journalists do not require visas, the Government must clear any filming, and Australian broadcast media representatives were initially denied permission to enter the country on the grounds that the logging subject already had been thoroughly covered. Two journalists later entered as tourists and used small video cameras. Their report, which was broadcast in Australia in August, highlighted an apparent conflict of interest in that the Prime Minister's logging company had received 100 percent tax exemptions on its exports. The Government reacted angrily to the apparent violation of immigration law.

b. reeedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for the right of association, and this right is freely exercised. Demonstrators must obtain permits, but permits are not known to have been denied on political grounds.

c. Freedom of Religion

The law provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this provision in practice.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Government places neither legal nor administrative restrictions on the movement of citizens within or out of the country. Native-born citizens may not be deprived of citizenship on any grounds. Following several instances of attempted illegal immigration, the Government banned individuals from all Caribbean and African countries, and from the Pacific Island nations of Kiribati and Nauru, from visiting without prior approval of the Director of Immigration. The Government provides first asylum to approximately 1,000 to 2,000 people from Papua New Guinea's Bougainville Island, who fled the conflict there several years earlier. Although they have not been granted formal refugee status, they have been allowed to remain. Most reside in Honiara with friends, while several hundred live in Red Cross-administered care centers elsewhere. The Government cooperated with the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees in locating asylum in the Netherlands for the Honiara-resident spokesman for the Bougainville rebels in May when his safety could no longer be assured.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government.

Citizens have the right to change their government through periodic free elections. Since independence in 1978, there have been four parliamentary elections, most recently in June 1993, and several elections for provincial and local councils. On four occasions changes of government resulted from either parliamentary votes of no confidence or the resignation of the Prime Minister. Suffrage is universal over 18 years of age. While the country's democratic commitment appears to remain strong, it was brought into question when the Deputy Prime Minister publicly stated in July that party politics destabilizes the country and causes disunity among the people. He favored instead a one-party system that would rule the country "intelligently." Traditional male dominance has limited the role of women in government. Only 1 of the 47 members of Parliament is a woman.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

While there are no restrictions on the formation of local organizations to monitor and report on human rights, none has been established to date. There were no known requests for investigation by outside human rights organizations.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution provides that no person – regardless of race, place of origin, political opinions, color, creed, or disabilities – shall be treated in a discriminatory manner in respect of access to public places. The Constitution further prohibits any laws which 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 remain the victims of discrimination in this tradition-based society. Due to high rates of unemployment, there are a limited number of jobs available to the disabled.


While actual statistical data are scarce, incidents of wife beating and wife abuse appear to be common. In the rare cases that are reported, charges are often dropped by the women before the court appearance or are settled out of court. Police are reluctant to interfere in what they perceive as domestic disputes. In addition, many of the laws benefiting women derive from the British tradition and are viewed by many Solomon Islanders as "foreign laws" not reflective of their own customs and traditions. The magistrates' courts deal with physical abuse of women as with any other assault, although prosecutions are rare. 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 employment opportunities throughout the country has inhibited the entry of women into the work force. The majority of women are illiterate; this is attributed in large part to cultural barriers. According to a 1995 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report on human development, Solomon Islands ranked very low on the gender empowerment measure that examines women's ability to participate in economic and political life. The National Council of Women and other NGO's attempt to make women more aware of their legal rights through seminars, workshops and other activities. The government's Women Development Division also addresses women's issues.


Within the limits of its resources, the Government is committed to the welfare and protection of the rights of children. There is no compulsory education, and, according to some estimates, only 60 percent of school age children have access to primary education; the percentages of those attending secondary and tertiary institutions are much smaller. Children are respected and protected within the traditional extended-family system, in accordance with a family's financial resources and access to services. As a result, virtually no children are homeless or abandoned. Although some cases of child abuse are reported, there is no societal pattern of abuse. The Constitution grants children the same general rights and protection as adults. Existing laws are designed to protect children from sexual abuse, child labor, and neglect.

People with Disabilities

There is no law or national policy on the disabled, and no legislation mandates access for the disabled. 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 disabled persons, particularly those in rural areas, do not find work outside the family structure. The Solomon Islands Red Cross society led private fund-raising efforts to build a new national center for disabled children, completing the first phase in this campaign by year's end.

Section 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 participate in the formal sector of the economy. Approximately 60 to 70 percent of wage earners are organized (90 percent of employees in the public sector and about 50 percent of those in the private sector). The law allows strikes, but there were none of note in 1996. The unions seldom resort to strikes, preferring instead to negotiate. Disputes are usually referred quickly to the Trade Disputes Panel (TDP) for arbitration, either before or during a strike. In practice, the small percentage of the work force in formal employment means that employers have ample replacement workers if disputes are not resolved quickly. Employees, however, are protected from arbitrary dismissal or lockout while the TDP is deliberating. 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 Trade Disputes Act of 1981 provides for the rights to organize and to bargain collectively and unions exercise 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 TDP for arbitration. The three-member TDP, comprising a chairman appointed by the judiciary, a labor representative, and a business representative, is independent and neutral. The law protects workers against antiunion activity, and there are no areas where union activity is officially discouraged. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced labor, except as part of a court sentence or order, and this prohibition is observed.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The law forbids child labor by children under the age of 12, except light agriculture 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 is little incentive to employ child labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum hourly wage rate was raised in 1996 from its 1988 rate of $0.22 (0.74 Solomon Islands dollars) to $0.42 (1.50 Solomon Islands dollars) for all workers except those in the fishing and agricultural sectors, who now receive $0.34 (1.20 Solomon Islands dollars). Even at the new rate, the legal minimum wage is not sufficient to support an urban family living entirely on the cash economy. However, most families are not dependent solely on wages for their livelihoods. The Labor Act of 1969, as amended, and the Employment Act of 1981, as well as other laws, regulate 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 ensure widespread 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 react to complaints rather than routinely monitoring adherence to the law. The extent to which the law is enforced in smaller establishments and in the subsistence sector is unclear. Safety and health laws appear to be adequate. Malaria is endemic in Solomon Islands and affects the health of many employees. Agricultural workers have a high risk of contracting malaria.

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