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SSR Country Snapshot: Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands is a conflict-affected country that has been undergoing reforms led by a regional assistance mission. Reform officially began in 2003.


SSR Snapshot: Table of Contents

1. SSR Summary

2. Key Dates

3. Central SSR Programs/Activities

4. Key Funding Commitments

5. Major International Donors

6. Major Civil Society Stakeholders

7. Key Domestic Government Actors

8. Central Challenges

9. For More Information


1. SSR Summary

The Solomon Islands consist of a group of islands located on the South Pacific Ocean. The country has a population of 597,248, with ethnic Polynesian, Micronesian and Melanesian groups. The current government is a parliamentary democracy that sits in the capital of Honiara. The executive is led by Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo, while the legislature consists of a broad coalition of political parties (CIA World fact Book, 2013). The country has been a member of the Commonwealth since 1978.

Security sector reforms began in 2003 after ethnic violence, referred to locally as the “tension”, began in 1998 between the indigenous islanders of Guadalcanal under the Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) and those of the Malaita Islands and the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF). The violence was perpetuated by the Solomon Islands police who formed paramilitary units and supported the militias of their respective ethnic affiliation. When the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) intervened on January 23, 2003, reform efforts aimed at restoring law and order and building institutions became a priority (Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, 2010). In 2009, the SIG-RAMSI Partnership Framework established an agreement which set out tangible goals and timelines for building the capacity of the Solomon Islands Government (SIG) in the key areas of law and justice, machinery of government and economic governance – with the objective of achieving transition to SIG authority by July 2013 (Forum Ministerial Standing Committee, 2009).

Given the role of the police in exacerbating the conflict, as well as the general breakdown of law and order that ensued, SSR efforts have focused on the law and justice sector and have aimed to reform and strengthen the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) with training and guidance supplied by RAMSI’s Participating Police Force (PPF). They have also assisted in building the capacity and effectiveness of the Correctional Service Solomon Islands (CSSI) and the Justice System. In 2012 RAMSI began to scale back its military and civilian presence to transition to SIG authority and bilateral donor assistance (RAMSI, 2012). However, several key challenges remain, including a continued reliance on external funding and support, a lack of public confidence in the police force and lingering concerns over unaddressed factors that led to the tension (World Bank, 2012)

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2. Key Dates:

  • 17 January, 2000: The MEF raids the police armoury at Auki and officially begins its military offensive against the IFM
  • 5 June, 2000: MEF supported by paramilitary police units raid the Rous Armory and put Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa’alu under house arrest
  • 3 August, 2000: The government signs a ceasefire between the combatants.
  • 15 October, 2000: The Townsville Peace Agreement is signed, but law and order problems persist
  • 23 July, 2003: RAMSI arrives in the Solomon Islands to help restore law and order and build the machinery of government.
  • 15 May, 2009: Solomon Islands Government – RAMSI Partnership Framework established; sets out objectives and timelines to guide RAMSI’s work.
  • November 2011: RSIPF and RAMSI’s PPF agree to transition strategy.
  • July 1, 2013: RAMSI military component begins withdrawal while civilian development programs transition to bilateral donor assistance.

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3. Central SSR Programs/Activities:

Law and Justice Reform – Establish a Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, Correctional Service of Solomon Islands and a Justice Sector that is effective, responsive to community needs and can eventually operate independently of RAMSI (SIG-RAMSI Partnership Framework, 2009).

Solomon Islands DDR Program – A multi-year project that was supported by various actors, including the National Peace Council (NPC), UNDP and RAMSI. It focused on weapons collection and disposal and the demobilization and reintegration of special constables and ex-combatants. Efforts included important initiatives like RAMSI’s gun amnesty program and the Weapons Free Village campaign led by the NPC. Demobilization and socio-economic integration of former combatants was led by the UNDP (UNDP, 2011).

Community Officer Project – In 2010, an initiative supported by RAMSI aimed at training officers at the village level to uphold law and order using traditional dispute-resolution mechanisms was established to extend the reach of the RSIPF to rural areas (RAMSI, 2010).

Truth and Reconciliation Commission - In 2007, the Solomon Islands Government established a truth commission to promote national unity and examine the effects that conflict had on individuals, communities, and the nation as a whole, as well as the effect on particular sectors – including the law and justice sectors (Truth and Reconciliation Committee – Solomon Islands, 2013)

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4. Key Funding Commitments:

Australia has committed US$480.7 million over four years to support RAMSI’s transition and development programs in the law, justice and governance sectors. Portions of this funding will be used to increase training of community officers by 70%. Further funding will go to supporting the continuing work of the PPF (AusAID, 2013).

