2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
March 11, 2010
The Solomon Islands is a constitutional multiparty parliamentary democracy with a population of approximately 523,000. Parliamentary elections held in 2006 were considered generally free and fair, although there were incidents of vote buying. In 2007 Parliament elected Derek Sikua as prime minister. The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), a multinational police-centered force organized by Australia, arrived in the country in 2003 at the government's invitation to assist in restoring law and order and rebuilding the country's institutions following the 1998 to 2003 period of violent conflict between the Malaitan and Guadalcanalese ethnic groups. RAMSI continued its assistance during the year, and relations between RAMSI and the government remained stable. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, but there were problems in some areas. Human rights problems included lengthy pretrial detention, government corruption, and violence and discrimination against women.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices, and there were no confirmed reports of such practices during the year. There were a few allegations by detainees that they were mistreated by police during questioning, but they often lacked substantiating evidence.
Since its arrival in 2003, RAMSI apprehended and charged more than 240 persons allegedly responsible for human rights abuses and other criminal acts. All these cases had been resolved by year's end.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions generally met international standards. The government permitted monitoring visits by independent human rights observers, and such visits occurred during the year.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had a program in place to cover costs for family visits to long-term prisoners from other provinces held in Honiara.
d. Arbitrary Arrest and Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
A commissioner who reports to the minister of police heads the Royal Solomon Islands Police (RSIP) force of approximately 1,060 members, including 140 women. This force was supported by 278 RAMSI Participating Police Force officers, who served in line positions and in logistical and financial support. Peter Marshall, a New Zealander, was appointed police commissioner in 2008.
While the police were more effective under RAMSI, the RSIP continued to be weak in investigation and reporting. The police service has an inspection unit to monitor police discipline and performance. Police corruption and impunity were not serious problems during the year. However, some observers criticized the police as more loyal to their respective ethnic group, or wantok (extended family), than to the country as a whole.
At year's end no trial date had been set in the case of a Honiara probationary police officer charged with indecent assault and attempted rape in November 2008. He was discharged from the police and remained free on bail at year's end.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention
The law provides for a judicial determination of the legality of arrests. Detainees generally were informed promptly of the charges against them and have the right to counsel. The Public Solicitor's Office provided legal assistance to indigent defendants, and detainees had prompt access to family members and to counsel. Officials found to have violated civil liberties were subject to fines and jail sentences. There was a functioning system of bail. However, delays in adjudication of the large number of cases before the courts resulted in lengthy pretrial detention for some detainees. During the year RAMSI brought in 10 lawyers from Australia and the Pacific Islands to eliminate the backlog of cases.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence in practice.
The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
Trial procedures normally operated in accordance with British common law, with a presumption of innocence, access to attorneys, and the right to access government-held evidence, confront witnesses, and appeal convictions. Judges conduct trials and render verdicts; there are no juries. Accused persons are entitled to counsel, and an attorney was provided at public expense for indigent defendants facing serious criminal charges.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters; local courts and magistrates' courts have civil jurisdiction. In addition, the constitution provides that any person whose rights or freedoms have been contravened may apply directly to the High Court for redress.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected these prohibitions in practice.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.
In 2008 RAMSI initiated the Solomon Islands Media Strengthening Scheme (SOLMAS), which continued during the year. SOLMAS worked with the Media Association of Solomon Islands, the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation, and the Department of Communications to provide training and technical support to local journalists.
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. In practice cost factors and lack of infrastructure limited public access to the Internet. The International Telecommunication Union reported that approximately 2 percent of the country's inhabitants used the Internet in 2008.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right in practice. Demonstrators must obtain permits, which the government generally granted.
Freedom of Association
The constitution provides for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right in practice.
c. Freedom of Religion
The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There were no reports of societal abuses or discrimination against religious groups, including anti-Semitic acts. The Jewish community was very small.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
The law prohibits forced exile, and the government did not use it. Native-born citizens may not be deprived of citizenship on any grounds.
