The first phase of the Tensions began in 1998 and was primarily an insurgency led by the Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM), previously known as the Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army (GRA). During this phase, ‘young men from the impoverished Weathercoast region of Guadalcanal, with the active involvement of political leaders such as Guadalcanal Premier,
Ezekiel Alebua...[started] driving settlers from Malaita off the island of Guadalcanal’ (Braithwaite et al. 2010: 21). At the beginning of 2000, the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) was launched ‘to defend Malaitan interests against the Guale rebels’ (Braithwaite et al. 2010: 21). From this point the conflict escalated. ‘[F]ractured along ethnic lines’, the police force effectively split, with the paramilitary wing of the Royal Solomon Islands Police joining the MEF in staging a coup of sorts in June 2000. The result was the resignation of Prime Minister Bartholomew Ulufa’alu and his eventual replacement by a compromise candidate, Manasseh Sogavare, who was neither Malaitan nor Guale. Sogavare’s tenure was short-lived and, by December 2001, he had been replaced by Sir Allan Kemakeza.
Throughout this period, numerous formal and informal attempts were made to halt the escalating violence. On 23 May 1999, the Solomon Islands government ‘sponsored a reconciliation ceremony in Honiara,’ a ‘kastom feast’ attended by more than one thousand people (though no militants showed up). It was an utter failure: just hours later the IFM demonstrated its willingness to continue fighting by burning down 16 houses (TRC Report 2012: 69). As discussed in Chapters 3 and 8, the Government also paid compensation claims during this period, although they too failed to have the desired effect of facilitating reconciliation. In June 1999, the government turned to more formal peacemaking efforts and enlisted the Fijian Special Envoy Major-General Sitiveni Rabuka to negotiate a peace deal. The result was the Honiara Peace Accord, which was signed on 28 June 1999. It held for less than a week.
The Honiara Peace Accord was followed by the Panatina Agreement (12 August 1999), the Marau Communique (15 July 1999), the Memorandum of Understanding between the SIG and the GPG (13 June 1999), the Buala Peace Communique (5 May 2000), and Auki Communique (12 May 2000), a Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group meeting (11 June 2000), peace talks on the HMAS Tobruk (July 2000), and the National Peace Conference held on the New Zealand Navy ship Te Kaha (25-27 August 2000). It was at this last meeting that the first official suggestion was made for the establishment of a TRC for the Solomon Islands (Braithwaite et al. 2010: 37; Fraenkel 2004: 96). On 15 October 2000, the Townsville Peace Agreement was signed and, with it, came the beginnings of a formal transitional justice process, although it was not described on those precise terms.
As discussed in Chapter 5, the TPA included a general amnesty, as well as provisions for the location, identification, and recovery of victims’ remains, and for the establishment of a reconciliation process. Reconciliation, it suggested, would be pursued through ‘face-to-face dialogue...at community, village, family, individual and organizational levels’ and be accompanied by ‘the public display of forgiveness and confession to be organized by the SIG’ (TPA 2000: 2.3.2.ii(b); 5.1.(a)(b)). It also established a Peace and Reconciliation Committee ‘to programme and coordinate efforts to achieve full community-based reconciliation and forgiveness throughout Solomon Islands’ (TPA 2000: 5.2.(a)). This complemented the Ministry for National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace that had already been established earlier in 2000.
However, the TPA was ultimately unsuccessful and the conflict ‘disintegrated into a plethora of individual criminal acts aimed to make the most in individual material benefits’ (TRC Final Report 2012: 95). That is, the conflict was no longer the result of ‘ethnic tensions’ or even broader societal grievances. In large part the continuation of violence would be attributed to the actions of the Weathercoast militia leader, Harold Keke, who had refused to sign the TPA or, indeed, lay down arms. During 2002 and early 2003, ‘Keke and his followers threatened and murdered more than twenty people in the areas they controlled’ (Kabutaulaka 2004: 396). In 2003, an Australian Seventh Day Adventist missionary was beheaded and six members of the Melanesian brotherhood who had been attempting to broker a peace deal were killed (Carter in Crittenden 2004; K v. Regina 2005). In response to an attempt by the Solomon Islands Government to capture him, Keke and his followers retaliated against villagers. Among the most appalling atrocities committed during this period was the incident at Marasa during which the Guadalcanal Liberation Front (GLF) held 400 villagers hostage on the beach for three days and forced them to witness the torture and eventual murder of two young boys selected for killing.