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Armed forces in the Solomons without social justice could make things worse

By Adrian Smith - posted Thursday, 17 July 2003

No one likes to see the deployment of foreign troops into another sovereign state but the Solomon Islands is crying out for help. Since June 5, 2000, the country has been in a state of crisis.

After the armed coup that day, the then prime minister, Bart Ulufa'alu, was forced to resign. When the dust had settled, Ulufa'alu was not returned as prime minister and the country never recovered.

Since then the Solomon Islands has moved from being the "happy isles" to a place of fear and depression. Public servants, teachers, health workers and police don't get paid for months at a time, if at all; the health service has all but collapsed; corruption within government and the police force is rife; morale is low; unemployment has skyrocketed; foreign investment has virtually dried up; law and order has collapsed; armed gangs are active in the capital, Honiara, and a renegade warlord seemingly operates at will, killing, looting and destroying; hundreds are still missing from the fighting in 2000 and many more have not been able to return to their homes for fear of being harassed, or worse.


It is because of this situation that I guardedly welcome the intervention of Australian and other countries' military and police. Peace and stability need to be returned - urgently. But I do have many fears about how it will all go. If it goes wrong, it could go very wrong. Feelings like "We're being pushed aside" or "Foreigners are taking over our jobs" can express themselves in ugly ways.

As chairman of the Solomon Islands Christian Association (SICA) and Catholic Archbishop of the Solomon Islands, I feel strongly that there are four areas those involved in the intervention must be conscious of if peace and stability are to be restored.

First, there should be regular monitoring and evaluation of this operation. Civil society should play an important role in this to ensure the community's needs are met. And SICA, as one of the few legitimate voices in the country, must be involved.

Second, the question of amnesty is a key to the ntervention's long-term success. At the moment, the government of the Solomon Islands is saying that any crimes committed before the deployment will be exempt from foreign military and police prosecution. This is the wrong approach.

Great harm has been done to our people over the past three years. It will be difficult to go forward if perpetrators of serious crime are allowed to go unpunished.

However, those who have committed crimes since 2000 will be reluctant to hand their guns in while it remains uncertain if they will be targeted for prosecution under the terms of reference of the intervention, so the guns must be collected and destroyed.


SICA proposes that credit be given to those who hand their guns in on time. In exchange for the guns, a "certificate of surrender" would be issued. If there was to be prosecution at a later date, this certificate might count for some credit.

It does seem that those bent on crime and milking the system will not change their way by persuasion. We, the churches, don't seem to be able to get them to accept moral standards and our police force is so compromised that it is not able to uphold law and order.

Third, we need restoration of trust in public institutions. If the intention of the Australian-led intervention is to impose peace, it has already failed. Its goal should be to create an environment in which Solomon Islanders can once again choose peace. Our parliamentarians must be in the forefront urging their people to return to a state of law and order. Their hands must be clean.

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This article was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 7 July 2003. Sourced from Cathnews, a member of the National Forum.

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About the Author

Archbishop Adrian Smith SM, Catholic Archbishop of Honiara, has lived in the Solomon Islands since 1966.

Related Links
Catholic Archdiocese of Honiara
Our Failing Neighbour: Australia and the future of the Solomon Islands
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