Protection of Refugees
Although party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, the country's laws do not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government did not grant refugee status or asylum during the year. In practice the government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The constitution provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
The 2006 national parliamentary elections were regarded as generally free and fair, although there was evidence of vote buying. In April 2006 rioting broke out in Honiara immediately following the election of Snyder Rini as prime minister. Rini resigned, and in May 2006 Parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare as prime minister. In 2007 Sogavare's government lost a vote of no confidence, and Parliament elected opposition candidate Derek Sikua as prime minister.
Political parties could operate without restriction, but they were institutionally weak, with frequent shifts in political coalitions and unstable parliamentary majorities.
Male dominance in government limited the role of women. There were no women in the 50-member Parliament. Five women served as permanent secretaries in the Sikua government. There was one female judge on the High Court.
There were two minority (non-Melanesian) members of Parliament (MPs).
Section 4 Official Corruption and Government Transparency
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Government corruption and impunity in both the executive and legislative branches continued to be serious problems.
Public officials were subject to financial disclosure laws under the leadership code of conduct. The Office of the Leadership Code Commission (LCC) investigates matters of misconduct involving MPs or senior civil servants. If the LCC finds that there is conclusive evidence of misconduct, the LCC sends the matter to the Department of Public Prosecution, which may then proceed with legal charges. The LCC chairman and two part-time commissioners make up a tribunal that has the power to screen certain cases of misconduct and apply fines of up to SB$5,000 (approximately $660) on MPs or senior civil servants. The Ombudsman Commission is responsible for investigating public complaints of government maladministration.
During the year MP Peter Shanel's appeal of his 2008 conviction for unlawful wounding and possession of an unlawful weapon in a restricted area was dismissed by the High Court. He served a nine-month jail sentence; after his release, he won back his seat in Parliament and remained an MP at year's end.
At year's end the investigation continued of 16 MPs from the National Alliance Party of Solomon Islands (NAPSI) for accepting SB$50,000 (approximately $6,625) in loans from Bobo Dettke, a prominent Honiara businessman and founder of NAPSI. Some alleged that the money was provided by logging companies that wanted to influence key ministries. In March the LCC held a hearing on the case; however, due to lack of sufficient witnesses and evidence, the LCC commissioners referred the matter back to the LCC's Investigation Department for further investigation.
During the year the High Court upheld the government's appeal in the cases of a former East Honiara MP and a former cabinet minister charged in 2004 and 2005, respectively, with official corruption involving the granting of certificates of naturalization to Chinese nationals. A court had acquitted both on the basis of insufficient evidence, and the government appealed the verdicts. At year's end both men were awaiting a retrial.
In October former prime minister Sir Allan Kemakeza won election to Parliament in a by-election in the Savo-Russells constituency. He had previously been removed from Parliament due to his 2007 conviction for intimidation, larceny, and demanding money with menace in connection with a 2002 attack by a group of men on a Honiara law firm that owned shares in the country's national bank. Although he was released from prison in January after serving six months of a two-year sentence, at year's end his appeal of his conviction was still pending, and several other candidates, as well as a number of MPs, criticized as unconstitutional the government's decision to allow him to run for the seat.
In September the LCC chairman confirmed that, due to a lack of staff and resources, there was a backlog of more than 50 cases still being investigated, including a number of new cases and 13 cases waiting to be heard by the High Court.
No law provides for public access to government information. In practice the government generally was responsive to inquiries from the media during the year. In September Prime Minister Sikua announced a weekly media conference to keep the public informed of the government's decisions and activities.
Section 5 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views.
The Guadalcanal Peace Building and Reconciliation Committee (GPRC) was formed in 2007 to plan the reconciliation and peace process on Guadalcanal. The GPRC has 15 members appointed by the Minister for National Unity, Reconciliation, and Peace (MNURP). Together with the Malaita Peace and Reconciliation Committee, the GPRC planned and coordinated peace and reconciliation activities in consultation with the MNURP. Since the establishment of the two committees, work plans were produced and some key activities were implemented, including provincial and community consultations and dialogue forums, and the establishment of task forces on Marau and Guadalcanal Province reconciliation, RSIP and Guadalcanal Provincial Government (GPG) reconciliation, and national government and GPG reconciliation, respectively. During the year the MNURP also recruited a number of peace mediators from local communities on short-term contracts as part of the ministry's continuing work in strengthening the peace-building capacity of existing structures.
