Reconciliation

In contrast to the rule of law approach pursued through RAMSI’s statebuilding program, a grass-roots, community-led reconciliation movement has been well underway in the Solomon Islands. Gathering pace in the years of the Tensions prior to the signing of the TPA, its various members have continued to pursue justice for the victims of wrongs in the post-conflict era. These reconciliation processes have largely emerged as the result of three sets of influences: kastom, religion, and women’s organizations.

The foundations of the reconciliation approach to post-conflict justice in the Solomon Islands are found in kastom, or the culture and traditions, of its different peoples. In line with other Pacific societies, Solomon Islanders ‘have long-established methods of dispute resolution’ based on the complex interactions between wantoks, kinship lines, clans, status, and social relations.64 Reconciliation is traditionally conceived as ‘a process that encourages the restoration of relationships’ through the acknowledgment of wrong, the attribution of accountability, the tendering of apologies and the provision of an ‘opportunity to forgive.’65 It does not necessarily attempt to ‘restore society to the position before the dispute began’ but rather aims to ‘transform’ society and ‘move [it] forward.’ What is more, these processes are ongoing. Customary methods of dispute resolution have ‘no concept of a fixed adjudication’ and, as such, ‘deals can be renegotiated when the circumstances change.’66

To a great extent this reflects the fact that kastom is not fixed or static but can be remoulded, redefined, redesigned, and manipulated to deal with ‘new and unfamiliar circumstances.’67 This has been most prominently illustrated in recent years with regard to the role that compensation plays in customary reconciliation processes in the Solomon Islands. According to kastom, justice means ‘compensation for both sides’ of a dispute.68 Indeed, ‘[i]n the traditional context, reconciliation and compensation are inseparable when it comes to brokering peace’; it is literally the payment of compensation that renders a conflict over.69 Traditionally,

  • 64 Moore, ‘The RAMSI Intervention in the Solomon Islands Crisis’, p. 63.
  • 65 Kabutaulaka in Moore, ‘The RAMSI intervention’, p. 64.
  • 66 Moore, ‘The RAMSI Intervention in the Solomon Islands Crisis’, p. 63.
  • 67 Fraenkel, The Manipulation of Custom, p. 11.
  • 68 Braithwaite et al., Pillars and Shadows, p. 46.
  • 69 Maebuta and Spence, ‘Attempts at Building Peace in the Solomon Islands’, p. 15.

compensation associated with reconciliation ceremonies has been in the form of pigs and shell money although, more recently and, in particular in urban areas, it has come to be conceived in more financial terms. As one Solomon Islander explained, ‘When compensation is paid, in shell money or whatever, then the two sides are joined together again. Both sides are satisfied and nobody is angry afterwards.’70

Just as kastom is not fixed in the Solomon Islands, so too is its relationship with Christianity. This relationship has developed over time to the point where they are now largely inseparable. Thus, contrary to the common assumption that Christianity, introduced by outsiders, competes with traditional values and customs, kastom has adapted to embrace Christianity, and the version of Christianity practiced by many Solomon Islanders has become infused with interpretations of religious teachings specific to the Solomons.71 Thus, as mentioned above, traditional notions of reconciliation include distinctly Christian practices such as forgiveness and conceive them in explicitly Christian terms.72

Indeed, the role that Christianity has played in driving the reconciliation agenda in the Solomon Islands has been considerable. Throughout the peace negotiations and in the years that followed the TPA, the Christian Churches of the Solomon Islands played a key role in promoting and facilitating reconciliation processes. The Melanesian Brothers, in particular, ‘played significant roles as mediators’ and peacekeepers, some paying for their peacemaking efforts with their lives.73 On local and community levels, the ‘Christian churches have been leaders in holding reconciliation services’ and promoting ethnic reconciliation ceremonies.74 On a broader

  • 70 Fifi’I quoted in Nick Goodenough, ‘Reconciliation and the Criminal Process in the Solomon Islands’, Journal of South Pacific Law, Vol. 10, No. 1 (2006), at http://www. paclii.org/journals/fjSPL/vol10/3.shtml (accessed May 2, 2011).
  • 71 See Timmer, ‘Kastom and Theocracy.’
  • 72 For an interesting comparison of forgiveness in traditional justice in the Solomon Islands and Uganda see Renee Jeffery, ‘Forgiveness, Amnesty, and Justice: The Case of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Northern Uganda’, Cooperation and Conflict, Vol. 46, No. 1 (2011), pp. 78-95.
  • 73 Braithewaite et al., Pillars and Shadows, p. 31.
  • 74 Moore, ‘The RAMSI Intervention’, p. 63.

