Forgiveness at the Solomon Islands TRC

On 28 August 2008, the Parliament of the Solomon Islands passed a bill legislating the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission for the Solomon Islands modelled on the South African TRC. On 29 April

2009, just eight months after the TRC Bill passed into law, Archbishop Desmond Tutu launched the Solomon Islands TRC. As Tutu stated at the opening, ‘Many people didn’t believe that South Africa would ever become a united and peaceful country.. .but thanks to the prayers of many around the world, people chose forgiveness and reconciliation instead of revenge and retribution’ before adding that ‘what had happened in South Africa would also happen in Solomon Islands’ (Lowe 2009). As we will see, however, the Solomon Islands TRC departed ways with the South African commission in several important respects.

Forgiveness in TRC Testimonies

Like in the case of South Africa, throughout the TRC’s public hearings talk of forgiveness was a prominent feature. At the regional hearing in Gizo, for example, around one-third of all testimonies included an offer of forgiveness. In this context, victims offered forgiveness for a range of crimes including murder, harassment, forced displacement, assault, extortion, rape, and abduction (TRC Report 2012: 836-874). In his testimony, Felix Kojamana told of how his brother had been shot and killed by militants at Barabarakakasa village:

The five men attacked my brother and shot him but my brother tried to escape. There was only one bullet left so they fire at him but missed him.

They went back to the canoe and loaded the guns____A militant shot my

brother who fell and died instantly. By then the militants took most of our valuable things, burnt most of the houses, including church buildings, and keep shooting at people fleeing into the bush.

In what became an almost standard closing statement at some hearings, Kojamana finished his testimony by appealing ‘to anyone who is not in good terms with me to come forward so I can forgive you, so we can live in peace and harmony’ (TRC Report 2012: 836). Kojamana’s closing statement reflected an often-repeated sentiment at the Solomon Islands TRC that forgiveness is an interpersonal practice that requires the proximate, physical coming together of victims and perpetrators. Thus, although some victims made general statements of forgiveness, calls for perpetrators to come forward to be forgiven were more common. Simeon Vanjua’s testimony captures this idea: ‘For those of you 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’ (TRC Report 2012: 844).

At the same time, recognition that forgiveness may be a mutual or bilateral practice enacted between individuals was expressed in several testimonies. In his testimony, John Fataka told of how he was brutally assaulted, abducted, and detained by a militant group during the Tensions. Although he did not acknowledge wrongdoing on his own part in his statement, he closed by apologising to those who assaulted him:

I want to tell the people who caused me this pain and, if they are listening today, that I am sorry if I have wronged them in any way. Please forgive me and if they heard my name please if they want to reconcile with me, please come forward. If they want to make reconciliation according to our custom, church or other modes, please do not hesitate to contact me. (TRC Report 2012: 909)

This practice of simultaneously requesting and offering forgiveness also featured in several testimonies provided by ex-combatants. As an ex-combatant and former member of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force from Malaita, Alick Saeni told the TRC, ‘I am here to forgive and I am here to ask forgiveness from others. That’s the reason why I am here’ (TRC Report 2012: 1170). Saeni went on to explicitly forgive his superiors and even the RAMSI personnel who imprisoned him before specifically addressing ‘the people of this nation, especially those in the provinces, especially Malaita.’ He stated:

I humbly ask you to forgive me, for whatever I have done during that time, whatever hatred or what you might have never dreamt that one day something like that was going to happen. Seeing that it has happened already and in the system, I beg you and ask you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive me, please, forgive me. If you forgive me, you also forget what I had done wrong. (TRC Report 2012: 1171)

The association of forgiving with forgetting was also prominent in the testimony Daniel Tai Faafunua, a former Minister in the Solomon Islands Government and Malaitan ex-combatant: [1]

people around Malaita and Solomon Islands to consider forgiving me too for anything that I did as a person or as a leader I ask you to forgive me. (TRC Report 2012: 1184)

More common, among the ex-combatants who appeared before the TRC was, however, a more straightforward plea for forgiveness. Of the 34 ex-combatants who gave testimonies, 22 explicitly asked for forgiveness, while a further three apologised for their actions.

Unlike in the cases of El Salvador and South Africa, however, in the Solomon Islands the nature of the forgiveness being sought and offered appeared to simply be accepted by victims and perpetrators alike. In contrast to the case of South Africa, commissioners of the Solomon Islands TRC did not ask victims if they forgave their assailants. Rather, it seems that offers of and requests for forgiveness were freely tendered.6 As such, the issue of forced interpersonal forgiveness did not attract significant controversy in this case.

  • [1] just want to say that I come here to forgive those who did bad things tomy relatives; my uncles, my aunties, my cousins and my brothers and sisters. I forgive you with a good heart. When we forgive we forget. I also ask you
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