The government cooperated with international governmental organizations and permitted visits by UN representatives and other organizations. There were a number of visits from UN representatives during the year; however, no public reports were released.
The constitution provides for an ombudsman, with the power to subpoena and to investigate complaints of official abuse, mistreatment, or unfair treatment. While the Ombudsman's Office has potentially far-ranging powers, it was limited by a shortage of resources.
In April the Guadalcanal Truth and Reconciliation Commission was launched by South African Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu. The commission is an independent body comprising three national and two international commissioners. It was established to hear accounts of violence and abuse experienced by thousands of citizens during the 1998-2003 period of ethnic violence between Malaitans and Guadalcanalese and to provide a forum for victims and perpetrators to speak about the causes and impact of that violence. However, since its establishment the commission's work was hindered by funding constraints and slow bureaucratic processes.
Section 6 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The constitution provides that no person--regardless of race, place of origin, color, or disability--shall be treated in a discriminatory manner with respect to access to public places. The constitution further prohibits any laws that 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 remained the victims of discrimination in the male-dominated society. Unemployment remained high, and there were limited job opportunities for persons with disabilities.
Violence against women, including rape and domestic abuse, remained a serious problem. Among the reasons cited for the failure to report many incidents of abuse were pressure from male relatives, fear of reprisals, feelings of shame, and cultural taboos on discussion of such matters.
The maximum penalty for rape is life imprisonment. Spousal rape is not a crime. As part of the police curriculum, officers received specialized training on how to work with rape victims. The police have a Sexual Assault Unit, staffed mostly by female officers, to combat the problem.
The law does not specifically address domestic violence; however, there are provisions against common assault. Although statistics were unavailable, incidents of domestic violence appeared to be common. Both the assistant police commissioner for crime and intelligence and the coordinator for the nongovernmental organization (NGO)-supported Family Support Center confirmed that domestic violence complaints were received almost every week. However, in the cases of domestic abuse that were reported, victims often dropped charges before the court appearance, or the case was settled out of court. The magistrates' courts dealt with physical abuse of women as with any other assault, but prosecutions were rare. NGOs conducted awareness campaigns on family violence during the year. The Family Support Center and a church-run facility for abused women provided counseling and other support services for women. The Family Support Center did not have an in-house lawyer and depended heavily on the Public Solicitor's Office for legal assistance for its clients.
Prostitution is illegal, but the statutes were not enforced. There is no law specifically against sex tourism, although such offenses could be prosecuted under laws against prostitution. There were no cases of sex tourism reported during the year.
Sexual harassment is not illegal and was a problem.
Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Contraception and adequate obstetric and postnatal care were accessible at all government hospitals and rural health clinics, and all nurses are trained to provide family planning services. Women and men had equal access to diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.
The law accords women equal legal rights, including the right to own property. However, most women were limited to customary family roles, and this situation prevented women from taking more-active roles in economic and political life. A shortage of jobs also inhibited the entry of women into the work force. Women who were employed were predominantly engaged in low-paying and low-skilled jobs.
The Solomon Islands National Council of Women and other NGOs attempted to make women more aware of their legal rights, including voting rights, through seminars, workshops, and other activities. The government's Women's Development Division also addressed women's issues.
Citizenship is acquired both by birth in the country and through one's parents. Births frequently were not registered immediately due to lack of infrastructure, but the delays did not result in denial of public services to children.
During the year major foreign assistance continued to bolster the educational system, but education was not compulsory, and the high cost of school fees severely limited attendance at secondary and higher institutions. In January the government implemented a new education policy that abolished school fees up to the form three (high school) level. A sample survey released by the government in September found that since the implementation of the policy, primary school enrollment had increased 6 percent, and secondary school enrollment had increased 4.8 percent. According to a September article in the Solomon Star newspaper, the permanent secretary for education stated that the government had allocated SB$68 million (approximately $9 million) for implementation of the new policy, including SB$20 million ($2.7 million) in foreign assistance.
