How Might International Development Agencies Support Reparations in the Solomon Islands?

This part discusses five ways international development agencies could support reparations in the Solomon Islands, while avoiding the pitfalls of the compensation scheme.

  • 1. helping to build political will
  • 2. providing technical assistance
  • 3. supporting institutional strengthening and service delivery
  • 4. promoting meaningful participation
  • 5. promoting reparative justice for gender-based violence

Any decision by international development agencies to support reparations in the Solomon Islands, as in any country, should be conditional on leadership and strong political and budgetary commitment of the SIG. Support should also be contingent on a robust needs analysis to understand the nature and extent of community demand for reparations. Yet internationally, experience shows that governments do not always have ‘political incentives and hence the political assign resources to finance reparations’ (Segovia 2006a: 651).

Unfortunately, no such political will or commitment has been demonstrated to date for the implementation of the CRP as recommended by the Solomon Islands TRC. An appropriate entry point for aid donors, there?fore, may be in building the political will of SIG through human rights- informed policy dialogue, focused on the value of the CPR for the country. This can include building consideration of reparations into discussions around the government budget (Roht-Arriaza 2013). In this way, development actors might use policy dialogue as a tool to build political will in support of the mobilisation of resources towards financing reparations.

From there, taking an optimistic view, in a scenario where political commitment to reparation is demonstrated, how might international development agencies engage? It is neither appropriate nor realistic to expect reparations to be financed mainly by foreign aid; rather, aid can be considered a ‘complement to national resources, but never a substitute’ (Segovia 2006a: 659). Where aid donors are willing to contribute to financing reparations, a co-funding model would be appropriate, with budgetary contributions made both by donors and the partner government. The contribution of the SIG should be meaningful (if not the principal contribution), sufficient so as to demonstrate ownership of and political commitment to reparations; this is key to serving the symbolic function of reparation (Roht-Arriaza & Orlovsky 2009). In this way, the use of internal resources itself represents an act of reparation (Segovia 2006b). This model is realistic in recognising the substantial cost of implementing a reparations program, without risking the removal of the atoning value through its being outsourced, as it were, through foreign aid (Roht- Arriaza & Orlovsky 2009).

A representative of an international development agency operating in Solomon Islands emphasised that any support would take the form of technical assistance and support for implementing in-kind reparations, rather than financing monetary compensation.14 This approach aligns with a broader conception of reparation as set out in the Basic Principles that is not limited to monetary recompense. By moving away from a narrow conception of reparation as only cash payments to victims, this may quell concerns voiced by aid donors in the Solomon Islands that view the provision of monetary payments to victims as high risk as well as an inappropriate focus for and form of development assistance.

Technical assistance—provided as a form of reparations aid—can be a useful form of support. Reparations programs, in addition to requiring considerable amounts of public resources, are complex to design and implement (Segovia 2006a). As Segovia explains, reparations programs require ‘the existence of qualified technical resources, public and private institutional resources, and reliable statistical data, all of which is not always available in transitional societies’ (Segovia 2006a: 652). Moreover, the exceptional nature of reparations generally means that no one in the country will have had prior experience structuring, designing, and implementing a massive reparations program.

Technical assistance may involve strategic advice and support on a range of issues such as the appropriate scope (i.e., number of beneficiaries) of a reparations program, evidentiary standards to be eligible for reparation, the reach or comprehensiveness of the program (types of human rights abuses addressed), complexity (the mixture of reparations types provided, i.e., whether more than one type of reparation is available), finality (whether receiving reparations excludes other avenues of redress), and munificence (magnitude or monetary value) (Viaene 2009: 6-13). Crucial to the effectiveness of this technical assistance is advice that is appropriate to contextual realities according to what is realistic and affordable for the country, and the nature of conflict and violence and corresponding harm suffered.

Demonstrative of the kind of technical assistance that has been afforded, in Guatemala, international development agencies provided technical assistance in a range of areas such as to help set up and structure the reparations fund, to establish regional offices, and to resolve various legal issues associated with how to establish Guatemala’s National Reparations Program (PNR [Programa Nacional de Resarcimiento]). Illustrative of the kind of technical assistance that might be suitable for the Solomon Islands, as detailed above, the TRC recommended mental health care for victims, as a form of reparation (TRC Report 2012: 755). This recommendation may be particularly difficult to implement in the Solomon Islands, as there is only a limited number of people adequately trained to provide appropriate mental health care there (TRC Report 2012: 99-100). Yet access to mental health care remains important in the Solomon Islands given the severe psychosocial impact of trauma suffered due to the Tensions (UNICEF 2005). Therefore, appropriate technical assistance might involve support for training of mental health professionals, such as counsellors, to provide this care. Emphasis should be placed on contextually (especially culturally) appropriate interventions (Lykes & Mersky 2006), including training Solomon Islanders representative of the geographic spread and ethnic diversity of those affected by the conflict.

Development aid that strengthens institutions and supports enhanced service delivery to the poor can also help the delivery of reparations (Roht-Arriaza & Orlovsky 2009). For example, in-kind reparations such as housing, education, health services, and social security rely on a ‘delivery system’ to bring reparation to beneficiaries such that if these services can be provided through well-functioning systems, they are more likely to be ‘competently provided’ (Roht-Arriaza & Orlovsky 2009: 175). In this way, development agencies can support more effective reparations through their aid across a range of sectors such as education, health, and housing. These sectors might not commonly be associated with justice, but here we see precisely how development aid in other sectors can complement and enable transitional justice, just as Duthie would argue (2008: 292-309).

Where a country has a relatively limited service delivery capacity—for example, where the state has limited reach and where geography compounds this, as is the case in the Solomon Islands—identifying and delivering in-kind reparations to beneficiaries is especially difficult. Over time and with a sustained effort, aid may be able to help resolve institutional and service delivery issues that can undermine the effectiveness or viability of reparations such as ‘long delays’ and ‘frustrations for victims in dealing with a slow and often unfeeling bureaucracy’ (Roht-Arriaza & Orlovsky 2009: 180).

Increasingly, there is an understanding of the importance of the need to design and implement reparations programs with the participation of victims (OHCHR 2006). Unfortunately, this was not the approach followed in the Solomon Islands for the compensation scheme—one factor limiting its effectiveness. Rombouts sums up the importance of this kind of participatory approach that gives victims a voice: policy approaches designed to remedy the consequences of conflict must be based on the ‘victims’ reality,’ not a ‘prescriptive approach’ whereby ‘victims are told what is good for them’ (2002: 219-220). International development agencies can seek to influence this, encouraging victim participation where it is not sufficiently incorporated in the design. This is a good reason why development actors need to understand the local context and dynamics: where seeking to influence transitional justice processes, knowledge of how to do so in the specific context matters—it is about operating politically.

Relatedly, civil society organisations—NGOs, informal groups, social movements, faith groups, think tanks, human rights organisations—can play an important role in reparations (Haider 2011). International development agencies might collaborate with various civil society groups as a strategy for enhancing the effectiveness of their reparations aid. For example, international development agencies might work through NGOs to help ensure contextually relevant reparations/reparations aid as civil society can provide insights into local culture and other contextual considerations.

To do this, it may be most straightforward and appropriate for international development agencies to work directly with readily identifiable NGOs as an entry point for their engagement. Those NGOs can then more easily reach civil society at the ‘grass-roots’ level and so facilitate participation of victims’ groups, translating ‘transnational ideas such as human rights approaches to violence’ from ‘the global arena down and from local arenas up’ (Engle 2006: 38). In this way, as Engle Merry describes, civil society organisations can help the ‘process of vernacularization’ as ‘the people in the middle: those who translate the discourses and practices from the arena of international law and legal institutions to specific situations of suffering and violation’ (2006: 39). So to the extent that civil society can ‘translate’ and ‘negotiate’ between ‘local, regional, national and global systems of meaning’ (including international development), it makes sense for international development agencies to engage for a more meaningful and locally relevant and grounded reparations process (2006: 39). It is acknowledged that this approach can be more time and resource intensive—the trade-off for aid donors though is that it can increase aid effectiveness (as well as being the right thing to do)—even if it is more expensive.

A word of caution for reparations aid: civil society is not a homogenous group that will always share a unified position on an issue, and NGOs can be political too. Therefore, consulting and/or engaging with certain civil society organisations will not necessarily mean that the international development agency will have canvassed the diversity of views. To go some way to counter this, effective aid approaches must involve really listening to and trying to understand the different views and reasons for divergence.

The proposed reparations program for the Solomon Islands incorporates reparations for victims of sexual and other forms of gender-based violence (TRC Report 2012: 728). This is particularly compelling, noting the limited justice responses in the Solomon Islands for those who suffered sexual violence during the conflict and the need for demonstrated condemnation of these crimes. This is particularly important, recognising that the gender dimensions of transitional justice have not always been fully accounted for and remain a challenge for effective transitional justice responses (Buckley-Zistel & Stanley 2011; see also Vella, this volume). Relevantly also, a respondent interviewed during fieldwork in Solomon Islands explained that reparation would be the ‘best’ or ‘most appropriate’ form of justice for survivors of sexual violence and that the lack of compensation payments is an ‘injustice.’15

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