A police force under a civilian police commissioner is responsible for law enforcement, internal security, and border security. Following the 2000 takeover of Honiara, the capital, by Malaitan militants, the police force became factionalized and did not function effectively. Prior to RAMSI's arrival, some members of the security forces, in particular the paramilitary police unit and untrained former militants who had been taken into the police force in 2001 as "special constables," committed numerous serious human rights abuses. During the year, approximately 350 police from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and other countries in the region remained as part of the RAMSI peacekeeping force. RAMSI initially included a strong military component; however, the security situation stabilized so quickly that the military element was substantially withdrawn. At year's end, approximately 160 troops remained. Since RAMSI's arrival, the special constables have been demobilized and the police reorganized. A number of police officers were arrested for offenses committed during the ethnic conflict. During the year, the civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no confirmed reports that security forces committed human rights abuses; however, there were a few allegations of police mistreatment.
The economy is market based. Approximately 75 percent of the population of 480,000 engaged to some extent in subsistence farming and fishing and had little involvement in the cash economy. The formal sector of the economy was on the brink of collapse at the time of RAMSI's intervention. There was some improvement during the year, with economic growth estimated at 5 to 6 percent and modest inflation; however, although no official statistics were available, anecdotal evidence suggested that the economy was still losing jobs and wages were stagnating. During the year, a Malaysian-owned company signed an agreement to resume limited operations at Solomon Islands Plantation Limited, a palm oil producer closed in 1999 due to the ethnic conflict. In addition, an Australian consortium reached agreement with former operators to design proposals for reopening the Gold Ridge Mine on Guadalcanal, closed since 2000.
The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. During the year, there were a few violent incidents linked to the ethnic conflict. Further improvements were made in the judicial system, but case backlogs remained a problem. Violence and discrimination against women continued to be problems.
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 of the arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life committed by the Government or its agents.
On December 22, an Australian Federal Police officer attached to RAMSI was shot and killed while on patrol in Honiara. Police arrested two suspects and charged them with murder in the case, which still was pending at year's end.
In January 2003, a masked gunman shot and killed retired Police Commissioner Sir Frederick Soaki in Auki, Malaita, where he was helping to prepare workshops organized by the U.N. Development Program (UNDP). Police arrested a police sergeant for the murder; however, he escaped from custody. Subsequently, he reportedly went to a police station in Auki, fired an automatic rifle in the station, and fled. At year's end, he was still at large.
In April, citing lack of sufficient evidence, the High Court dismissed murder charges against two men accused of the 2003 beheading of an Australian Seventh Day Adventist missionary in Malaita.
It remained unclear how many of those responsible for the many killings and other human rights abuses committed by both security forces and civilians during the half-decade of conflict and breakdown in law and order prior to RAMSI's arrival in 2003 would be investigated or prosecuted; however, in 2003 and during the year, RAMSI investigated and arrested a number of police officers and militants who allegedly had committed murder and other criminal acts, and brought them to trial (see Sections 1.c. and 1.d.). At year's end, the trials were ongoing. Former Guadalcanal Liberation Front leader Harold Ke'ke, who was arrested in 2003 and charged with murder and other crimes, remained in pretrial detention; his case was expected to come to trial early in 2005.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. During the ethnic conflict, more than 100 persons were abducted and possibly killed by militants.
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 by the police during the year. There were a few allegations by detainees that they were mistreated by police during questioning. During the violence prior to the arrival of RAMSI, there were numerous reports of acts of torture and mistreatment attributed both to members of the police and to Malaitan and Guadalcanalese militants.
Reportedly between August 16 and 19, a group of persons in the Gold Ridge area of Guadalcanal burned down at least 30 houses and committed other acts of violence against residents, including torture, rape and robbery, allegedly as retaliation against supporters of arrested former militant Stanley Kaoni. In September, police arrested several suspects in the case; they were awaiting trial at year's end.
