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Statements Special Procedures

Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights - Mission to Solomon Islands, 14-18 February 2011

18 February 2011

Honiara, 18 February 2011


Today marks the end of my official fact-finding visit to Solomon Islands. My visit is significant because it is the first ever to the country by an independent expert of the United Nations Human Rights Council. I wish to express my gratitude to the Government of Solomon Islands for inviting me to undertake a mission to the country and for its cooperation and openness during the mission.  

The main purpose of my visit to Solomon Islands was to assess the impact of the country’s external debt burden on, and the effectiveness of foreign assistance in, the realization of human rights and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). I was also interested in exploring the impact of the global financial crisis on the country’s debt burden and the linkages between the debt burden and terms of trade.

My visit to this country follows a visit to Australia from 7 to 11 February 2011, which primarily focused on Australia’s aid programme and its impact on the realization of human rights and development in the recipient countries in the Pacific region. My visit to Solomon Islands looked at the other side of the coin - the effectiveness of foreign aid, delivered by multilateral and bilateral agencies, in ensuring the realization of human rights and attainment of the MDGs in a recipient country.  

I have had very insightful and constructive discussions with Government officials, representatives of relevant Parliamentary Committees, bilateral and multilateral agencies providing development assistance in Solomon Islands and members of civil society. Regrettably, one of the key stakeholders, the Asian Development Bank, has been uncooperative during my visits to Australia and Solomon Islands.

While I will present my findings, conclusions and recommendations in a comprehensive report to Human Rights Council, I would like to share some preliminary observations and recommendations with you.

Prefatorily, I note the numerous financial, institutional and normative challenges faced by Solomon Islands in its attempts to achieve economic growth, self-sustaining development and freedom from the burden of debt. The limitations imposed by unfavourable terms of trade, a challenging geographical location, a small economy that is heavily dependent on imports, insufficient Government revenues and an underdeveloped productive sector, make Solomon Islands highly vulnerable to external shocks as well as heavily dependent on foreign aid to foster development and the achievement of the MDGs.

I also note that international assistance accounts for over 60 percent of the country’s development budget and that the significant foreign aid provided in areas such as health and education, has helped Solomon Islands make important progress towards achieving the MDGs on health and education. While it is commendable that this assistance is provided to the country, it is equally important to promote self-sustaining economic growth and development and to ensure that Solomon Islands is able to come out of the cycle of aid dependency. It is also important that the Government and its development partners design a medium-term exit strategy for the development assistance programmes being implemented in the country.

Much of the development assistance to the country is being delivered in the form of technical assistance entailing the deployment of a large number of advisers – the overwhelming majority of whom are nationals of donor countries - to Government departments. In my view, effective capacity building should promote rather than hinder the empowerment of local professionals, both in Government and civil society. Consequently, I consider that there is a need to reduce the excessively large number of technical advisers. Greater effort should be directed towards affording Solomon Islanders the opportunity to assume responsibility and there should be a clear timetable for the capacity building endeavour.

I am also concerned about the insufficient coordination of development strategies between the Government and the donor community. In this regard, I would like to urge the Government and its development partners to ensure the close and clear alignment of the development agenda of development partners with the development priorities of the Government of Solomon Islands. The Government should fully own the development process in the country and every effort must be made to ensure this. Donor interventions should provide guidance and support to the Government’s development strategy without undermining its leading role. The Government of Solomon Islands needs to take full responsibility for the direction that aid takes in the country and it should put in place a regulatory environment that guarantees a transparent, accountable and people-centered delivery of aid.

In addition, aid should not be accompanied by harmful conditionalities, such as reduction of public sector spending (in circumstances where the Government is the largest employer in the country), privatization, trade liberalization and financial liberalization. In this regard, I am concerned that the public sector “wage” or “establishment” freeze currently in place under the IMF Standby Credit Facility may undermine the efforts of development partners to build the human resources capacity of the Government.

 Any measures to attract foreign investment should be directed to ensuring that the country’s resources are used in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner and that the benefits of investments accrue to the people, especially the poorest, rather than one-sidedly enrich the investors.

It appears to me that there is inadequate oversight of the aid projects that are active in the country. The large amount of aid being provided in Solomon Islands imposes a number of responsibilities on the part of both the Government and the donors. For this reason, I urge both parties to coordinate their actions and to put in place effective monitoring mechanisms to guarantee efficient and transparent use of funds and to assess the impact of development aid. In addition, progress should be measured by reference to the legal standards elaborated in the international human rights instruments (such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child) to which both the Solomon Islands and donor countries are parties, as well as internationally agreed targets such as the MDGs.

In view of the insufficient monitoring of public affairs, including the delivery and use of aid funds and debt management, I encourage the Government of Solomon Islands to consider establishing an independent and autonomous oversight mechanism to monitor the use and management of public funds and the performance of Government agencies and privatized companies, as well as aid programmes. Such a mechanism should be financially and institutionally independent of any governmental agency or ministry and manage its own resources and procedures, and it should report directly and regularly to the Parliament without intervention from any governmental structure. Consideration should be given to including provisions in the country’s Constitution to ensure Parliamentary oversight of loan contraction, use and management.

An issue of particular concern is the absence of a human rights-based approach, both in the policies and practices of Government agencies as well as in the design and implementation of aid programmes and projects by the country’s development partners. I urge the Government to adopt a National Human Rights Action Plan as recommended in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2002, as well as to ratify the core international human rights treaties to which Solomon Islands is not yet party and to ensure that domestic legislation and the country’s Constitution fully recognize the rights elaborated in these instruments. I further call upon the Government to establish, and donors to support, as a matter of priority, a National Human Rights Institution, in full compliance with the Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (“the Paris Principles”).

With regards to development assistance, the need for a human rights framework to guide the development strategies for Solomon Islands, has not been addressed by any of the relevant actors in the country. Human rights are an essential part of any sustainable development strategy. I consider that a human rights-based approach that guides the design and implementation of development aid programmes and projects will enhance the effectiveness of aid programmes and contribute to achieving sustainable results, while ensuring that development challenges in Solomon Islands are adequately and equitably addressed and that the fundamental rights of the people are fully respected in the process. A human rights based-approach would require full respect of fundamental rights and adherence to the principles of equality, non-discrimination, accountability, participation in decision-making and the rule of law by all actors engaged in the process, including third parties contracted for the delivery of certain projects or services. States’ obligations to protect human rights entail taking appropriate measures to ensure that people’s rights are not violated by third parties.

I would like to end by calling upon stakeholders engaged in the design, implementation, and oversight of development aid programmes - including Government officials and donors (both bilateral and multilateral) - to put the people of Solomon Islands (especially the poorest and most vulnerable) and their fundamental rights at the centre of their development policies and strategies to ensure that at all times and in all circumstances the people of Solomon Islands are always protected from the unintended harmful effects of change and economic growth and that they are the ultimate beneficiaries of economic growth and development.

Thank you.