Last week there occurred wide-scale violence in Honiara resulting in arson, looting, damage to properties, and loss of homes and possessions, particularly amongst the Chinese residents of the city, mainly shop keepers and business owners.
I have only read reports of the destruction and viewed online videos of the public disorder and resultant damage, including footage of the very large numbers of protestors that had converged on the city.
I can say, however, that it must have been very difficult for the RSIPF to have been able to deploy in sufficient numbers to maintain the peace and stop the chaos on the streets.
I was pleased that the police called for restraint while doing their best to contain the riotous behavior and, at the same time, being exposed to hostilities and attacks themselves, including one might add the arson attack on one of their police stations at Kukum.
Throughout the civil uprising the police used minimum force to their credit in line, I would like to think with orders I long ago laid down.
The Hon. Prime Minister yesterday saw fit to praise the RSIPF for their efforts, and reportedly told the Solomon Star newspaper.
The Prime Minister has commended the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) and City residents that stood with police to stop the spread of violence during the recent political unrest in Honiara.
He says police could have resorted to the use of deadly and lethal force but they exercised great restraint, even in the face of clear and present danger to their lives during the two days of burning and looting.
“On behalf of the People and the Government, I want to thank the Royal Solomon Islands Police for their sacrifice, commitment, and courage in the face of insurmountable adversity. I thank you for your bravery and courage. You have my highest respect and undying gratitude and that of our people of Solomon Islands,” the Prime Minister said.
Mr. Sogavare also paid tribute to communities throughout Honiara who have stood shoulder to shoulder with the RSIPF to protect large parts of the city from the mob.
“These are patriotic fellow Solomon Islanders who have had enough of unlawful criminal activities,” he said.
“The silent majority of our people want a peaceful and stable city and country. While the protests and ransacking were prevalent in the past few days, we also saw our people rallying behind our RSIPF to protect properties and lives.”
End of quote.
Orders I previously issued, as Standing Orders, for the police service were, and I quote.
“The members of the Solomon Islands Police should be able to carry out most of their duties without having to resort to force. Conflict resolution skills must be learned for resolving all types of conflicts.
“We must be committed to the use of minimum force when dealing with incidents. The members of the force must, therefore, have access to training and equipment, which obviates the need for force to resolve problems. Any laws and police regulations, which act contrary to the use of minimum force, should be amended to bring them in line with international standards. Although the members of the police service will still need to be issued with adequate equipment to protect themselves in dangerous situations, they must only be issued with weapons which are appropriate to the situation they are likely to encounter.”
Subsequently, and at the onset of the national ordeal, now commonly referred to the period of ‘ethnic conflict,’ I wrote this additional order.
“It should be constantly borne in mind that, however well justified a police officer may consider himself in firing, the act, whether it results in loss of life, or otherwise, may become the subject of investigation. He must therefore be prepared to prove that he acted with humanity, caution, and prudence and that he was compelled by necessity alone to have recourse to firearms. At the same time, he must not be deterred from doing what, in the circumstances in which he is placed, appears to be absolutely necessary, as a last resort, in the interests of law and order.”
Today is Monday just five days after the rioting on the streets and there is said to be sufficient calm for Parliament to resume its sitting and a general clean-up is taking place in the strife-torn and damaged areas of the city.
The presence of Australian AFP personnel and PNG troops deployed swiftly has undoubtedly brought about the changed atmosphere and one must be thankful for their deployment.
To this day, I very much regret the failure by Australia to have heeded the request I and the then Prime Minister made to the Australian government in early 1999 for a short, but swift deployment, with some assets, of a detachment of Australian police and military personnel to help the local police, then ill-equipped, lacking transport, sufficient personal, communications and logistics generally, to round up and arrest the core militants that had been released on bail by the then Chief Magistrate, despite them facing serious charges of attempted murder, armed robbery of police weapons from the Yandina Police Armoury and a string of other serious offenses.
I believed then, and still do, that a determined show by tough, disciplined personnel, with the right equipment and ably led, would have quickly re-arrested the core militants and the so-called “ethnic tension” been over in days, as indeed it came about within days of RAMSI’s arrival in 2003, but then in the interim there had occurred deaths of innocent civilians, a collapse in the economy, a coup in which the serving Prime Minister had been forced to resign at gunpoint, a counter militant force, the disastrous arming of warring militants and their incorporation into the special constabulary, the raiding and theft of high powered weapons from the central police armory, the labeling of the Solomon Islands as a failed state and the country on its knees.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia said last week Australian personnel was being deployed to the Solomon Islands to help. “Our family.”
Were we not part of the family in 1999 and the answer is yes, but it took the tragic Bali bombing incidents claiming the lives of many Australian tourists, for Australia to realize the potential for “trouble” in its backyard and with the cooperation of the United States to take upon its deputy sheriff’s role in the ‘ark of instability’ that included the Solomon Islands.