In 2003 and during the year, RAMSI took action to apprehend and charge persons allegedly responsible for human rights abuses and other criminal acts. More than 240 persons, including approximately 40 police officers and Ke'ke and other militants, were arrested. More than 600 charges were lodged against them. Some of those arrested were tried and convicted during the year, while others were awaiting trial at year's end.
At year's end, prison conditions generally met international standards. Prisoners at Rove Prison in Honiara were housed in a newly constructed building. Each cell had a toilet. The facility included a recreation area, kitchens, and a family visitation center. Prisoners received three basic meals a day.
In 2002, the national Ombudsman visited the small provincial jail at the regional capital of Gizo and announced that conditions there were in breach of human rights standards. RAMSI undertook some renovations in 2003 and during the year at both Gizo and another provincial prison at Aiki. Overcrowding at those facilities was alleviated by transferring persons jailed for serious offenses to Rove Prison, where more space was available.
On August 10, between 100 and 200 inmates broke out of their cells at Rove Prison, occupied part of the compound, and reportedly threw stones at police; no serious injuries were reported and order was restored following negotiations between the authorities and inmates. The Government and RAMSI initiated an inquiry into the incident; however, no findings had been made public by year's end. Following the riot, some inmates filed a petition with the High Court complaining about their treatment. The court ruled that segregating inmates classified as high security risks in conditions similar to a punishment regime was unlawful and unreasonable. The court also mandated certain improvements in the prison diet and exercise regimen. The acting Commissioner of Prisons subsequently stated that the court's orders were being implemented.
Men and women were held separately. Rove Prison had separate facilities for juveniles. Pretrial detainees were held separately from convicted prisoners. In a change from prior practice, hardened criminals were held separately from first-time offenders.
The Government permitted prison visits by human rights observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The ICRC also facilitated visits to Rove Prison by family members of some prisoners.
d. Arbitrary Arrest and Detention
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and the Government generally observed these prohibitions.
A commissioner, who reports to the Minister of Police, heads the police force of approximately 1,100 members. During the year, a British police official served as Commissioner on a contract funded by the British Government and the European Union (EU). Three other British officers were funded under the same program.
Prior to RAMSI's arrival, the police were largely ineffectual. Corruption was a problem, and there was a lack of accountability for police officers involved in abuses. The situation improved after RAMSI's arrival. By late 2003, nearly 40 police officers, including some of senior rank, had been arrested on more than 90 charges, including murder, assault, intimidation, robbery, and inappropriate use of firearms. During the year, some of the arrested officers, including at least two former police superintendents, were tried and convicted of criminal offenses and received prison terms; others, including two deputy commissioners, were awaiting trial at year's end. RAMSI also re-established 16 police stations throughout the country. During the year, the police service established an inspection unit to monitor staff discipline and performance. A new Police Training College also was established; its first two classes of officers graduated during the year.
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 was a functioning system of bail. However, during the year, delays in adjudication of the large number of cases before the courts resulted in lengthy pretrial detention for some prisoners (see Section 1.e.).
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice.
The judicial system consists of a High Court, a Court of Appeals, and magistrates' courts. Accused persons are entitled to counsel. RAMSI expanded the Office of the Public Solicitor, bringing the number of public prosecutors up to seven.
The Constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
Judicial trial procedures normally operated in accordance with British common law, with a presumption of innocence, right of appeal, access to attorneys, and right to confront witnesses.
In an effort to improve judicial functioning and increase the capacity of the courts to adjudicate cases, RAMSI built two new courthouses and hired additional judges. Nonetheless, backlogs in the investigation and prosecution of cases remained at year's end.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, and the Government generally respected these prohibitions in practice. However, during the period of violence and with the breakdown of law and order in 2000, there was widespread looting and burning of homes in rural Guadalcanal, including by police. In August, a group of residents from the Gold Ridge area of Guadalcanal reportedly burned down over 30 homes of alleged supporters of a former militia leader (see Section 1.c.).
From 1999 to 2001, militants from all sides forced inhabitants from their homes. The forced expulsions ended during 2001, following the departure of virtually all non Guadalcanalese from the areas of Guadalcanal Province adjacent to Honiara (see Section 2.d.).
