Solomon Islands is a constitutional multiparty parliamentary democracy. Observers considered the 2019 parliamentary election generally free and fair, although there were incidents of vote buying. Parliament elected Manasseh Sogavare prime minister after the election, and he formed a multiparty coalition government, the Democratic Coalition Government for Advancement.
The Royal Solomon Islands Police is responsible for internal and external security and reports to the Ministry of Police, National Security, and Correctional Services; per a series of bilateral agreements, elements of foreign police forces play an active and essential role in domestic policing. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces were not known to have committed abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: serious acts of government corruption; laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the law was not enforced; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses or engage in corruption.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Other Related Abuses
The law prohibits such practices, and there were no credible reports that government officials employed them. Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.
Administration: Authorities permitted prisoners and detainees to submit complaints and request investigations of credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The respective prison heads screened complaints and requests made to the Professional Standards Unit of the Correctional Service that investigates credible allegations of problematic conditions and documents the results in a publicly accessible manner. The Office of the Ombudsman and the Public Solicitor’s Office investigate credible allegations of misconduct made against Correctional Services officers.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted monitoring by independent human rights observers, but there were no reports of such visits.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
At the request of the government and subject to bilateral agreements, police from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea were deployed in the country in support of the country’s police force and were duly authorized to act with police powers according to the country’s law.
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally respected these prohibitions.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Only a magistrate or judge may issue arrest warrants, although police have power to arrest without a warrant if they have reasonable belief a person committed a crime. The law requires detainees be brought promptly before a judge, and authorities respected this right. Delays sometimes arose after the preliminary hearing, but authorities brought detainees to court as soon as possible following arrest, especially if they were held without bail.
Police generally informed detainees promptly of the charges against them. The Public Solicitor’s Office provided legal assistance to indigent defendants, and detainees had prompt access to family members and counsel. There was a functioning system of bail for less serious cases, and police and courts frequently granted bail.
Pretrial Detention: Delays in adjudication of the large number of cases before the courts resulted in lengthy pretrial detention. Pretrial detainees comprised 50 percent of the prisoner population. The average length of time held in pretrial detention was approximately two years.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Prisoners were not afforded timely trials due to judicial backlogs that resulted in long delays of cases ready to be tried.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The constitution provides that any person whose human rights or freedoms were contravened may apply directly to the High Court for redress.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for media members.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Demonstrators must obtain permits, which the government generally granted.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at http://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
e. Protection of Refugees
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 and other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for granting 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, and there were no known refugees in the country.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot based on equal and universal suffrage. The weakness of political parties, political fragmentation in parliament, and corruption do not generally provide voters with the basis to make a clear choice among potential governing coalitions.
In August the parliament amended the constitution to defer scheduled national elections from 2023 to 2024. Prime Minister Sogavare, whose coalition controls 38 of 50 parliamentary seats, stated the country lacked the resources to host the 2023 Pacific Games and hold elections in the same year. Parliament adopted the amendment without meeting the constitutional requirement that members consult with their constituents about proposed amendments. Prime Minister Sogavare declined an eleventh-hour offer from the Australian government to fund elections on the original schedule, claiming the offer was interference in the internal affairs of another nation.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: Observers regarded the 2019 national parliamentary elections as generally free and fair, although there was evidence of vote buying. The elections were the first since the full withdrawal of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands peacekeeping contingent. The Commonwealth Observer Group reported that members of parliament used rural constituency development funds to buy political support.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties operated without restriction but were institutionally weak, with frequent shifts in political coalitions and unstable parliamentary majorities. Electoral law requires all candidates to present party certificates. The formation of a governing coalition after an election was the result of opaque negotiations among parliamentarians.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No law limits participation of women or members of historically marginalized groups in the political process, and they did participate; however, traditional male dominance and gender discrimination limited the role of women in government. Civil society groups such as the Young Women’s Parliamentary Group continued to advocate for more leadership positions for women.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
While the law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, the government implemented the law inconsistently; officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity; and corruption was widely held to be pervasive in the government, especially with respect to the forestry, mining, and fisheries sectors.
