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Solomons: Human rights abuses erode peace talks


Thursday 7 September 2000

Solomon Islands: Human rights abuses erode peace talks

Amnesty International today called on the New Zealand Government to try to ensure that any peace settlement in the Solomon Islands includes processes for bringing members of rival armed groups and the police responsible for unlawful killings, torture and abductions to justice.

Amnesty's call came as the human rights organization issued a new report on human rights violations in the Solomons, and as attempts continue to bring the parties to the conflict together on New Zealand's frigate Te Kaha.

"If human rights abuses continue to remain unpunished, there is little hope for the restoration of peace, law and order, or for justice for victims and their families," said Amnesty's New Zealand director, Ced Simpson.

"Fear of reprisals is feeding a culture of silence about well-known atrocities. Many aggrieved families do not know where to find the bodies of relatives killed in the conflict, or cannot risk searching for them."

A coup in June, supported by many paramilitary police officers, has led to increased fighting on Guadalcanal island between rival ethnic groups, widespread lawlessness and a rapidly deteriorating human rights situation. The coup was led by the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF), comprising settlers from Malaita island, which is fighting Guadalcanal island 'militants' known as the Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM).

"Ethnic Malaitan police officers defecting to the MEF have disempowered the police service, stripping it of guns, cars and equipment. Criminals have been let out of prisons, and civilians are at the mercy of undisciplined MEF or IFM supporters and criminal opportunists taking advantage of the situation."

Since the conflict began, 20,000 - 30,000 people have fled their homes, at least 100 people are estimated to have been killed, and tens of thousands are cut off from basic food supplies, medical and other relief. In recent months, hundreds of homes have been burnt down or looted and thousands of people abandoned their homes to seek shelter with relatives, on remote islands or in hill forests.

Peace initiatives are currently gathering momentum but have yet to end the violence. Te Kaha, which has been offered by New Zealand as a safe neutral meeting place for peace talks, is due to leave the Solomon Islands on 14 September.

"People live in fear of looting, rape or 'payback' killings by armed political groups and criminal opportunists. Due to the lack of police protection, women and ethnic minorities are particularly vulnerable and have no way of seeking redress," said Mr Simpson.

"Police have been unable or unwilling to bring perpetrators of such abuses to justice, and armed political groups have continued their operations with virtually no risk of arrest. Both rival groups are said to have bases where they reportedly torture captured combatants."

In mid-August, at least four mutilated bodies were found buried in a shallow grave near the capital, among them 18-year-old student John Bosco, a Guadalcanal islander evacuated from a school shelled in June by a police patrol boat. He was abducted early July and allegedly brutally beaten by an armed group from Malaita island because of his ethnicity. His killing followed the reported torture and killing of two Malaitans by the IFM in June.

The current national and international efforts towards a peace agreement and rebuilding the police service must address this ongoing impunity. Plans to grant an amnesty to armed groups must not prevent the authorities from establishing the truth and bringing to justice those responsible for atrocities like torture or the killing of civilians.

"Peace and reconciliation cannot last if killers and torturers can be sure they will never be held to account."

ENDS/

For more information or a copy of the report "Solomon Islands: A Forgotten conflict", please call

Ced Simpson BH 0-4-499 3349 AH 0-4-938 0716 / 0-4-938 0717 mobile 021 371 205

or visit AINZ's website at www.amnesty.org.nz


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