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 and did not restrict academic freedom.
During the year, print and broadcast media continued to operate on a regular basis. There was a privately owned daily and a privately owned weekly newspaper. The Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC), a statutory body directly under the Prime Minister's office, broadcast to most of the country. There also were two privately owned FM radio stations. Two television channels broadcast Australia's Asia-Pacific service and BBC International to Honiara and its environs.
Given the high rate of illiteracy, radio broadcasting was more influential than the print media. At least two nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) published periodic news journals; their environmental reporting frequently was critical of the Government's logging policy and foreign logging companies' practices.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that in January, assailants chased, verbally harassed, and attempted to assault Charles Kadamana, a photographer for the Solomon Star newspaper; Kadamana escaped without injury, although the assailants ripped his shirt. Kadamana was attacked after he photographed former police official James Kili, who had just been sentenced to 5 years in prison for crimes committed during the ethnic conflict. According to local media reports, relatives of Kili were believed to be responsible for the incident.
In 2002, then-Minister for Communications Daniel Fa'funua and several armed supporters allegedly coerced the Solomon Star newspaper into paying him $5,000 for publishing an article that he claimed had insulted him. In late 2003, police arrested Fa'funua after an unrelated incident; among other offenses, he was charged with "demanding money with menaces" in the Solomon Star case. In February, he was convicted and sentenced to 5 years in prison.
Internet use was expanding, and privately operated Internet cafés were available in Honiara and Gizo; the Government did not limit or control Internet access. International donor organizations helped fund improvements to the Internet infrastructure, including solar powered e-mail systems set up in several provinces as a means of improving communications with outlying areas.
Foreign assistance enabled the country's College of Higher Education to operate pending its restructuring.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. Demonstrators must obtain permits, which generally were granted.
The Constitution provides for freedom of association, but at times the Government restricted this right. The Government outlawed the principal militant groups. Other groups associated freely, and a good governance oversight group, the Civil Society Network, which emerged in 2001, continued to raise issues of concern with the Government (see Section 4).
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice.
The public school curriculum included 30 minutes daily of religious instruction, the content of which was agreed upon by the Christian churches; students whose parents did not wish them to attend the class were excused. However, the Government did not subsidize church schools that did not align their curriculums with governmental criteria. Although theoretically non-Christian religions can be taught in the schools, there was no such instruction in practice.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2004 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Government placed no restrictions on the movement of citizens within or out of the country.
The Constitution prohibits forced exile, and the Government did not use it. Native-born citizens may not be deprived of citizenship on any grounds.
During the violent phase of the conflict on Guadalcanal, an estimated 30,000 Malaitans, Guadalcanalese, Western Province persons, and others living on Guadalcanal were displaced from their homes as a result of armed conflict and intimidation. Approximately 20,000 displaced Malaitans subsequently resettled on their home island of Malaita. By year's end, most of the remaining displaced persons had returned to their home villages, including approximately 1,500 Guadalcanese displaced from Guadalcanal's Weathercoast by acts of violence and intimidation committed by militant leader Harold Ke'ke and his followers prior to Ke'ke's arrest in August 2003. The Government provided very limited help to internally displaced persons, who generally relied on their extended families and subsistence farming for survival. The national Red Cross Society, funded by the EU, provided some assistance.
Although a party to the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, the Government has not enacted domestic legislation or established a system for providing protection to refugees. The Government cooperated with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Red Cross in assisting refugees and has not returned persons to a country where they feared persecution.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Constitution provides citizens with 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 for persons 18 years of age and over. The Government is a modified parliamentary system consisting of a single-chamber Legislative Assembly of 50 members. Executive authority is vested in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. The 2001 national parliamentary elections were regarded as generally free and fair, although there was evidence of vote buying and of coercion by armed persons in a number of constituencies. On several occasions since independence, changes of government resulted from either parliamentary votes of no confidence or the resignation of the Prime Minister.