The Solomon Islands Independent Commission against Corruption is tasked with preventing official corruption and has investigative and prosecutorial powers. The Office of the Ombudsman is responsible for investigating public complaints of government maladministration.
Taskforce Janus, operated by police and the Ministry of Finance and Treasury, also works to identify corruption in the civil service.
The Public Accounts Committee is a permanent parliamentary committee mandated by the constitution to examine public accounts and report to parliament.
Corruption: In November government authorities issued permits to Sunrise Investment Limited to export protected tubi logs, previously harvested illegally by Sunrise, to the People’s Republic of China. An earlier Court of Appeal ruling found that the government had the right to issue the permits; however, San Jorge Island (where the trees grow) landowners appealed the decision to the High Court, while Sunrise prepared the logs for export. On November 29, the High Court issued an order halting the logs’ export. The landowners argued that Sunrise should not be permitted to export them and profit from its crime.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of women, including spousal rape, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Domestic violence is a crime with a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a substantial fine. Gender-based violence, including rape and domestic abuse, remained a serious problem but was underreported. While recent data were unavailable, past reports showed and most observers believed that most women of reproductive age experienced physical or sexual violence in their lives. Among the reasons cited for failure to report abuse were pressure from male relatives, fear of reprisals, feelings of shame, and cultural taboos on discussing such matters.
As part of the police curriculum, officers receive specialized training on how to work with rape survivors. Police have a sexual assault unit, staffed mostly by women officers, to provide support to victims and investigate charges. In reported cases of domestic abuse, victims often dropped charges before a court appearance, or settled cases out of court. In cases in which charges were filed, the time between the charging of an individual and the subsequent court hearing could be as long as two years. The magistrates’ courts treated physical abuse of women the same as any other assault, but prosecutions were rare due to low judicial and police capacity and cultural bias against women.
In October 2021 a girl, age eight, was raped and killed on the island of Kolombaragara. As of August, no one had been arrested in the case, and the lack of progress prompted community outrage. The family, with the support of the Young Women’s Parliamentary Group, submitted a petition to parliament seeking an increase in the sentences for rape and all other sexual crimes. On September 12, a girl, age 14, was raped and killed in Temotu Province. As of December, police had not identified a suspect.
The law provides for access to counseling and medical services, legal support, and a safe place within the community for survivors of domestic violence if they could not return home. The government has a referral system in place to coordinate these services, but referral agencies often lacked funding, especially in rural areas.
Nongovernmental organizations operated 11 safe houses throughout the country. The safe houses received funding from church groups and international donors but did not receive government funding or support. One safe house in the capital, Honiara, provided professional training and workshops and paralegal counseling for survivors of gender-based violence. The Family Support Center and a church-run facility provided counseling and other support services for abused women.
Other Forms of Gender-based Violence: Customary bride-price payments remained common and contributed to the perception of male ownership of women.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment was not illegal but was a widespread problem visible daily to persons walking in the street.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Although the National Population Policy 2017–26 aims to improve access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, this goal appeared to be aspirational; because of the extreme weakness of the health-care system, no such services were available; nor was emergency contraception for survivors of sexual violence available.
The newspapers Solomon Star (in October) and The Island Sun (in November) reported on a Solomon Islands Planned Parenthood Association survey of three provinces and the capital. The survey revealed that contraception use by women of reproductive age “decreased over time” from 27 percent in 2013 but did not report rates during the year. According to the study, because contraception was frowned upon, women were given unreliable information, “leading to drastic situations” when they became pregnant. According to The Island Sun, “Participants in the report shared that unwanted pregnancies drive women to either seek unsafe termination methods, abandoning the baby, or suicide.” The report noted that women who were married or in a relationship were generally forbidden to use contraception because of their partner’s cultural or religious views.