In 2008, the UNDP committed US$2.992 million over five years for peacebuilding initiatives and the facilitation of national dialogue and reconciliation (UNDP, 2008).

New Zealand committed US$400 million in 2011-2012 to strengthen RAMSI’s law and justice program, particularly to assist the Solomon Islands court system with “tension” trials (NZAID, 2012)

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5. Major International Donors:

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6. Major Civil Society Stakeholders:

Solomon Islands Christian Association – influential in establishing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and remains active in promoting transparent and accountable governance. Church groups continue to play a powerful role in the lives of Solomon Islanders and provide justice and dispute resolution at the community level.

National Council of Women – an umbrella civil society organization that works with RAMSI to promote female representation at all levels of the Solomon Islands Government and in the public service. This is an important task, given the history of relegating women to domestic roles and given the positive contributions recognized for women in peacebuilding, post-conflict reconstruction and security sector reform.

Transparency Solomon Islands – the Solomon Islands local branch of Transparency International that works to fight corruption in government and industry by promoting civic awareness, acting as electoral observers, providing advocacy and legal advice and by working with partners to monitor natural resource industries. In the past, it has also provided independent assessments of RAMSI’s work, including in building the police force and justice sector.

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7. Key Domestic Government Actors:

Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs – Provides justice services to the people and Government of Solomon Islands. It contains the Attorney-General’s Chamber, Public Solicitor’s Office, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and – importantly for SSR – the Law Reform Commission.

National Judiciary – Serves the Solomon Islands community by hearing and determining cases, upholding the rule of law and furthering the interests of justice. The Judiciary contains the high court and magistrates, which continue to play a lead role in overseeing tension trials.

Ministry of Police, National Security and Correctional Services – Is responsible for the provision of a safe and secure environment through efficient and accountable police and correctional services. Both the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force and the Correctional Services Solomon Islands operate under this ministry’s leadership.

Ministry of National Unity, Peace and Reconciliation – The government ministry responsible for examining and addressing the historic and root causes of conflict while promoting national dialogue, reconciliation and reintegration of ex-combatants. Oversees important initiatives like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Peace and Integrity Council.

(No website exists for these government bodies, all info taken from SIG Budget Outlook, 2013)

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8. Central Challenges:

Reliance on external assistance: The expansive statebuilding project undertaken by RAMSI has come a long way in rebuilding Solomon Islands’ capacity for maintaining law and order. However, the RSIPF is still far from being self-sustaining financially and logistically. RAMSI’s assistance has also had some adverse effects by establishing parallel structures that have undermined local capacity-building and that have built a culture of dependency. This has been reinforced by public perceptions of doubt over the RSIPF’s ability to deliver without the assistance of the PPF, as expressed in the annual people’s survey of 2011 as well as through similar dissatisfaction in the 2013 survey (RAMSI, 2011; 2013)

Incorporating state and non-state structures: In many rural communities, the dominant form of justice and dispute resolution comes from traditional community and village level mechanisms, such as the Kastom court system. At the same time, there is a desire for the involvement of state authorities, especially where traditional structures are weak or inefficient. However, the presence of state police and court services is marginal in rural communities. Finding ways to incorporate the state and non-state will be essential to ensure that justice and safety is delivered to all (World Bank, 2013)

Structural problems: slow economic outlook, relative deprivation and a population boom may exacerbate underlying issues that led to the tension. This includes land disputes, migration and natural resource rent distribution (Dinnen, 2012). As long as these factors are present, a return to conflict cannot be ruled out.

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9. For More Information:

Allen, Matthew, Sinclair Dinnen, Daniel Evans and Rebecca Monson (2013). Justice Delivered Locally: Systems, Challenges and Innovations in Solomon Islands. Washington D.C: World Bank, Justice for the Poor Research Report, July 2013.

This up-to-date report written by some of the leading experts on Solomon Islands justice reform, outlines the findings of the World Bank’s Justice for the Poor (J4P) research project which is aimed at reinvigorating local and community justice and governance services. Approximately 80 percent of the Solomon Islands’ population living outside of Honiara relies on local-level services.

Dinnen, Sinclar and Matthew Allen (2012). “The Paradoxes of Post-Colonial Police-Building: Solomon Islands” Policing and Society: An International Journal of Research and Policy 23(2): 222-242.                         

Assesses the RAMSI intervention and its police reform project. Provides a good summary of RAMSI activities in this area, while critically examining effects on the long-term sustainability of the RSIPF and local justice delivery.

Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands (RAMSI)

The official RAMSI website provides a comprehensive description of the activities undertaken by RAMSI in the areas of law and justice, machinery of government and economic governance, as well as key documents, information and links to other important stakeholders.

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If you notice any information that needs to be updated in this SSR Country Snapshot, please let us know at [email protected].