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Soloman Islands

Although little prehistory of the Solomon Islands is known, material excavated on Santa Ana, Guadalcanal, and Gawa indicates that a hunter-gatherer people lived on the larger islands as early as 1000 BC.

Although little prehistory of the Solomon Islands is known, material excavated on Santa Ana, Guadalcanal, and Gawa indicates that a hunter-gatherer people lived on the larger islands as early as 1000 B.C. Some Solomon Islanders are descendants of Neolithic Austronesian-speaking peoples who migrated from Southeast Asia.

The European discoverer of the Solomons was the Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana Y Neyra, who set out from Peru in 1567 to seek the legendary Isles of Solomon. British mariner Philip Carteret , entered Solomon waters in 1767. In the years that followed, visits by explorers were more frequent.

Missionaries began visiting the Solomons in the mid-1800s. They made little progress at first, because "blackbirding"--the often brutal recruitment of laborers for the sugar plantations in Queensland and Fiji--led to a series of reprisals and massacres. The evils of the labor trade prompted the United Kingdom to declare a protectorate over the southern Solomons in 1893. In 1898 and 1899, more outlying islands were added to the protectorate; in 1900 the remainder of the archipelago, an area previously under German jurisdiction, was transferred to British administration. Under the protectorate, missionaries settled in the Solomons, converting most of the population to Christianity.

In the early 20th century, several British and Australian firms began large-scale coconut planting. Economic growth was slow, however, and the islanders benefited little. With the outbreak of World War II, most planters and traders were evacuated to Australia, and most cultivation ceased.

From May 1942, when the Battle of the Coral Sea was fought, until December 1943, the Solomons were almost constantly a scene of combat. Although U.S. forces landed on Guadalcanal virtually unopposed in August 1942, they were soon engaged in a bloody fight for control of the islands' airstrip, which the U.S. forces named Henderson Field. One of the most furious sea battles ever fought took place off Savo Island, near Guadalcanal, also in August 1942. Before the Japanese completely withdrew from Guadalcanal in February 1943, over 7,000 Americans and 21,000 Japanese died. By December 1943, the Allies were in command of the entire Solomon chain. The large-scale American presence toward the end of the war, which dwarfed anything seen before in the islands, triggered various millennial movements and left a lasting legacy of friendship.

Postwar Developments

Following the end of World War II, the British colonial government returned. The capital was moved from Tulagi to Honiara to take advantage of the infrastructure left behind by the U.S. military. A native movement known as the Marching Rule defied government authority. There was much disorder until some of the leaders were jailed in late 1948. Throughout the 1950s, other indigenous dissident groups appeared and disappeared without gaining strength.

In 1960, an advisory council of Solomon Islanders was superseded by a legislative council, and an executive council was created as the protectorate's policymaking body. The council was given progressively more authority.

In 1974, a new constitution was adopted establishing a parliamentary democracy and ministerial system of government. In mid-1975, the name Solomon Islands officially replaced that of British Solomon Islands Protectorate. On January 2, 1976, the Solomons became self-governing, and independence followed on July 7, 1978.

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.

CIVIL DISORDER

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.

ECONOMY

Its per capita GDP of $340 ranks Solomon Islands as a lesser developed nation, and more than 75% of its labor force is engaged in subsistence farming and fishing. Until 1998, when world prices for tropical timber fell steeply, timber was Solomon Islands main export product, and, in recent years, Solomon Islands forests were dangerously overexploited. Other important cash crops and exports include copra and palm oil. In 1998 Ross Mining of Australia began producing gold at Gold Ridge on Guadalcanal. Minerals exploration in other areas continued. However in the wake of the ethnic violence in June 2000, exports of palm oil and gold ceased while exports of timber fell.

Exploitation of Solomon Islands' rich fisheries offers the best prospect for further export and domestic economic expansion. However, a Japanese joint venture, Solomon Taiyo Ltd., which operated the only fish cannery in the country, closed in mid-2000 as a result of the ethnic disturbances. Though the plant has reopened under local management, the export of tuna has not resumed. Negotiations are underway which may lead to the eventual reopening of the Gold Ridge mine and the major oil-palm plantation, but each would take years.

Tourism, particularly diving, is an important service industry for Solomon Islands. Growth in that industry is hampered, however, by lack of infrastructure and transportation limitations.

Solomon Islands was particularly hard hit by the Asian economic crisis even before the ethnic violence of June 2000. The Asian Development Bank estimates that the crash of the market for tropical timber reduced Solomon Island's GDP by between 15%-25%. About one-half of all jobs in the timber industry were lost. The government has said it will reform timber harvesting policies with the aim of resuming logging on a more sustainable basis.