According to the World Bank, the maternal mortality ratio was 104 per 100,000 live births in 2017 due to factors including a high adolescent birth rate (79 per 1,000 girls, ages 15 to 19), minimal access to antenatal care, and a high unmet need for contraception. More recent data were not available.
Discrimination: While the law accords women equal legal rights, including the right to own property, most women were limited to customary family roles that prevented them from taking more active roles in economic and political life. No laws mandate equal pay for work of equal value (see section 7.d.). The government did not enforce equal rights laws effectively.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The law and constitution protect racial and ethnic minorities from discrimination; the government enforced them effectively.
The country has more than 27 major islands with approximately 70 language groups. Many islanders saw themselves first as members of a clan, next as inhabitants of their natal island, and only third as citizens of the country. Tensions and resentment between Guadalcanalese and Malaitans on Guadalcanal Island persisted, including over jobs and land rights.
Birth Registration: Children acquire citizenship through their parents on a nondiscriminatory basis. The law does not allow dual citizenship for adults, and persons who acquire dual citizenship at birth must decide by age 18 which citizenship to retain. Registration delays did not result in the denial of public services to children. In July the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal from the Attorney General Chambers against a High Court decision in favor of Member of Parliament Peter Kenilorea. The High Court had ordered authorities to issue Solomon Islands passports to Kenilorea’s two children, ruling that the U.S.-born children were citizens since the parent was a citizen. The Attorney General Chambers conceded during the hearing that its advice to the Immigration Division was wrong. Kenilorea declared that the country was “an inclusive nation and citizens born overseas should be accorded the same rights and privileges as those born in the country,” adding that he knew of many families facing similar situations, affected by poor legal advice given to the Immigration Division.
Education: Education was neither free nor compulsory. Government policy was to cover operational costs for children ages six to 15 to attend school, but it rarely covered all costs and allowed schools to request additional contributions from families in the form of cash or labor. These additional costs prevented some children from attending school. The government closed all schools with the outbreak of COVID-19 from December 2021 until June 2022. The government did not have an effective remote learning alternative.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits child abuse; however, child sexual and physical abuse remained significant problems. In October a community chief, age 48, was jailed for seven years and nine months for having sex with a girl, age six. On October 14, Police Commissioner Mangau announced the arrest of a man, age 40, charged with two counts of sexual intercourse with a child younger than 15; the first incident took place in 2021, the second on October 7. Mangau appealed to the public to stop sexual abuses that he described as continuing unabated.
On November 9, at the Inception Workshop of Economic Costs of Violence Against Children, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Women, Youth, Children and Family Affairs declared that violence against children was prevalent in the country. On November 15, during a court hearing, a clergyman, age 55, pled guilty to one count of sexual intercourse with a child younger than 15 after sexually abusing a girl, age five, in 2020 in Russell Islands, Central Province. On November 22, a man, age 46, pled guilty to nine counts of sexual intercourse with a child and was sentenced to nine years in prison. The man admitted to having sex with a girl, age 15, who was a distant relative.
The law grants children the same rights and protections as adults, with some exceptions. The law mandates the Social Welfare Division of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services to coordinate child protection services and authorizes courts to issue protection orders in cases of serious child abuse or neglect. Laws do not specifically prohibit the use of children in illicit activities such as drug trafficking.
Despite numerous prosecutions, government efforts were unable to effectively curb child sexual abuse or neglect and domestic violence against children.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Both boys and girls may legally marry at age 15, and the law permits marriage at age 14 with parental and village consent. Marriage at such young ages was not common.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 15. The maximum penalty for an adult for having sexual relations with a girl younger than age 13 is life imprisonment, and for sexual relations with a girl 13 to 15 years of age, 15 years’ imprisonment. Consent is not a permissible defense under these provisions; however, a reasonable belief the victim was age 16 or older is a permissible defense. Selling or hiring minors for commercial sexual exploitation is a criminal offense. There were reports of workers in logging camps sexually exploiting girls as young as 12, but in most cases official charges were not filed.
