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A call for the right to a life free from violence for women in Solomon Islands – UN expert

HONIARA (16 March 2012) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo today urged the Government of Solomon Islands and the country’s development partners “to launch specific programmes targeting women and their right to development and the right to a life free from violence.”

Ms. Manjoo also called for further reform and support to make justice available to women victims of violence, at the end of her official visit* to the country, the first by a UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

“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,” the human rights expert said. “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.”
 
However, the Special Rapporteur noted that, 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. “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,” she said.

“I received alarming reports of young girls being abused by employees of fishing and logging companies in remote areas of the country,” Ms. Manjoo said. “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 five years of 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.”

“The transition from a process of peace-building to one of state-building should not deny women victims of their right to both accountability and other redress measures for these past crimes,” the expert stressed, recalling that the findings of 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 Commission’s findings and recommendations especially with women’s groups and organisations,” she said.

One of the main challenges identified by the Special Rapporteur during her five-day mission was “the limited avenues for justice available to women victims of violence.” Among other things, there is no specific legislation on 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.

Ms. Manjoo also pointed at structural obstacles limiting women’s access to the formal justice system, and “a clear disconnect between the capital and the rest of the country as regards access to justice.” In her view, some challenges include a lack of infrastructure, human and financial resources, insufficient qualified judges, magistrates and lawyers, amongst other factors.

“Another challenge, shared by the majority of stakeholders, is the lack of sufficient and adequate support services for women victims of violence,” she said, noting that few NGOs that provide counselling and shelter services in the capital, with very little resources received from donors. “As regards the provinces, such services are largely non-existent.”

“I particularly want to thank the individual survivors of violence who shared their personal experiences with me,” said human rights expert who visited shelters and detention centres, and met with individual victims of gender-based violence in Honiara. She also held meetings with government authorities and representatives of civil society and the UN agencies.

Based on the information obtained during the mission, the Special Rapporteur will present a report with her final findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council IN June 2013.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11968&LangID=E

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 at the Department of Public Law at the University of Cape Town. Learn more, log on to: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/women/rapporteur/index.htm

UN Human Rights Country Page – Solomon Islands: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/SBIndex.aspx

For more information and press inquiries:
In Honiara: Stella Delaiverata-Tuhaika (+ 677 22747 / stella.delaiverata@undp.org)
In Geneva: Gabriela Guzmán (+ 41 22 917 9412 / gguzman@ohchr.org, vaw@ohchr.org 

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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