Rioting in Honiara, April 2006
Following national elections in early 2006, former Deputy Prime Minister Snyder Rini won the position of Prime Minister as leader of a coalition of parties. The announcement of his victory was met with widespread anger from the crowd gathered to hear the results of the leadership decision, sparking protests which spread to rioting and arson in the capital Honiara.
There was extensive damage to businesses owned by key politicians, and also to many Chinese trade stores and businesses, prompting debate as to whether the rioting was spontaneous.
The Participating Police Force (PPF) and Australian forces were criticised after the riots, for their failure to predict and prevent the looting and arson, and for the tactics of riot police, though many officers were injured while protecting key buildings or people affected by the rioting. This led to the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry.
Following the riot, extra police and military forces were deployed from Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.
Giving help to Honiara, LT Simone Heyer, Air Force News, Volume 48, No. 7, 4 May 2006
“For now there is calm in the Solomon Islands after approximately 500 Australian and New Zealand soldiers deployed there following riots in the country’s capital, Honiara. For the third time this year, Air Force provided emergency support, this time to the Solomon Islands. 1 Air Terminal Squadron Detachment Townsville stepped up to the enormous task of moving hundreds of soldiers and their equipment to Henderson Airfield, just outside Honiara.
“Within hours of the riots, soldiers from 1RAR’s Ready Company Group were preparing to leave Australia to bolster the RAMSI forces. Over the next 36 hours, the Government announced A Coy 3RAR would also deploy, along with aviation assets, a flight of Airfield Defence Guards, logistic support elements and two patrol boats. The Commander of Combined Task Force (CTF) 635, LTCOL Andrew Gallaway, said the task force was spread out throughout the main Guadalcanal Island, with ADGs from 4 Rifle Flight providing tarmac security at Henderson Airfield.”
An extraordinary day at the office, AFP News, Issue 128, June 2006
“As interest in the announcement of the new Prime Minister intensified, the advisors kept an eye on the crowd gathering at Parliament House from the vantage point of their second- storey office. The working day took a dramatic turn – from being a normal day at the office, to becoming the target of large rocks thrown by a mob. This was not the kind of treatment these officers were expecting from Solomon Islanders when they deployed as part of RAMSI.
“As the crowd built, observations were relayed through to Honiara Radio Communications (HRC). The advisors who had been monitoring the situation since about 2pm, watched as the behaviour of the crowd escalated over the course of several hours into a full blown riot. Around 300 people had congregated around Parliament House for the announcement of the results of the Prime Ministerial election. From their vantage point, the PSII members saw a PPF vehicle being pushed over the embankment at Parliament House and Solomon Islanders charging at the other PPF cars. A car was rolled side-over-side down the embankment and smoke billowed into the air. From their office, the PSII members observed the crowd dispersing from Parliament House with more than one thousand people converging on the shops at Point Cruz. (The PSII office is located on the second floor of a building – above shops.) Observations of the melee that followed were relayed to HRC – advising of the rioting and destruction that was occurring.
Protests over Parliamentary elections and NZ Drawdown, NZDF website
“Due to the unrest that occurred after the April 2006 elections New Zealand increased its presence in the Solomon Islands to assist the government and participating police forces to maintain security. Much of Chinatown was destroyed in the riots with the loss of 1,600 jobs and the destruction of such places as the Casino Hotel and Fortunes Restaurant.
“New Zealand Defence Force sent a Infantry Company increasing troop numbers from 46 to 125. Defence personnel are located in Honiara (RAMSI Headquarters and Rove Prison). Since then the situation has improved and New Zealand has reduced troop numbers. Eighty-one defence personnel returned home on 15 June on a RNZAF C130 and a RNZAF Boeing 757. The remaining troops assist RAMSI police in downtown Honiara, carry out patrols, and help with external security at Rove Prison.
RAMSI Police Did Not Break Rules in April Riots: McDermott, RAMSI media release, 29 July 2007
“RAMSI Participating Police Force Commander, Denis McDermott has strongly refuted allegations that the PPF broke the rules of engagement in their response to the April riots last year. Claims that PPF officers were instructed to shoot people in the neck with rounds of ‘beanbags’ are simply untrue, Mr McDermott said in a statement released today.
“ ‘The PPF did not have such equipment in the Solomon Islands at the time and no one has ever encouraged our officers to shoot people in the neck or back.’
“He said the Australian Federal Police’s Professional Standards Unit had also investigated the allegations and found that there was no substance to the allegations.”
Commentary and analysis
Second Interim Report, Commission of Inquiry into the April 2006 Civil Unrest in Honiara, Government of Solomon Islands, 7 September 2007 “There is evidence that the 18 April 2006 civil unrest in Honiara was not spontaneous as is originally claimed but rather the event has the hall mark of having been orchestrated and planned….There is now some evidence connecting the identity of a number of leading politicians, political groups and organisations who had in one way or another contributed to the execution of the planning for a regime change, should the previous government or elements of it return to power.”
Second Interim Report, Commission of Inquiry into the April 2006 Civil Unrest in Honiara, Government of Solomon Islands, 7 September 2007
“There is evidence that the 18 April 2006 civil unrest in Honiara was not spontaneous as is originally claimed but rather the event has the hall mark of having been orchestrated and planned….There is now some evidence connecting the identity of a number of leading politicians, political groups and organisations who had in one way or another contributed to the execution of the planning for a regime change, should the previous government or elements of it return to power.”
The troops’ commander, Brigadier Mick Slater, said his men were well trained to deal with civil unrest. “They’re exceptionally tough, they’re highly skilled, they are the best at doing this sort of work in the country.”
But the Australian-led forces also faced accusations of inflaming a peaceful protest when they fired tear gas on demonstrators blocking a driveway at the Parliament building on Tuesday night. The Speaker of the Parliament, Sir Peter Kenilorea, criticised handling of the unrest by the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), saying police should have allowed negotiations to continue between demonstrators, MPs and police.
Luke Johnston, an Australian aid worker who was filming outside the Parliament compound for a documentary on the elections, backed Sir Peter’s view. Mr Johnston, speaking to The Age by phone from his home in Honiara, said the crowd had been protesting peacefully until RAMSI officers tried to physically break the blockade.
“It appears that that’s when things got out of hand, when there were some more aggressive approaches to the crowd while they were still negotiating through their own local representatives,” Mr Johnston said. “When they brought a riot squad in and a lot of riot gear there was a noticeable change in tone. My own view of what happened is that there was a lack of preparation.”
Transnational Police Building: critical lessons from Timor- Leste and Solomon Islands, Andrew Goldsmith and Sinclair Dinnen, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 28, No.6, 2007, pp 1092, 1101
“RAMSI’s early success earned high praise and it was commended as a model for future deployments. However, these assessments proved premature after serious disturbances in Honiara in April 2006 and a subsequent deterioration in relations between Australia and Solomon Islands following a change of government. The announcement of Snyder Rini as prime minister-elect on 18 April 2006 angered many Solomon Islanders anticipating a clean break from the corrupt and dysfunctional politics of recent years. Two days of rioting and opportunistic looting injured around 50 police and caused extensive damage to Chinatown, Honiara’s commercial centre.
“Local and RAMSI police were caught off guard and overseas reinforcements were required. Former senior officers disputed claims by the Australian Commissioner of the RSIP that there had been no prior intelligence indicating potential trouble. The Speaker of Parliament accused Australian police of over-reacting by using tear gas. Others viewed the severity of the disturbances and lack of police preparedness as evidence of more fundamental short- comings in the regional mission.”