The following sections provide the findings from the transcript analysis of witness statements within the SI TRC public hearing program as well as from the focus group discussions, which were comprised of individuals who had not participated in the SI TRC process. As our aim in this chapter is to unravel the concept of ‘TRC success’ in terms of reconciliation, we provide data on two primary themes that emerged, which can be used to assess the degree of success of the SI TRC concerning its goal of promoting reconciliation. These two themes are: (1) witnesses using the public hearings as a platform to ask for reconciliation and offer forgiveness (ostensibly to help further the reconciliation process) and (2) bystanders to the SI TRC process criticizing the Commission’s work for not linking closely enough to traditional conceptions of reconciliation.
TRC Witness Testimony: Public Hearings as a Platform for Encouraging Reconciliation
Provision 5(2) c of the TRC Act indicated that a way in which the SI TRC would promote reconciliation was through encouraging beneficial exchanges between victims and perpetrators. In reviewing the public hearing transcripts, it can be seen that witnesses used these forums somewhat instrumentally for this precise function. Numerous witnesses used the opportunity to encourage perpetrators to come forward and begin reconciling with them. There was at least one witness in each public hearing location (except for the Women Victims hearing in Honiara) that openly called on a perpetrator or group for this purpose, although none were addressed specifically by name.
In the first Honiara hearing, one man said:
I am happy to share my family and personal experience and appeal to the perpetrators please step forward freely to reconcile with us so that we may find peace in our hearts.
Using similar language about appealing directly to the perpetrator, another man in this hearing commented:
I appeal to them to come forward and say sorry and we reconcile.
During the Women as Experts hearing in Honiara, one female witness highlighted her general recommendation that reconciliation should take place as she commented:
All the militants who joined the illegal Operation during the ethnic tension should reconcile; I strongly recommend that they should reconcile with the victims who were really affected with their immediately families.
In Gizo, one man who had been forced from his work due to harassment put forward that:
I call on those who had threatened my family and my staff, we no longer hold grudges and are willing to reconcile and forget the past. I welcome any reconciliation with those who had caused me stress and had forced me to leave the job.
A female during this hearing went on to say that:
I would like to call on the people who had done this to me to kindly come forward so we can reconcile and forgive each other for what had happened.
Although this comment may be perceived as the witness having also done something wrong, her comment indicates that she is willing to offer forgiveness, which would serve to reconcile her with the former perpetrators. Forgiveness is seen as a reciprocal process that is part and parcel to reconciliation, as mentioned above.
During the same hearing, two witnesses indicated their sense that the perpetrator might be in audience and that they welcomed beginning the reconciliation process as immediately as the day of the hearing. One man remarked:
In case any of those people who harassed me at that time is here today, please, I would like to shake hands with you today.
For those of you who were involved in that incident, wherever you are, whether you’re around in the crowd or somewhere else, I would like to say I forgive you, ‘Lets forgive and forget the past.’ I would like them to come forward, if we meet here in Gizo, or at home, I forgive you, on whatever you did to me, my family and the people of my village.
Although not explicitly asking for reconciliation, one male witness from Makira also indicated he expected to receive an apology from the perpetrators:
I want to tell the militants, whenever they meet in and around the city, they must come and apologize to me; I do not want compensation, and its over from me.
In this comment, he illustrates that perhaps there is not the need to go through a traditional reconciliation process, but that the responsible militants should apologize for what they have done. Apology, as indicated above, is important to the achievement of reconciliation between aggrieved parties in Solomon Islands.