The Solomon Islands government was insolvent by 2002. Since the RAMSI intervention in 2003, the government has recast its budget, taken a hard look at priorities, and is now seeking to address the overhanging debt burden. Much work remains to be done. Principal aid donors are Australia, New Zealand, the European Union, Japan, and the Republic of China.

BELIEFS

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. The Government placed no restrictions on the movement of citizens within or out of the country. 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. 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. 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.

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).

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.

INCIDENCE OF CRIME

Since July 24, 2003 the Regional Assistance Mission in the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), a coalition of Pacific Island states that includes military and police forces from Australia and several other Pacific Island nations, has helped the Solomon Islands improve law and order. The Solomon Islands government and the vast majority of its citizens have welcomed the intervention. By the end of September 2003, more than 3500 weapons were surrendered or seized as part of a countrywide weapons amnesty. The police estimate that during arrests made in 2004, they seized an additional 20-25 weapons. Security in the capital Honiara has improved since the arrival of RAMSI. It is considered safe for visitors to walk the streets day and night, and there have been no reported security incidents against visitors for the last 12 months. Provincial capitals are considered safe with the exception of North Malaita.

Major crimes against travelers are uncommon, although incidences of theft, mugging and extortion occurred in Honiara before the arrival of the RAMSI coalition personnel. Some 350 RAMSI Police are working alongside Royal Solomon Islands Police (RSIP) to respond to any police situation. The Police now have the ability to respond to all calls for assistance. Police forces in the outer islands have been strengthened, with 17 new posts established in the last two years. Plans are in place to build another three to four police posts outside of the capital.

POLICE

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.

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. 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.

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

COURTS

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.

CORRECTIONS

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.

WOMEN

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.

CHILDREN

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.

DRUG TRAFFICKING

Drug trafficking does not occur on a significant or commercial scale in Papua New Guinea (PNG), Solomon Islands, or Vanuatu. However, Australian law enforcement authorities have identified the Highlands Provinces of PPNG as a small-volume source of cannabis that makes its way into Australia via the Western Province and over the Torres Strait. In the three countries, drug abuse among urban youth is a growing concern, with cannabis usage and glue or solvent sniffing the most popular drugs of abuse in PNG and the Solomon Islands, especially by poor, and usually unemployed, urban youth. Vanuatu authorities have in recent years made infrequent and small seizures of amphetamine and some synthetics (such as Ecstasy-MDMA), which they assert were imported from Asia and were intended for the country's affluent youth.

There are no reliable quantitative measures of either trafficking or abuse in these three countries. Beyond the regular activities of their poorly-resourced and poorly-managed law enforcement agencies, none of the countries has a centrally-directed narcotics control strategy. Though PNG passed legislation creating a Narcotics Control Board in 1992, it has yet to be established or staffed. PNG is a party to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, as amended by the 1972 Protocol, and the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The Solomon Islands is a party to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, as amended by the 1972 Protocol. None of the three countries is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention. Money laundering is not reported to occur in PNG or the Solomon Islands, and no incidents have been reported or prosecuted in Vanuatu, though legislation and enforcement in all three countries could be improved. Better efforts and training for counterterrorism is being supported and promoted in the region primarily by Australia.

There is no evidence of significant levels of illicit drug production or transit in PNG, the Solomon Islands, or Vanuatu. Cases of potential narcotics transshipment occasionally come to light in PNG, but there is no persistent pattern. There is evidence of small-scale PNG cannabis cultivation and export, primarily to Australia. This activity may also be related to smuggling of small arms into Australia. None of these countries is a source of precursor chemicals. In one case in 2000, a local PNG firm allegedly made arrangements to import pseudo-ephedrine in quantities far in excess of legitimate domestic requirements. Government authorities revoked the import authorization when they discovered irregularities in its issuance. The potential involvement of organized drug-traffickers in the case was investigated by PNG law enforcement agencies though the findings were never made public.

Due to the very limited extent of drug trafficking and abuse in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, law enforcement agencies have not established separate initiatives for countering cultivation, production, and distribution of illegal drugs. Similarly, asset seizure, extradition, and mutual legal assistance in narcotics cases occur too infrequently to form the basis for an assessment of the governments' performance in these areas. In general, however, the law enforcement agencies of all three countries have shown themselves to be willing to cooperate with other countries on narcotics enforcement as needed, given resource constraints. There is no evidence of narcotics-related corruption in these countries.

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.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Internet research assisted by David Alexander and Andrea Mick.

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