The law grants children the same general rights and protections as adults, and there are laws designed to protect children from sexual abuse, child labor, and neglect, but few resources were provided to enforce the law. Child sexual and physical abuse remained significant problems, according to the coordinator of the Family Support Center in Honiara. However, children generally were respected and protected within the traditional extended family system, in accordance with a family's financial resources and access to services. Virtually no children were homeless or abandoned.
Both boys and girls may legally marry at age 15, and the law permits marriage at age 14 with parental and village consent, but marriage at such young ages did not appear to be common.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. The maximum penalty for sexual relations with a girl under age 13 is life imprisonment, and for sexual relations with a girl above age 12 but under age 15, it is five years' imprisonment. Consent is not a permissible defense under either of these provisions; however, in the latter case, reasonable belief that the victim was 15 or older is a permissible defense. Child pornography is illegal, with a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment. However, there were reports of use of children in the production of pornography.
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits trafficking in persons for labor or sexual exploitation. There were no confirmed reports that persons were trafficked to, from, through, or within the country, but there were anecdotal reports that young women were trafficked internally, and from China and several Southeast Asian countries, for the purpose of sexual exploitation on foreign ships and in logging camps.
The Department of State's annual Trafficking in Persons Report can be found at www.state.gov/g/tip.
Persons with Disabilities
There is no law or national policy on persons with disabilities, and no legislation mandates access to buildings for such individuals. In practice very few buildings were accessible to persons with disabilities. Their protection and care were left to the extended family and NGOs. The country had one educational facility for children with disabilities, which was supported almost entirely by the ICRC. A disability center in Honiara assisted persons with disabilities in finding employment; however, with high unemployment countrywide and few jobs available in the formal sector, most persons with disabilities, particularly those in rural areas, did not find work outside of the family structure.
Persons with mental disabilities were cared for within the family structure; there were very limited government facilities for such persons. The Kilufi Hospital in Malaita operated a 10-bed ward for the treatment of psychiatric patients. A psychiatrist resident in Honiara ran a clinic at the National Referral Hospital.
The Ministry of Home Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
The country comprises more than 27 islands with approximately 70 language groups. Many islanders see themselves first as members of a clan, next as inhabitants of their natal island, and only third as citizens of their nation. Tensions and resentment between the Guadalcanalese and the Malaitans on Guadalcanal culminated in violence beginning in 1998. The presence of RAMSI greatly reduced ethnic tension between the two groups, and the Peace and Reconciliation Ministry organized reconciliation ceremonies. However, underlying problems between the two groups remained, including issues related to jobs and land rights.
In November some Chinese-owned businesses in Honiara were looted after violence broke out following a soccer game between Malaitan and Guadalcanalese teams.
On April 1, the government publicly released the 2008 report of a commission of inquiry into the 2006 riots in Honiara, which largely targeted Chinese businesses. Contributing causes cited in the report included insufficient government delivery of essential services and development in Honiara's settlements and inadequate policing. The NGO Transparency Solomon Islands and opposition MPs asserted that the government had edited the report prior to its public release; the government stated it had released the commission's full findings and recommendations but acknowledged it had omitted some "sensitive materials."
Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Sodomy is illegal, as are "indecent practices between persons of the same sex." The maximum penalty for the former is 14 years' imprisonment, and for the latter, five years. However, there were no reports of prosecutions directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender persons under these provisions during the year. There were no reports of violence or discrimination against persons on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There were an estimated 200 cases of HIV/AIDS in the country. There was societal stigma towards persons with HIV/AIDS, but there were no specific reports of disownment by families as reported in the past. In April the NGO Oxfam International funded media training to encourage journalists to report accurate information about HIV/AIDS to increase public understanding of the disease.
Section 7 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, and workers exercised them in practice. Only an estimated 10 percent of the population participated in the formal sector of the economy. According to the chief of trade unions, approximately 55 percent of employees in the public sector and 25 percent of those in the private sector were organized.
The law protects workers against antiunion activity, and there were no areas where union activity was officially discouraged.