Child pornography is illegal and carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment. The law criminalizes the commercial sexual exploitation of children and participation in or use, distribution, or storing of sexually exploitative materials involving children. Commercial sexual exploitation of children carries a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment. There was no reliable information on enforcement of the law.
The Jewish community was very small, and there were no reports of antisemitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity or Expression, or Sex Characteristics
Criminalization: Sodomy is illegal, as are “indecent practices between persons of the same sex.” The maximum penalty for the former is 14 years’ imprisonment and five years’ imprisonment for the latter. There were no reports of arrests or prosecutions directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons under these provisions, and authorities generally did not enforce these laws.
Violence Against LGBTQI+ Persons: There were no reports of violence against persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity, although stigma may have hindered reporting abuses.
Discrimination: There were no antidiscrimination ordinances that would protect LGBTQI+ persons. There were no reports of open discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons but lack of reports may be due to sociocultural pressure and stigma.
Availability of Legal Gender Recognition: There is no legal process for individuals to update their gender markers on identity documents.
Involuntary or Coercive Medical or Psychological Practices Specifically Targeting LGBTQI+ Individuals: There were no laws or regulations against such practices, and they were not reported as occurring.
Restrictions of Freedom of Expression, Association, or Peaceful Assembly: While there were no ordinances imposing such restrictions, sociocultural pressure and stigma effectively blocked any public discussion of LGBTQI+ problems.
Persons with Disabilities
No law or national policy prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities, and no legislation mandates access to buildings, information, communications, transportation, or health services for such individuals. Very few buildings were accessible to persons with disabilities. The law requires electoral officials to provide special accommodation for voters with disabilities.
The country had one separate educational facility, supported almost entirely by the International Committee of the Red Cross, for children with disabilities. Children with physical disabilities could attend mainstream schools, but inaccessible facilities and a lack of resources often made it difficult for them to do so.
No law requires reasonable accommodations in the workplace, and high unemployment nationwide made it difficult for persons with disabilities to find work, particularly in rural areas.
On December 2, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services launched the Solomon Islands National Disability Development Policy 2022-2031 and the Rehabilitation Strategic Plan 2022-2031. At the launch, Permanent Secretary Pauline McNeil stated the policy document and strategic plan provide for access by persons with disabilities to social services, health and education, employment, and job opportunities equally with others.
Government facilities or services for persons with mental disabilities were very limited. The National Referral Hospital in Honiara treated mental disability on an outpatient basis and referred in-patients to the National Psychiatric Unit at Kilu’ufi Hospital in Malaita Province, which had a 20-person capacity.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Sorcery-related violence was reported. Such violence typically targeted the most vulnerable: young women, widows without male sons, and the elderly. In May men appeared at a village in East Central Guadalcanal and burned down four houses in retaliation for a woman’s death that they believed was caused by an evil spirit. On October 31, a man chopped his brother’s hand off after accusing him of using witchcraft on his wife. The offender was also wounded.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers in the formal sector to form and join unions, conduct legal strikes, and bargain collectively. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination but does not specifically provide for reinstatement of workers fired for trade union activity. The law permits strikes in both the public and private sectors. Strikes require a notice to the government 28 days prior to the strike to be legal. The government has discretionary power to cancel and suspend registration of unions, a power that may take effect even while under judicial review.
The law does not provide for organizing or collective bargaining rights to workers in the informal sector. Additionally, the law places limits on the rights of workers to act as union representatives based on age, literacy, criminal record, and membership in more than one union.
Government enforcement of the law was inconsistent; its small penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights. There was no reliable information on how often penalties were applied against violators. The penalty for antiunion discrimination was not effective, in part because employers could afford to pay the fine and easily replace workers. Penalties for illegal strikes, on the other hand, served as a deterrent for workers to strike.
