May 09, 2021 Last Updated 7:04 AM, May 7, 2021

From policing to prosecution, some impressive Pacific women are helping Solomon Islands build a strong, fair and accessible justice system. As Erin Gleeson discovered, their stories reveal just how much a shared Pacific Way is making a difference to the country’s efforts to entrench the rule of law and revitalise the legal system.

Drawing its members from 15 countries across the Pacific, the diversity and experience of the personnel who make up the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands has always been one of the keys to RAMSI’s success. As the Pacific Islands Contingent (PIC) coordinator of RAMSI’s Participating Police Force, senior Tongan police officer, Superintendant Tita Fe’ao, is at the heart of this success. Responsible for more than 30 police officers from 11 different countries and as the first woman appointed to the role, Superintendent Fe’ao says it is both an honour and a challenge.

“I am enjoying working with people from different countries. Working at this level and with this many people; it’s another experience altogether. “But it tells the story that females in policing can go anywhere as long as they are committed.” As well as her role as PIC coordinator, Superintendent Fe’ao as a RAMSI policing advisor also provides advice on strategy and policy to the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF).

With a career spanning 17 years in the Tonga Police, she brings a wealth of experience in policy, criminal investigation and transnational crime. In return, Superintendent Fe’ao says she is learning a lot from her RSIPF counterpart, the Director of RSIPF’s Strategy and Policy Department, Inspector Stanley Riolo. Watching Director Riolo at work has helped her deepen her own leadership skills in ways that had not occurred to her before. “As a leader, you can’t always go along at your pace. You have to look back and see whether your people are still following you.

You have to reassess your leadership skills there. That is something that he is giving me, that more measured approach.” Superintendent Fe’ao believes the time is right for RAMSI’s transition. “With a mission like this, if you leave too early it’s not right. And if you stay too long, it’s not right. RAMSI’s timing is spot on. “It is about giving Solomon Islanders the ownership and confidence to go forward on their own two feet. Solomon Islands have a lot of good things to show. I believe they have the commitment to make the country work.”

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According to the 2011 People’s Survey—a national public perception survey of nearly 5,000 Solomon Islanders—Isabel has the highest levels of perceived safety and perceived police improvement in the nation. But the 2011 People’s Survey also revealed that while communities in Isabel and elsewhere believe that their police force is improving; limited resources are preventing the police from meeting community expectations. And for the police officers themselves, the survey revealed the discouragement they feel in being unable to deliver the level of policing to which they aspire because of limited resources.

This is one of the main reasons the Provincial Police Commander for Isabel, Gabriel Manulusi, is so delighted that the old decrepit provincial police headquarters was selected for replacement by a new, modern, functional building as part of RAMSI’s new targeted infrastructure support for the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force. “Because of the new building, the behaviour and lives of people have changed,” Commander Manulusi said in a recent interview, just after the new headquarters was commissioned.

“The building has changed the picture of the heart of Isabel. That is how I see it. Police officers too have changed. Because of the good working environment, they are very happy and they look forward to working with the government, churches and the good people of Isabel to maintain law and order.”

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RAMSI Special Coordinator Nicholas Coppel recently took the time to explain why and how the mission is transitioning into its next phase. This is an extract of his paper given at the Australian National University in Canberra.

In early April 2012, rumours spread briefly but quickly in Honiara of a return to tension-era conflict. The rumours were that members of the Isatabu Freedom Movement (the Guale militant group during the 1998–2003 period of civil unrest) were threatening to chase out Malaitans in communities around Guadalcanal plains. But these rumours were quickly dispelled. The April 5, 2012 Solomon Star cover story reported that both Isatabu Freedom Movement and Malaita Eagle Forces members had issued a joint statement denouncing the rumours as false. A photograph of members from both groups standing together accompanied the article. What the rumours show is not so much the fragility of the peace, but the fragility of confidence. The willingness of so many people to believe the rumours and accept that tension-era behaviour could return is one reason why most Solomon Islanders want RAMSI to stay.

Perceptions:The RAMSI-funded People’s Survey 2011 which surveyed around 5,000 Solomon Islanders—more than one percent of the country’s entire adult population —shows that only 19 percent of those surveyed thought it was time for RAMSI to scale back its activities while 86 percent supported the presence of RAMSI. The survey’s focus group discussions sought to get a better understanding of why people wanted RAMSI to stay. The range of responses covered both social needs and infrastructure requirements and included some suggestions that reflected a lack of understanding of RAMSI’s mandate.

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“When we are talking about gender equality, we are really talking about valuing and respecting everyone equally, regardless of rank and regardless of gender,” says Morris Kiukakea. A team member of Correctional Services Solomon Islands (CSSI) officers who recently led a Gender Audit assessing their agency’s progress towards gender equality, Superintendent Kiukakea says the audit proved the value of staff owning the process of gender awareness and reform. “What we are learning in these processes is to take ownership and do something on gender,” says Superintendent Kiukakea.

“A lot of other gender training I have been through involved sitting and listening to an expert presenting what is gender. But the approach of CSSI is to allow all staff to search for themselves; what is gender and what does it mean to our organisation. That is the difference”. Kiukakea said this had challenged the way officers thought about gender related issues. “We have realised that our thinking has to change and so should our attitudes and behaviours. After the training, I have seen a lot of men make an apology for their actions.

I am also sure there are females who have also had their eyes opened to the meaning of gender equality. “We always hide behind culture, religion and the system when it comes to gender equality. But doing gender training and this Gender Audit Report have allowed us to spend time breaking down these areas and saying to ourselves, is this really what we think and believe?” Superintendent Kiukakea explained.

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The Solomon Islands-RAMSI Partnership has been one of the focal points of an exhibition on peacekeeping and peace-building held at the United Nations in New York in June. The exhibition Partnering for Peace documents the experiences of peacekeepers in Solomon Islands, Bougainville and East Timor over the past two decades. Solomon Islands Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Colin Beck, who co-hosted the opening of the exhibition with the Australian, Timorese and Papua New Guinean Ambassadors to the United Nations, said it was a chance for the region to showcase their return to peace and the rule of law.

 “Sometimes because we are on the other side of the world, some of the good stories we have to tell, just do not get told,” Beck said. He believes the exhibition and an accompanying seminar presented the United Nations with a model for peace-keeping and peace-building that was coordinated and able to draw on local or regional expertise. “RAMSI is a very good model of this,” he said. “Because working together as a region and across the areas of military, police and civilian reform, RAMSI has been able to take a coordinated and very effective approach in support of the very goals the UN was set up to achieve.”

The exhibition was opened on June 4 by the former President of Timor Leste, Dr Jose Ramos Horta in The Ambassadors Riverview Pavilion on the banks of the East River overlooking Brooklyn in the grounds of the United Nations before being put on display in the Delegates’ Foyer at the entrance to the UN General Assembly.

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