level, the establishment of the Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission was largely the result of lobbying and research conducted by the Solomon Islands Christian Association (SICA). Commissioned to investigate the best way to address the injustices of the past, its Peace Committee (the SICA PC), recommended a TRC modelled on the South African TRC. Its proposal was eventually accepted by Cabinet, which formed a reference group to draft the TRC Bill that was finally passed by the Solomon Islands Parliament on August 28,2008.75

However, some of the most significant reconciliations have taken place as part of Prison Fellowship International’s Sycamore Tree Program, a five- to eight-week in-prison program that ‘brings together unrelated victims and offenders’ to ‘consider concepts of responsibility, confession, repentance, forgiveness, amends, and reconciliation in the context of crime and justice.’76 This program is widely attributed with facilitating numerous reconciliations between prisoners including between former Prime Minister Alebua who ‘was shot in the head, losing an eye, and through the elbow’77 and Ronnie Cawa, Harold Keke’s ‘right-hand man who did much of his killing.’ Outside the confines of the prison, the Sycamore Tree Program has also engaged in ‘community mediation in former conflict areas, especially on Malaita’ and held several peace and reconciliation conferences in Honiara.78

Reconciliation has also been driven by women’s groups such as the Catholic Daughters of Mary Immaculate Sisters, the Reconciliation and Peace Committee, and the Honiara Women for Peace Group. The main aim of Women for Peace ‘is to convince the warring parties to lay down

  • 75 ‘Creation of the TRC’, Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at http://solomonislands-trc.com/about-us/creation-of-the-trc/ (accessed May 2, 2011).
  • 76 ‘Sycamore Tree Project’, Prison Fellowship International, at http://www.pfi.org/cjr/stp (accessed May 2, 2011).
  • 77 Braithwaite et al., Pillars and Shadows, p. 84.
  • 78 Braithwaite et al., Pillars and Shadows, pp. 83-84;‘Sycamore Tree Project Opens in Honiara’, One Television, October 12, 2010, at http://www.onetelevision.com.sb/index .php%3F;option=com_content%26;view=article%26;id=13651:sycamore-tree-project- conference-opens-in-honiara%26;catid=82:community-interest%26;Itemid=459 (accessed May 2, 2011).

their arms to enable the restoration of peace, the return of law and order, and the renewal of good governance and democracy in Solomon Islands.’[1] The group works to achieve this through a range of activities including meetings with militants, their leaders, the ‘highest decisionmaking bodies’, police officers, and the displaced; organizing basket exchanges between the women of Honiara and women in the rest of Guadalcanal to promote goodwill between the women of Guadalcanal; holding prayer meetings; and organizing peace conferences.[2] In addition, the Women for Peace Group ‘was also present at the ceasefire talks between the Government, the MEF and the IFM’, its members being ‘able to mingle with the militants and leaders in any way they could, such as by welcoming people and serving tea’ and, in doing so, ‘share their views and opinions on matters under discussion.’[3] Indeed, the role played by women in the peace negotiation processes is especially prominent in the case of the Solomon Islands, Oxfam reporting that:

If it wasn’t for the women of Solomon Islands the armed conflict wouldn’t have ended. They went beyond their own safety and security to go out there to the camps to talk to their warring boys to stop fighting.[4]

As Moore notes, the women’s groups were first to enter the militants’ bunkers to attempt to negotiate peace, and before long, ‘Stories emerged of men from both sides in the conflict leaving their bunkers and meeting together with the brave women, hugging and crying, honestly showing fear of the conflict in which they were enmeshed.’[5] This, as Alice Aruhe’eta Pollard explains, is a traditional conflict resolution role for women.[6]

  • [1] Alice Aruhe’eta Pollard, ‘Understanding Conflict in Solomon Islands: A PracticalMeans to Peacemaking’, State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Discussion Paper2000/7, Australian National University, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, p. 10.
  • [2] Pollard, ‘Understanding Conflict in Solomon Islands’, pp. 11-12, notes: ‘A Honiarawoman’s basket would contain items such as rice, taiyo (canned tuna), noodles, soup,kerosene, matches, salt and sugar, while a Guadalcanal woman’s basket would containfood such as potatoes, cassava, vegetables, fruits and betel nut.’
  • [3] Pollard, ‘Understanding Conflict in Solomon Islands’, p. 12.
  • [4] Quoted in Braithwaite et al., Pillars and Shadows, p. 31.
  • [5] Moore quoted in Braithwaite et al., Pillars and Shadows, p. 31.
  • [6] Pollard, ‘Understanding Conflict in Solomon Islands’, p. 9.
 
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