HONIARA, 18 October 2013 – Today the Government of Solomon Islands and the World Bank launched a major research report outlining the key causes and consequences of disputes in rural communities and the experiences of citizens in managing their problems and seeking justice. The launch took place in Honiara and was attended by the Minister for Police, National Security and Correctional Services, the Acting Chief Justice, the Acting Commissioner of Police as well as a number of government, police, civil society, religious and donor representatives.
The report, Justice Delivered Locally: Systems, Challenges and Innovations in Solomon Islands, outlines findings from extensive village-level research conducted across Guadalcanal, Isabel, Malaita, Renbel and Western provinces by a team of Solomon Islander and international researchers. It is the first time a study of this nature has been carried out in Solomon Islands and is intended to assist government and others working to improve local-level justice service delivery.
The Acting Chief Justice, Justice Francis Mwanesalua, in officially launching the report, stated that the research would, “greatly assist the National Judiciary, together with our donor partners, in identifying where to direct scarce resources in order to best meet the justice delivery challenges facing Solomon Islands.”
The release of the report is particularly timely given government policy to address issues relevant to village-level justice and the transition of RAMSI to a more long-term approach to development assistance. The work was undertaken with the financial assistance of the Australian aid program.
The research shows that while there has been a gradual withdrawal of state justice services in rural Solomon Islands since independence, especially court services and policing, the state is still viewed as a legitimate and important player in justice service delivery. The overwhelming consensus of the over 3000 rural citizens involved in the research was that a more present and proactive state is essential.
Research participants identified various common causes and consequences of disputes:
- Social order problems related to substance abuse, in particular the drinking of alcohol and consumption of drugs, mainly marijuana. In some locations visited, the drinking of kwaso, homebrew or beer and the smoking of marijuana was seen to overshadow all other community problems and frequently lead to antisocial and criminal behaviour.
- Land-related disputes and arguments that arise from government, donor or NGO spending, most typically in the form of projects. These disputes often relate to who will benefit financially from proposed developments. The presence or otherwise of logging was seen to be the single most significant predictor of community cohesion and disharmony.
- Family and marital disputes, particularly adultery and domestic violence.
The report discusses the systems in place to address local problems – kastom, the church and the state. Where it is working, the kastom system – mainly through chiefs – is the most commonly used mechanism to address community arguments and problems, with churches also playing a significant role. However, the report describes the increasing difficulties that chiefs and local leaders are having in dealing with some issues, including substance abuse and land disputes. A key finding is that no one system, including the courts, is able to deal effectively with disputes arising from logging activities.
“The research details examples of resilience and innovations around justice and governance issues in many rural communities across Solomon Islands,” said Daniel Evans from the World Bank, and a co-author of the report.
“Various villages and provinces are developing and testing their own methods to address issues outlined in the research, as well as seeking to formally recognize local leaders and to create or support community governance structures. These efforts are promising and should be supported. They point towards a desire to take control of problems and are practices from which policy makers can potentially learn valuable lessons.”
The Justice Delivered Locally research report is one of several studies which the World Bank has undertaken with the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs and the National Judiciary around local-level justice. Recommendations from the various studies will be released later this year. Copies of the Justice Delivered Locally research report, and past publications, can be obtained from the World Bank office, Mud Alley, Honiara, or at www.worldbank.org/justiceforthepoor