From 21 to 28 November 2010, 152 members of the four religious communities of the Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACOM), met together at Tabalia, the headquarters of the Melanesian Brotherhood, in West Guadalcanal. They met for prayer, biblical reflection, discussion and planning on issues of social justice, human rights and advocacy in the Solomon Islands and beyond.
This was the first time in the history of ACOM that the religious orders comprising of the Sisters of Melanesia, the Society of St. Francis, the Community of the Sisters of the Church and the Melanesian Brotherhood, had ever met for such an event. It was a great opportunity for fellowship, discussion, and reflection upon important issues affecting the local communities and environment.
DECLARATION OF THE CONFERENCE OF THE FOUR RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES OF THE ANGLICAN CHURCH OF MELANESIA ON SOCIAL JUSTICE, HUMAN RIGHTS AND ADVOCACY
Tabalia, West Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, November 21-28, 2010
Beloved in Christ:
From November 21 through 28, 2010, we, 152 members of the four religious communities of the Anglican Church of Melanesia, have met together at Tabalia, West Guadalcanal, the headquarters of the Melanesian Brotherhood, for prayer, biblical reflection, discussion and planning on issues of social justice, human rights and advocacy in Solomon Islands and beyond.
We are members of the Community of the Sisters of Melanesia, the Society of St. Francis, the Community of the Sisters of the Church and the Melanesian Brotherhood. It is the first time in the history of the Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACOM) that the four religious communities have met together for such an event. We rejoice in the new friendship and cooperation that has emerged among us, breaking down old barriers and misunderstandings. We are also happy to be joined by some of our community members from Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.
We thank the initiator and a facilitator of the event, Br. Clark Berge, SSF, Minister General of the Society of St. Francis; four facilitators provided by Franciscans International, Mateusz Tuniewicz, Sr. Odile Coirier, FMM, Morse Flores and Sanjay V. Gathia; and local facilitators Lanieta Leo and Bishop Terry Brown. We thank the 27 facilitators from the four religious communities trained the week before by the same facilitators. We also thank the Society of St. Francis Legacy Fund for financial support for the event.
In the context of the daily Eucharist and offices, we have reflected upon the biblical and theological roots of social justice and human rights; gained an understanding of the variety of United Nations human rights declarations, covenants and conventions; gained skills in advocacy; examined our local social, cultural, economic and political contexts; and tried to discern our future work in promoting justice and human rights in Solomon Islands and beyond.
Particular themes for discussion were women, gender and children; respect for the environment; and good governance, transparency and rule of law. These themes were chosen in light of the country's high rate of family violence, ever increasing environmental degradation and widespread corruption.
We affirm the world as God's good creation in Christ, restored by Jesus Christ's death and resurrection (Genesis 1:1-25, Colossians 1:15-20). We affirm the equality of women and men as created in God's image and companions for one another (Genesis 1:18, 26-27). We affirm God's covenant with Noah, blessing and protecting the environment (Genesis 9:1-17). We affirm righteousness and justice as put forward in the Jewish Law and prophets. We affirm Jesus' loving solidarity with the poor and suffering, leading to his death on the Cross. We affirm the Cross as offering forgiveness for our sinful ways, and life in Christ as a new way forward (Ephesians 2:1-10, 2 Corinthians 5: 16-21). We affirm our faith in the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, who leads us to advocacy for truth and justice (John 15: 26-27, 16:13). We affirm that the whole Church, the Body of Christ, is called to advocacy for justice and righteousness both within itself and in the world at large.
In light of these affirmations and our work together this week, we discern the following:
1. Family violence, particularly violence against women and children, remains a widespread practice in Solomon Islands. We reject any cultural defence of this practice. We believe that the root causes of family violence (cultural beliefs, poverty, forced and/or very early marriages, lack of Christian teaching about marriage, poor communication in marriage, misuse of alcohol, etc.) must be addressed.
We, both women's and men's communities, pledge to continue to support the work of the Christian Care Centre as a shelter for women and children who are victims of abuse and as an educational centre on this issue. Within each of our communities we also promise to address this issue, for example, with direct intervention in situations of family violence, inclusion of teaching against family violence in mission programmes that go out to the dioceses and the development of training programmes on family counselling within our novitiates.
2. We note widespread complaints about how the Royal Solomon Islands Police (RSIP) deal with alleged situations of family violence, often ignoring them as "domestic disputes" and refusing to intervene. Some police even side with the perpetrator, especially if he is a relative or friend, blaming the victim.
We urge better training of the police on this issue and more frequent deployment of women police officers. We are willing to assist in this training. We urge that the rule of law be observed rather than ignored in these cases. Where police refuse to act, they should be reported to higher authorities.
3. We are concerned that there is widespread abuse of the human rights of children, especially girls, in Solomon Islands. Despite the government's programme of free and universal primary education, many girls are not allowed to go to school but are kept home to work. Adopted children are especially vulnerable.
Many children and young persons are subject to sexual and physical abuse in the home, usually by close relatives. The country's shortage of secondary schools and tertiary education further disadvantages children wishing to pursue education at higher levels. We promise to encourage parents to send their girls to school. We also promise not to let our households become refuges for children who should be in school.
4. We are deeply troubled by parents who allow their under-aged daughters and young daughters to become "wives" of foreign logging crews (usually from Asia) for payment of goods and/or money. These relationships are often forced, not permanent and are really a form of child prostitution and slavery. Children born out of such relationships are very vulnerable.
