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Special Rapporteur on Violence against women finalises country mission to Solomon Islands

HONIARA (16 March 2012) – At the end of her official country mission to Solomon Islands, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Rashida Manjoo, delivered the following statement:

“At the outset, I would like to express my appreciation for the cooperation extended to me by the Government of Solomon Islands. I am grateful to all my interlocutors, including State officials, representatives of civil society organisations, and representatives of United Nations agencies. I particularly want to thank the individual survivors of violence who shared their personal experiences with me.

This mission was underpinned by the recognition of the on-going challenges faced by Solomon Islands to overcome poverty and underdevelopment, as well as the efforts undertaken by the government, together with its development partners, to achieve this important goal. I am also aware that the country is still undergoing a process of healing and reconciliation after the five years of tensions that took place between 1998 and 2003.

While there is no single homogenous society in this culturally diverse and geographically widespread country, Solomon Islanders share some traditional and religious values which largely shape the roles that women play in the family and in society. Women are mainly viewed as mothers and home-makers and their participation in public and political life is extremely limited. The lack of female role models in positions of authority is evident in the fact that there are no women currently in the Parliament or in the Executive, which reinforces such traditional perspectives and also reflects the dominant views regarding women’s status and value.

The government of Solomon Islands has taken some positive steps to promote women’s human rights and develop policies towards the elimination of violence against them, including through the development of the National Policy on Gender Equality and Women’s Development and the National Policy on Eliminating Violence against Women. I am also pleased to learn that Solomon Islands intends to present its first report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2013, as well as to ratify a number of  relevant ILO conventions. Such developments reflect a growing commitment by the government to honour its international obligations.

I am encouraged to hear that the Law Reform Commission is conducting a review of the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code to better address the issue of sexual offences. In this regard it is my hope that the pervasive problem of domestic violence is also addressed in law reform initiatives. The proposed review of laws relating to marriage and divorce is also encouraging. I also welcome the promulgation of the Evidence Act of 2009 which removed certain barriers to effective prosecutions and which also further victimized women, including the corroboration rule and inclusion of evidence relating to prior sexual history.

During my mission I have learnt about the high incidence of violence against women in Solomon Islands, including domestic violence. According to official figures, 64% of women aged 15-49, who have ever been in a relationship, have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner. I also received information indicating that violence against women starts at a young age, with the girl child being at risk of violence, both in the family and in the community. The number of incest cases filed before the judiciary has been increasing in recent years. Young girls are also reportedly subjected to violence in the community, particularly, sexual abuse, defilement and gang rape. I received alarming reports of young girls being abused by employees of fishing and logging companies in remote areas of the country. In this context, young girls face sexual and commercial exploitation or are sometimes given away in “marriage” by their families, who receive some sort of compensation or bride price, in the form of money or material goods.

Women also carry the legacy of the crimes committed against them during the tensions. This has included rape, torture, loss of property, and displacement, but also an exacerbation of the domestic violence which they were already experiencing in the home, prior to the conflict. I was informed that the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which examined the violations committed during the tensions, and which includes a specific chapter on women, will be submitted to cabinet soon. I encourage the government to thoroughly and publicly discuss the TRC’s findings and recommendations especially with women’s groups and organisations. The transition from a process of peace-building to one of state-building should not deny women victims their right to accountability and other redress measures for these past crimes.

One of the main challenges identified during this mission was the limited avenues for justice available to women victims of violence. There is currently no specific legislation addressing the issue of violence against women. The Penal Code only refers to some forms of domestic violence, and marital rape is not criminalized by law. Even when legislation is available, implementation remains a challenge. While courts may provide protection orders for women victims of domestic violence, these only apply to married women and they are reportedly rarely enforced by the police. Structural obstacles also limit women’s access to the formal justice system. There is a clear disconnect between the capital and the rest of the country as regards access to justice. Some challenges include a lack of infrastructure, human and financial resources, insufficient qualified judges, magistrates and lawyers, amongst other factors.

Furthermore, it is usually through community dispute resolution processes that most cases of violence against women are resolved. These allow for the economic compensation of family members when women have been harmed or violated. Unfortunately, women are usually not the direct beneficiaries of such financial compensation and perpetrators remain unaccountable for the harms inflicted. Impunity, rather than accountability, is the norm for acts of violence against women in cases that do not reach the court. Cases that do come to court also allow for the consideration of any compensation received, as a mitigating factor, in the sentencing process. This often results in low sentences being imposed in many instances.

Another challenge, highlighted by both governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders, is the lack of sufficient and adequate support services for women victims of violence. In the capital there are currently very few NGOs that provide counselling and shelter services.

They continue to work with very little resources received from donors. There is no funding being received from the government, despite the obligation of the state to provide redress measures, including counselling and shelter services. As regards the provinces, such services are largely non-existent.

I am encouraged by the government’s recent pledge to devote 5 million SI dollars to be used for the establishment of women’s resource centres in each constituency. I strongly recommend that the government ensures that an adequate needs assessment is carried out to identify the mandate and functioning of such centres. Furthermore, adequate resources need to be committed for the effective and non-partisan functioning of such centres.

Although there have been positive efforts to mainstream a gender perspective into many development programmes, I encourage both the government, and the development partners, to launch specific programmes targeting women and their right to development, as well as their right to a life free from violence.

My findings will be discussed in a comprehensive way in the report I will present to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2013.”

Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council, for an initial period of three year. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Manjoo is also a Professor in the Department of Public Law at the University of Cape Town.

For additional information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, please visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/SRWomenIndex.aspx