Successive governments were unable effectively to address the violence that began in 1998 between the Malaitan and Guadalcanalese ethnic groups (see Section 5), despite the 2000 peace agreement that formally ended the conflict and mandated the surrender of weapons. In 2003, RAMSI instituted a weapons amnesty that resulted in the confiscation and destruction of approximately 3,700 firearms. RAMSI also implemented reform of the police force (see Section 1.d.) and provided assistance to the Finance Ministry for budget stabilization and to the justice sector for improving the effectiveness of the legal system. The aid included both funding of improvements and provision of civilian expertise, with approximately 50 personnel placed in key government agencies.
Government corruption and impunity in both the executive and legislative branches were serious problems, compounded by the breakdown in law and order that resulted from the ethnic conflict. During the year, RAMSI worked with the Government and NGOs to reform the public service, including publication of a plan for an independent leadership integrity commission and administrative reorganization of existing "watchdog" agencies such as the Auditor General and the Ombudsman's Office. Also during the year, a number of provincial officials attended workshops abroad on good governance. In October, police charged a former East Honiara Member of Parliament with multiple counts of official corruption involving the granting of certificates of naturalization to Chinese nationals. At year's end, he was awaiting trial.
No law provides for public access to government information. In practice, the Government generally was responsive to inquiries from the media during the year.
Traditional male dominance has limited the role of women in government. There were no women in the 50-member Parliament. During the year, three women were appointed as permanent secretaries in the Government.
There were three members of minorities (non-Melanesians) in the Parliament, two of whom were in the Cabinet. In addition, one of the Prime Minister's advisors was a member of a minority.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
There are no restrictions on the formation of organizations to monitor and report on human rights. The NGO Solomon Islands Development Trust has both development and human rights objectives. The ICRC also operates in the country. The Government generally cooperated with human rights organizations and requested assistance from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in formulating policies to restore peace and justice.
Numerous domestic NGOs operated freely; most were engaged in developmental or religious activity. In 2001, a number of NGOs and individual citizens established an umbrella organization, the Civil Society Network, to provide oversight of government activity. It regularly criticized practices such as the remission of taxes and custom duties for associates of high-ranking government officials. The Government did not interfere in its operations.
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. It organized occasional workshops and undertook a few tours during the year.
Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The Constitution provides that no person--regardless of race, place of origin, political opinion, color, creed, 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 this tradition-based society. Unemployment was high, and there were limited job opportunities for persons with disabilities.
Statistics were unavailable, but incidents of domestic violence appeared to be common. The law does not address domestic violence; however, there are provisions against common assault and rape. In the rare cases of domestic abuse that were reported, charges often were dropped by the victims 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, although prosecutions were rare. In part due to the breakdown in law and order and the lack of an effective, functioning police force after June 2000, women and teenage girls in particular were vulnerable to abuse, including rape, and many rapes have been reported since the ethnic conflict began in 1998. Following RAMSI's arrival, rape charges were brought against a number of persons. As part of a new police curriculum, officers were given specialized training on how to work with victims of rape.
According to a study by Amnesty International based on interviews conducted in the country in April, violence against women, including rape and domestic abuse, remained a serious problem, with nearly 200 rapes reported to police in the first 6 months of the year. 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 law accords women equal legal rights, including the right to own property. 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 jobs also inhibited the entry of women into the work force. The majority of women are illiterate; this was attributed in large part to cultural barriers. The National Council of Women and other NGOs attempted to make women more aware of their legal rights through seminars, workshops, and other activities. The Government's Women Development Division also addressed women's issues.
Prostitution is illegal, but the statutes were not enforced. There is no law against sex tourism. Following media reports in October of a prostitution ring in Honiara that catered to Asian men and other expatriates, the police opened an investigation and subsequently closed an establishment operated by the group. Asian women found working there were deported.
Sexual harassment is not prohibited by law and was a problem.