Especially where our community houses are near such logging camps, we pledge to counsel the parents and children concerned and place pressure upon logging camp managers to halt this illegal practice, publicly exposing it where necessary. We urge dioceses, parish committees and clergy to do the same and not to accept gifts from the logging companies concerned. We support the recommendations of the Christian Care Centre's 2007 report, "Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in a Remote Region of the Solomon Islands".
The same practice is also emerging in the fishing and mining industries. We also note with concern increasing urban prostitution employing local young women and the trafficking of women brought from Asia. We are also concerned about allegations that girls are earning their school fees through sex. We pledge to work against these practices and to minister to those involved. We urge the police to act in all situations where the law is being broken, particularly in remote rural areas.
5. While women are well represented in the civil service, including at the level of Permanent Secretary, only one woman has been elected to Parliament since Solomon Islands independence in 1978. We strongly believe we should have women Members of Parliament in Solomon Islands. Reasons for the absence of women in Parliament are largely cultural and economic, resulting in well-qualified women (of whom there are many) unable to get elected.
We believe serious consideration should be given to 30 percent reserved seats for women in Parliament. We are pleased to see this development taking place in Bougainville and Papua New Guinea. We also pledge to encourage well-qualified women to run in national and provincial elections and, while not endorsing specific candidates, urge voters to give serious consideration to voting for women candidates. Men do not have the right to control women's votes. Each woman has the right to vote for the candidate of her choice.
6. We are pleased that Solomon Islands Government has become a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). However, we are concerned that Solomon Islands government has not met its international obligations in both implementing and reporting back to the United Nations on the two conventions.
We urge Solomon Islands government to make the required reports to the United Nations on CEDAW and CRC immediately. We also urge Solomon Islands government to be transparent in developing public awareness programmes to show the steps it has taken to implement these two conventions.
7. We are deeply concerned at the widespread degradation of the environment in Solomon Islands, particularly through unsustainable logging and fishing, often by foreign companies in collusion with local politicians. Despite years of warnings, the Solomon Islands government has refused to reduce the level of these activities. We urge Solomon Islands government to reduce logging and fishing to sustainable levels.
We urge a complete ban on logging in Guadalcanal, Isabel, Makira and Malaita and other islands, where we have especially experienced its negative effects (land degradation, flooding, destruction of water supplies, rivers and reefs, land disputes and prostitution). As members of religious communities, we shall discourage local communities from entering into contracts with logging companies.
8. We are concerned about the environmental and social impact of gold mining about to begin again on Guadalcanal, proposed nickel mining on Isabel and other mining projects planned around the country. Some of us have witnessed major environmental destruction caused by the current nickel prospecting on Isabel and urge that prospecting not take place without an environmental impact study.
Aware of the disastrous environmental and social effects of mining in Papua New Guinea, we urge Solomon Islands government to move cautiously in this area and maintain maximum transparency with all parties about proposed projects. As members of religious communities, we shall urge local landowners to proceed with the greatest caution.
9. We are also aware that there are local environmental practices that need to be challenged and resisted: over-harvesting of marine and land resources, dynamiting of reefs for fish, destruction of endangered species and their habitats, careless use of land and sea for disposal of rubbish, destruction of mangroves, fruit and nut trees; and lack of rubbish collection in urban areas. We confess that we have sometimes failed as religious communities in these areas and pledge to try to make our households good examples of respect for the environment. We also pledge to assist village people to address these issues through change of practice and advocacy.
We are also aware that for some islands rising sea levels and over-population are major environmental issues. We have met as island and national groups and prepared appropriate action plans. We shall be implementing these.
10. We have discussed issues of good governance within our own religious communities. We recognize we have sometimes failed and pledge the greatest possible good governance, transparency and faithfulness to our Rules in the future. The governance of large religious communities is not easy and further training is needed, for example, in looking after money and assets.
11. We have discussed the corruption and violence that frequently accompany national and provincial elections in Solomon Islands. We believe we can exercise leadership in areas of developing accurate voters' lists, encouraging well qualified women candidates, discouraging bribery, monitoring elections for fraud and preventing violence at polling stations. We also recognize the urgent need for reform of the nation's electoral laws by Parliament.
12. We intend to take the concerns expressed in this Declaration back to our four religious communities and the Anglican Church of Melanesia for consideration and endorsement. We also wish to continue to meet together as religious communities on issues of social justice and human rights. We recommend that the ACOM Religious Life Advisory Council appoint a social justice committee comprised of representatives of our four religious communities.
We pledge to work with the ACOM, other churches, the Solomon Islands Government, non-government organizations and all other organizations working on social justice issues. We also ask for the solidarity of church partners overseas, especially in countries from which our exploiters come.
For us, this has been an exciting week, full of new learning and new friendships. Sent out on Advent Sunday, we make a new beginning, incorporating and moving beyond the peace and reconciliation work we have done in the past and will continue to do. We shall continue to "lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light ... the Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 13:12-14, Collect for Advent Sunday) and actively seek justice for all.
Agreed to by the consensus of all the participants and signed on their behalf by:
- Sister Mary Lulo, CSM Head Sister, Community of the Sisters of Melanesia
- Sister Phyllis Margaret Sau, CSC Sister Provincial, Solomon Islands Province, Community of the Sisters of the Church
- Brother Clifton Henry, SSF Representing the Province of the Solomon Islands, Society of St. Francis
- Brother Leonard Yanga, MBH Regional Head Brother, Solomon Islands Region, Melanesian Brotherhood.
Advent Sunday, 2010
Tabalia, West Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands