Youth, Justice, and Development at the TRC

The experiences of youth are linked to the core issues of development and rebuilding in the Solomon Islands. The UNDP Country Report reinforces this link concluding that the underlying economic and social factors that contributed to the Tensions disproportionally affected the youth population, most noticeably their access to education (Noble et al. 2011: 108). The notion that youth are important actors in the development process is a relatively new concept in the research on youth in post-conflict environments. Yet its importance should not be understated, as the absence of youth from post-conflict processes has potentially damaging implications. For example, in the Solomon Islands context, the Commissioners noted that ‘youth.are entangled in many issues and problems. The situation of its youth is one of the reasons the Solomon Islands is not moving forward’ (TRC Report 2012: 722). Youth therefore are identified as both potential spoilers and key stakeholders in the development process by the TRC Commissioners.

This potential fluidity in the contribution of youth to the future of the Solomon Islands is further reflected in the statements made to the TRC. For example, Mr. Samani John contends, ‘I appeal to those of you who are in the process of learning, concentrate on what will benefit the country’ (2012: 1015). He continues, ‘we will be the victims if we don’t address the future properly’ (TRC Report: 1015). Furthermore, as one participant highlights, rebuilding and the justice process are ‘all about empowering young people’ (TRC Report 2012: 1019). These statements imply a connection between youth’s role in the development process, or lack thereof, and the stability of the Solomon Islands.

This development narrative is central to understanding the ways in which youth reflect upon the conflict in the Solomon Islands. The submissions, particularly those of Mae Jr. and Okaiburi, emphasise the absence of resources (including food) and the inability to continue schooling during the Tensions as central to an understanding of youth’s justice needs (TRC Report 2012: 994 & 999). Indeed, throughout the statements presented at the TRC, there was a heightened awareness amongst youth of the development deficit produced by the Tensions. For example, Mr. Tebabaki explained that:

When urbanisation takes place, people move about to get better education and employment. So that is why the rest of the people c[a]me to Honiara... and when such things as the ethnic tensions took place, we were all was affected, all other services were affected. (TRC Report 2012: 1007)

The absence of resources was one of the primary concerns articulated by youth throughout the process. Development therefore is a key component of youth’s story that is revealed because of their inclusion in the TRC process. Evidently, several of the participants provided recommendations in their submissions, which specifically articulated their development needs. As Patricia Tona suggested, the Government should ‘create job opportunities; establish more vocational or rural training centres that will be affordable’ (TRC Report 2012: 1013). It can thus be concluded that youth participation at the Solomon Islands TRC has a clear development character. That is, justice understood from the perspective of youth in the Solomon Islands requires the tangible provision of resources and the implementation of capacity-building projects.

Youth’s stories at the Solomon Islands TRC also reflect a restorative approach to transitional justice. This is evident in the thematic focus on development in the youth recommendations made by the Commissioners. These recommendations concluded that ‘the Government must implement a separate policy specifically addressing youth unemployment’ (TRC Report 2012: 769). Furthermore, the commissioners, reflecting on the youth submissions, suggested that the Government prioritise the implementation of the National Youth Policy 2010-2015, which was delayed due to the Tensions (TRC Report 2012: 647). These reflections lend credence to claims throughout the transitional justice field, which suggest that a symbiotic association exists between justice and development in postconflict states. Indeed, proponents of the holistic approach to transitional justice contend that justice, reconciliation, and development are mutually reinforcing imperatives for the maintenance of peace in transitional communities (Lambourne 2009; Mani 2005; Mendeloff 2004). That is, each process achieves different yet complementary ends within the society.

The Solomon Islands TRC youth submissions reinforce this holistic sentiment. For example, in her statement, Ms. Tona emphasised the need for the Government to ‘mandate for the expectations of [the] young people of Solomon Islands in the future’ (TRC Report 2012: 1013). Specifically, youth in the Solomon Islands demonstrate a keen awareness of their needs and the implications of their interests on the broader Solomon Islands community. Furthermore, Mr. Kevin Molex contends that ‘young men and women of this country...are the future leaders of this community’ (2012: 1011). He continues, they have ‘realised how important they are. in their community and as Solomon Islanders’ (TRC Report 2012: 1012). Throughout the submissions, a causal connection was implied between engaging youth in the TRC process and the future success of the Solomon Islands. Indeed, throughout the submission, youth represented themselves as a resource or an asset. Given this, it is evident that participants at the Solomon Islands TRC constructed the role of youth in a several different ways, beyond the traditional binary lens.

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