Within the limits of its resources, the Government was committed to the welfare and protection of children. During the year, major foreign assistance helped to bolster the educational system, which had languished over the previous 5 years. With assistance from RAMSI, all of the country's schools were operating by year's end, and an additional 1,500 classrooms were being built. However, education was not compulsory, and, according to some estimates, less than 60 percent of school-age children had access to primary education; the percentages of those attending secondary and tertiary institutions were much smaller. A higher percentage of boys than girls attended school. School fees required of all students were very high relative to local incomes. Primary school fees were scheduled for elimination in 2005.
The Constitution grants children the same general rights and protections as adults. Existing laws are designed to protect children from sexual abuse, child labor, and neglect. Children generally were respected and protected within the traditional extended family system, in accordance with a family's financial resources and access to services, although some cases of child abuse were reported. Virtually no children were homeless or abandoned. All medical care for children was free; however, the lack of resources seriously reduced the quality and availability of medical care.
Several hundred children (generally boys) under the age of 18 were active combatants during the ethnic conflict or assisted in militants' camps. Many of these underage militants joined criminal gangs immediately following the conflict, but as of year's end, most had returned to their villages and reentered civil society. However, some unemployed youth in urban areas were involved in petty crime.
Trafficking in Persons
The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons; however, there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the country.
Persons with Disabilities
There is no law or national policy on persons with disabilities, and no legislation mandates access to buildings for such individuals. Their protection and care are left to the traditional extended family and NGOs. 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.
The Ministry of Home Affairs is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
The country had one educational facility for children with disabilities, which was supported almost entirely by the Red Cross. A new education unit opened at the College of Higher Education to train teachers in the education of persons with disabilities. Such training was made compulsory for all student teachers at the college.
Persons with mental disabilities were cared for within the family structure; there were no government facilities for such persons.
The country is composed of over 27 islands with approximately 70 language groups. In the precolonial era, these groups existed in a state of continual warfare with one another, and even today 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. Over the past century, and particularly since World War II, many persons from the poor, heavily populated island of Malaita settled on Guadalcanal, the island on which the capital of Honiara is located. The tensions and resentment between the Guadalcanalese and the Malaitans on Guadalcanal culminated in violence beginning in 1998 (see Sections 1.c., 1.f., and 2.d.), when Guadalcanalese militants began a campaign of threats and intimidation against Malaitans on Guadalcanal. Scores of Malaitans were killed or injured by Guadalcanalese militants. Approximately 30,000 persons, mainly Malaitans, fled their homes as a result of the conflict. Civilians were the victims of abuses by both sides; such abuses reportedly included abductions, torture, rape, forced resettlement, looting, and the burning of homes. Ethnic tension between Malaitans and Guadalcanalese was greatly reduced with the presence of RAMSI in the country.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Same-sex relationships are illegal. In January, a woman was arrested and charged with indecent practice between persons of the same sex. She was convicted and sentenced to a jail term.
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, and workers exercised them in practice. Only about 10 to 15 percent of the population participated in the formal sector of the economy. Approximately 60 to 70 percent of wage earners were organized (approximately 90 percent of employees in the public sector and 50 percent of those in the private sector).
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law provides for the right to organize and to bargain collectively, and unions exercised these rights. Wages and conditions of employment are determined by collective bargaining, usually at the level of individual firms. If a dispute between labor and management cannot be settled between the two sides, it is referred to the Trade Disputes Panel (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.
The law permits strikes. Private sector disputes usually were referred quickly to the 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.
Early in the year, several hundred workers went on strike at the Russell Islands Plantation Estate, Limited (RIPEL). The National Union of Workers alleged that RIPEL made improper offshore export sales of copra and cocoa; the company alleged that striking workers had engaged in criminal activities, including occupying company buildings and threatening company managers. Although the High Court declared the strike illegal, the standoff continued at year's end.
The law protects workers against anti-union activity, and there were no areas where union activity was officially discouraged.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and, normally, except as part of a court sentence or order, there were no reports that such practices occurred.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law forbids labor by children under the age of 12, except light agricultural 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 was little incentive to employ child labor.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage rate is $0.50 per hour (SI$2.50) for all workers except those in the fishing and agricultural sectors, who receive $0.35 (SI$1.75). 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 6 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 the 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.