Human Rights and Discourses of (In)justice

Another important contextual factor for the TRC’s reliance on the human rights discourse was the country’s colonial history, and the means through which Solomon Islanders had previously defined (in)justice and suffering. Human rights awareness is relatively confined to those who live in the capital, Honiara, and has not had a chance to develop organically from grassroots concerns—rather it is a discourse that has been promoted through UN agencies and international NGOs in dialogue with local civil society groups. This is evidenced, for example, by the promotional work around human rights treaty implementation conducted by UNICEF (on the Convention on the Rights of the Child) and UNWOMEN (on the Convention of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) in the Solomon Islands.4 In many previously colonised countries, rights awareness developed as a means of asserting independence from the coloniser and the insistence on a right to self-determination. However, in the Solomon Islands alternative discourses of grievance developed into subnational ethno-political movements such as Maasina Rule on Malaita and the Moro Movement in rural Guadalcanal (see Allen 2013; Akin 2013). These movements idealised the notion of kastom as a means of self-identification, separating the values and morality of the Solomon Islands from that of outsiders. See Joanna Quinn’s contribution to this volume for a discussion of the ways in which Solomon Islands kastom was utilised to varying degrees in transitional justice processes in the country. Ironically, as the human rights discourse has largely been promoted by foreigners through the delivery of foreign aid, it has come to be regarded by many Solomon Islanders as a form of neocolonialism that threatens to undermine cultural values and norms.

Having said this, the human rights vocabulary has seeped into the language of government and civil society organisations in recent years, and has done so along a very specific trajectory—one concerned with the protection of individuals perceived as being vulnerable—women, children, and in more recent years people living with disabilities. This trend is common to the broader Pacific Island region and is reflected in human rights treaty ratification which shows nearly universal ratification of CEDAW and the CRC, and yet extremely patchy ratification of non-group rights focused treaties. It is also evident in terms of NGO- and UN-funded human rights programs. Most programs that draw on human rights terminology are aimed toward combatting violence against women and children, and significant research has been done into the prevalence of family violence. The TRC’s human rights approach reflected this in the dedication of Volume Three to considering the experiences of women and children.

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