Freedom in the World
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Danny Philip resigned as prime minister in November 2011 over corruption charges and was replaced by former minister of finance Gordon Darcy Lilo. Jimmy Lusibaea, a former militant leader and elected lawmaker, was stripped of his seat in Parliament following his conviction on charges including attempted murder in 2000.
The Solomon Islands gained independence from Britain in 1978. Tensions between the two largest ethnic groups—the Gwale and the Malaitans—over jobs and land rights turned into open warfare in 1998. Scores were injured or killed before peace was gradually restored through the 2000 Townsville Peace Agreement, brokered by Australia and New Zealand. A UN mission initially maintained order, while the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) has kept the peace since 2003.
In 2007, Derek Sikua was elected prime minister and made political stability and national reconciliation priorities of his government. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission, modeled after South Africa’s, was launched in 2009 to investigate crimes and address impunity connected to the 1998–2003 violence. In 2010, the commission began its first hearings, during which witnesses told stories of threats, torture, and death. More hearings were held in 2011 to collect information for a final report expected to be released in 2012.
In the August 2010 general elections, independents won 19 seats, the Solomon Islands Democratic Party (SIDP) captured 13 seats, the Reform Democratic Party (RDP) and the Ownership, Unity, and Responsibility Party each took 3 seats, and smaller parties captured the remainder. Approximately 100 international observers and police officers monitored the elections and maintained order. As is common in the Solomon Islands, new parties formed before the elections and disbanded afterward; legislators aligned themselves with these parties, but the groupings were fluid. RDP leader Danny Philip was chosen as the new prime minister, narrowly defeating SIDP leader Steve Abana. Philip, who served in Parliament from 1994 to 2001, reaffirmed the country’s ties with Taiwan and pledged to work with RAMSI, fight corruption, and promote gender equality and development.
Philip resigned on November 10, 2011 in response to corruption allegations. On November 15, Parliament chose Philip’s former finance minister, Gordon Darcy Lilo, as the new prime minister. His selection resulted in rioting throughout the capital. Malaitans, in particular, opposed Lilo’s selection because he had previously proposed termination of government allocations to Malaita. Within two days, Lilo faced a no-confidence vote, which was withdrawn due to lack of support.
In November 2010, Jimmy Lusibaea—the former leader of a militant group during the country’s civil war—was convicted on charges including assault and attempted murder in 2000 and sentenced to almost three years in prison. Lusibaea challenged his conviction in January 2011, claiming that his crimes had occurred during a period covered under an amnesty for atrocities committed during the war. In October, his sentence was drastically reduced, though a High Court stripped him of his seat in Parliament.
In December 2011, the cabinet endorsed a phased withdrawal of RAMSI, which has shifted its emphasis from direct policing to a capacity-building mission for the Solomon Island police force.
The Solomon Islands are not an electoral democracy. A governor general, appointed on the advice of the National Parliament for a five-year term, represents the British monarch as head of state. Members of the 50-seat, unicameral National Parliament are elected for four-year terms. A parliamentary majority elects the prime minister, and the governor-general appoints the cabinet on the advice of the prime minister. New parties often form before elections and are disbanded afterward as lawmakers switch allegiance after taking office. Political activity is driven more by personalities and clan identities than party affiliation.
Corruption is rampant at all levels of government. In February 2011, Minister of Mines and Energy Mark Kemakeza was charged with corruption and abuse of office and stripped of his post in April. The court had not ruled on the charges against him by year’s end. In July, 14 senior officials were fired for misusing government funds. In November, a government audit discovered widespread document falsification and forgery in the finance ministry, and the opposition party alleged misuse of nearly $900,000 of $1.3 million in discretionary funds controlled by the prime minister, leading to his resignation. Solomon Islands ranked 120 out of 183 countries in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedoms of expression and of the press are generally respected, but politicians and elites sometimes use legal and extralegal means to intimidate journalists. The print media include a privately owned daily, a weekly, and two monthly publications. The government operates the only radio station. There is no local television station, but foreign broadcasts can be received via satellite. Internet use is growing, but access is limited by lack of infrastructure and high costs.
Freedom of religion is generally respected, as is academic freedom.
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, and the government generally recognizes this right in practice. Organizers of demonstrations must obtain permits, which are typically granted. Civil society groups operate without interference. Workers are free to organize, and strikes are permitted. In August 2011, a nation-wide strike by public sector union workers ended after just one day when it accepted the government’s offer of a 4 percent increase in the cost of living allowance.
Threats against judges and prosecutors have weakened the independence and rigor of the judicial system. Judges and prosecutors have also been implicated in scandals relating to corruption and abuse of power. A lack of resources limits the government’s ability to provide legal counsel and timely trials. The ombudsman’s office has far-reaching powers to investigate complaints of official abuse and unfair treatment, but generally lacks the funds to do so. Poor training, abuse of power, and factional and ethnic rivalries are common in the police force.
Discrimination limits the economic and political roles of women; none were elected in the 2010 elections, and there are no female judges on the High Court. Rape and other forms of abuse against women and girls are widespread. While rape is illegal, no law prohibits domestic violence. In October 2011, the government rejected a call by the United Nations to decriminalize homosexuality, saying that it is against traditional values.