Collective bargaining agreements determined wages and conditions of employment in the formal economy. Disputes between labor and management not settled between the two sides were referred to the Trade Disputes Panel for arbitration, either before or during a strike. Employees are protected from arbitrary dismissal or lockout during arbitration. The three-member panel, composed of a chairperson appointed by the judiciary, a labor representative, and a business representative, is independent and neutral. The panel’s decisions are binding on both parties. Administrative and judicial procedures were not subject to lengthy delays or appeals.
Workers exercised their rights to associate and bargain collectively, although employers did not always respect these rights. Since only a small percentage of the workforce was in formal-sector employment, employers could easily replace most workers if disputes were not resolved quickly.
The Workers Union of Solomon Islands actively negotiated with private sector employers.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except as part of a court order or sentence, such as community service in lieu of a fine or jail term. The Immigration Act prohibits transnational forced labor.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government typically relied on labor inspectors to report on any instances of forced or compulsory labor during regularly scheduled routine inspections; however, there were not enough inspectors or resources to enforce the laws effectively. The Labour Division did not report any inspection activities at logging operations or in the fisheries or mining sectors.
There were reports of children and adults forced to work in logging camps, on plantations, in Honiara businesses, and of children in domestic servitude or service industries. Local and foreign fishermen reported situations indicative of labor trafficking, including nonpayment of wages, severe living conditions, violence, and limited food supply on Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels in the country’s territorial waters and ports. In July a group of six migrant workers from the PRC filed a police complaint in Honiara alleging that their PRC-national employer had not paid them for months, had not fulfilled other contractual obligations, had confiscated their passports, and had threatened to deport them without paying them back wages owed. Police ordered the business owner to pay the claim, but he absconded to the PRC.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
See the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
No laws prohibit discrimination in employment and occupation. By regulation public-service offices are required to ensure their workplace is “free from harassment, including sexual harassment.” Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred based on gender, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, and HIV-positive status. Persons with disabilities experienced discrimination in hiring and in access to the workplace.
Women experienced discrimination especially in the attainment of managerial positions. Women were predominantly employed in low-paying and low-skilled jobs. A significant gender gap existed in senior positions. For example, women dominated the lower administrative levels of the public service; very few women held senior management positions. A shortage of jobs compounded limited access to, and advancement opportunities in, the workforce for women.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage above the poverty level for all sectors. The standard workweek is 45 hours and is limited to six days per week. The law provides for not less than one and a half times the normal rate of pay for overtime work, and a rate not less than twice the regular hourly rate of pay for authorized public holidays.
Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health (OSH) laws require employers to provide a safe working environment and forbid retribution against any employee who seeks protection under labor regulations. These laws are current and appropriate for main industries. Laws on working conditions and safety standards apply equally to foreign workers and citizens. Some workers could not remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety; however, particularly in the fishing and logging industries, without jeopardy to their employment. OSH experts did not actively identify unsafe conditions including lack of personal protective equipment against COVID-19 or respond to workers’ OSH complaints.
Workers in the logging, construction, and manufacturing sectors were subject to hazardous and exploitative work.
Wage, Hour, and OSH Enforcement: The commissioner of labor in the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, Labour and Immigration, the public prosecutor, and police are responsible for enforcing labor laws. The government, however, did not effectively enforce wage, overtime, or OSH laws in all sectors of the formal economy. The law does not specify penalties for violations, significantly weakening effective enforcement. There was no reliable information on how often penalties were applied against violators.
While inspectors have the authority to conduct unannounced inspections, the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to monitor labor practices routinely, particularly in extractive sectors outside of the capital. The government’s minimal human and financial resources also limited its ability to enforce the law in smaller establishments, the informal economy, and the subsistence sector. An active labor movement and an independent judiciary, however, helped provide effective oversight of labor law enforcement in major state and private-sector enterprises.
Informal Sector: According to a 2021 UN report, 75 percent of workers were in the informal sector. Wage and safety standards apply to the informal sector but were not enforced. No government entity provided protection services to workers in the informal economy.