Honiara, Solomon Islands – People with disabilities in Solomon Islands will benefit from a revamped legal clinic to facilitate the provision of free legal advice and representation. The legal clinic is operated by the People with Disabilities Solomon Islands (PWDSI) in partnership with the Public Solicitors Office (PSO) and will benefit from technical support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Australia’s Solomon Islands Justice Program.

The theme for this year’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities is “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World”. This message resonated strongly with stakeholders as the pandemic continues to aggravate existing inequalities.

Speaking at the commissioning ceremony, President of PWDSI, Mr. Simon Dolaiano, highlighted that the establishment of the legal clinic was timely, given the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Most people with disabilities do not have access to legal advice from trained lawyers about disability-related matters, as most people with disabilities and their families generally do not have the knowledge of the existence of free legal services from the PSO.” said Mr. Dolaiano. 

“The commissioning of the clinic, on this significant day, affirms the commitment of placing people at the centre of socially inclusive development by ensuring full participation and guided by principles of fairness, equity and access”

A Solomon Islands Access to Justice Study conducted in 2019 found that those with a disability were less satisfied with national level justice services and with ways of resolving disputes. The study also found that those with a disability were also twice as likely to think that national level justice services had gotten worse.

“Through the legal clinic’s built-in collaboration between government and civil society, different actors in the justice community will have a natural space to collaborate to expand and tailor approaches to improve the quality of life and access for persons living with disabilities.” said Mr George Gray, Public Solicitor with the PSO.

An extensive awareness campaign across social media platforms, email, radio programmes and bulk text messaging will be implemented for parents and family members, supporters and caregivers of youths and adults with disabilities.

“We will continue to realise the Hibiscus Commitment Statement on Disability Sector Collaboration, to mainstream disability and social inclusion across all sectors. We acknowledge the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs for taking a lead in mainstreaming disability in their activities. This partnership between PSO, PWDSI, Telekom and development partners is an example of how to build back better,” said Mr Elwin Taloimatakwa from Community Based Rehabilitation, in the Physiotherapy, Rehabilitation Division, a disability focal point for the Ministry of Health and Medical Services.

Dr Lachlan Strahan, Australian High Commissioner to Solomon Islands, said, “Disability inclusion and gender equality are crosscutting priorities in all of Australia’s development programs. We must continue to advance these principles in our efforts to enhance access to justice. The justice system cannot be a closed shop. Everyone is entitled to legal representation. This is a matter of fundamental human rights. The establishment of this legal clinic is a significant achievement which will assist people with disabilities to exercise their rights on an equal basis with others.”

Berdi Berdiyev, the UNDP Country Manager for Solomon Islands said, “This clinic has enabled strategic partnership between business, government and civil society. Solomon Islands’ largest telecommunication company, Telekom, are supporting one important aspect of the engagement channels by providing a new handset and toll-free three-digit short code number specifically for the legal clinic.”

Also launched at the commissioning ceremony was a social inclusion anthem performed by Mr. Jabez Manaika and Ms. Rachel Sarei. The anthem demonstrates the abilities of persons with disabilities and the vision for a barrier free nation and building an inclusive future that is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.

UNDP Solomon Islands is providing technical support to the legal clinic through the Access to Justice Project in partnership with the Ministry for Justice and Legal Affairs and the Public Solicitor’s Office which is funded by the Australian Government. 

The commissioning ceremony was held on Thursday 3 December 2020.

For more information:

Jone Tuiipelehaki Raqauqau, Communications Specialist, Access to Justice Project, UNDP Solomon Islands. Email: jone.raqauqau@undp.org

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