Alternative Law Journal
Between 1999 and 2003 Solomon Islands went through a period of dramatic instability driven by ethnic tension. The good news is that this is now largely all over due the intervention of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). RAMSI was supported by a coalition of countries from throughout the Pacific. The intervention was, in the main, aimed at restoring some semblance of law and order. The Australian Government (through AusAid) has provided $17.2 million funding to RAMSI to deliver a comprehensive Law and justice Institutional Strengthening Program (LJISP) with particular focus on the criminal justice system.
An early priority for RAMS! was to arrest those responsible for continuing the ethnic violence. Immunity was granted to those who allegedly committed offences prior to the Townsville Agreement (made in late 2000) but did not subsequently re-offend. Those who continued to engage in violence are liable to prosecution.
In this context, a functional prison service is crucial. Aid donors often prefer to support hospitals or water programs rather than prisons. LJISP's decision to provide aid to prisons is to be commended. This has allowed the prison service to regroup and deal with increased prisoner numbers resulting from the violence as well as the backlog of cases that accrued while the courts were largely inoperable due to instability.
The desire to prevent history repeating itself is clear. A key message of RAMSI is to overcome geographic isolation by accepting international support. RAMSI has been successful in recruiting qualified personnel as advisers to local institutions. The aim is to create a durable structure of each arm of government. If successful, Solomon Islands will emerge not only stronger, but be able to provide valuable assistance to other nations in the region.
Compiled by KEN BROWN with the assistance of local informants.
© 2004 Ken Brown