The law permits strikes in both the public and private sectors. Advance notice to the government is required for strikes to be legal. Private-sector disputes usually were 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 meant that employers had ample replacement workers if disputes were not resolved quickly. However, employees are protected from arbitrary dismissal or lockout while the TDP is deliberating.
In March workers at the Gold Ridge Mining Company, Limited called a strike, alleging unsafe work practices and work environment, in particular related to handling and disposal of cyanide at the site. The company stated that independent tests of cyanide levels did not support the workers' claims. Workers also charged that company management had engaged in intimidation, racial discrimination, physical assault, and unfair dismissals. In April, following a meeting between company and union officials, the strike action was cancelled pending TDP review of the workers' claims. The TDP subsequently ruled that the strikers' claims had no basis.
In August the Solomon Islands Public Employees Union (SIPEU) staged a strike after negotiations with the government over a backlog of employee claims broke down. The claims involved such benefits as a housing entitlement allowance and cost of living adjustment. Conciliators were appointed to settle the dispute, and a report was made to the TDP. The TDP dismissed all the claims except for a 12 percent increase in the cost of living allowance; the government paid 4.5 percent of this during the year, with the remaining 7 percent scheduled to be paid by the first pay period in January 2010.
Also in August, following the SIPEU strike, the government issued an official notice prohibiting strikes by civil servants in essential services. There were procedures in place designed to ensure these workers due process and protect their rights.
In 2008 Solomon Islands Telikom workers went on a two-week strike. A deed of settlement was signed by both parties, and the TDP forwarded it to the High Court for implementation during 2009.
The longstanding standoff between the Solomon Islands National Union of Workers and the Russell Islands Plantation Estate continued during the year, and estate workers remained on strike. At year's end the case was still pending with the courts. In March the government appointed a commission of inquiry to examine the situation, but the commission had not released a report by year's end.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively, and unions exercised these rights in practice. Wages and conditions of employment were determined by collective bargaining, usually at the level of individual firms. Disputes between labor and management that cannot be settled between the two sides are referred to the TDP for arbitration. The three-member TDP, composed of a chairman appointed by the judiciary, a labor representative, and a business representative, is independent and neutral.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, except as part of a court sentence or order; however, there were some unconfirmed reports of internal trafficking in young women for purposes of sexual exploitation.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law forbids labor by children under age 12, except light agricultural or domestic work performed in the company of parents, or other labor approved by the commissioner of labor. Children under age 15 are barred from work in industry or on ships, except aboard training ships for educational purposes; those under age 18 may not work underground in mines, or at night in any industry. The commissioner of labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but few resources were devoted to investigating child labor cases. Given low wages and high unemployment, there was little incentive to employ child labor in the formal wage economy; however, there were reports of children working as cooks and performing other tasks in logging camps, where conditions often were poor. There also were reports of children working in subsistence agriculture and other family-run enterprises.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The commissioner of labor establishes the minimum wage in consultation with the Chamber of Commerce, Finance Ministry, Employers Commission, and Trade Workers Union. The minimum wage was SB$3.50 (approximately $0.46) per hour for all workers except those in the fishing and agricultural sectors, who received SB$2.50 (approximately $0.33). The legal minimum wage did not provide a decent standard of living for an urban family living entirely on the cash economy. However, most families were not dependent solely on wages for their livelihoods.
The law regulates premium pay, sick leave, the right to paid vacations, and other conditions of service. The standard workweek is 45 hours and is limited to six days per week. There are provisions for maternity leave and for premium pay for overtime and holiday work.
Both an active labor movement and an independent judiciary provided enforcement of labor laws in major state and private enterprises. The commissioner of labor, the public prosecutor, and police are responsible for enforcing labor laws; however, they usually reacted to complaints rather than routinely monitoring adherence to the law. The extent to which the law was enforced in smaller establishments and in the subsistence sector was unclear. Safety and health laws appeared to be adequate. The Safety at Work Act requires employers to provide a safe working environment and forbids retribution against an employee who seeks protection under labor regulations or removes himself from a hazardous job site. Laws on working conditions and safety standards apply equally to foreign workers and citizens.