Home Law Transitional Justice in the Asia-Pacific
Although these two approaches to transitional justice have operated in parallel with each other in the post-conflict context of the Solomon Islands, significant tensions have emerged between them. Most prominently, many people view the pursuit of prosecution and punishment for the perpetrators of serious crimes committed during the Tensions as hampering attempts at reconciliation. While significant reconciliation processes have taken place within Rove prison, the incarceration of so many militants runs the risk of preventing ‘reconciliation processes outside the prison walls.’ There are two main reasons for this. First, because of security restrictions placed on the number of relatives who have been permitted to attend reconciliation ceremonies conducted at the prison, reconciliation remains largely interpersonal. As Alebua stated at the completion of his reconciliation ceremony with Ronnie Cawa, ‘There is peace in my heart after the reconciliation, but not peace in the heart of my tribe.’ As such, some argue that RAMSI’s ‘[e]mphasis on law and order and the resultant court and prison sentences has interrupted necessary and ongoing reconciliation processes at the inter- and intra-community levels.’ As Averre explains, ‘[t]he initially non-programmatic, ad-hoc and reactionary approach taken to support the law and justice sector resulted in a narrow prosecutorial focus’ that did not pay adequate attention to the ‘holistic impact of arrests and prosecutions on the community and reconciliation’ until it was far too late. By then, ‘entrenched, polarized positions on truth and reconciliation’ had been established. Second, Averre also suggests that ‘whilst charges are outstanding there is unlikely to be any acceptance of culpability for what occurred’ and, as such, the adversarial nature of the criminal justice system inhibits the recovery of truth. Averre thus argues that ‘a stronger reconciliation at the national level’ might have been achieved had the criminal justice process been mixed with a truth and reconciliation process.
However, criticisms of this suggestion have come from two different sources, one predictable, the other not. Somewhat surprising is the position of non-governmental organizations, such as Prison Fellowship International, which maintain that reconciliation should remain exclusively a community-based activity. To this end, the Sycamore Tree Project makes a deliberate effort to keep ‘the government out of their reconciliation work’ because project leaders believe that when the government becomes involved, reconciliation becomes strongly associated with financial compensation. This monetarization of compensation has come to be seen, not simply as a form of conflict resolution, but as a conflict driver; in a very real sense, for many Solomon Islanders, violence now pays. As a result, some now argue that reconciliation ought to remain the exclusive preserve of local communities.
More predictably, RAMSI officials have routinely argued that issues of reconciliation ‘fall outside the mission’s mandate and can be addressed only by local stakeholders.’ They have maintained that RAMSI’s role ‘is to create the ‘space’ for conflict reconciliation to take place.’ In response to a June 2006 report by the Review Taskforce sponsored by the Solomon Islands Government which, in part, criticized RAMSI for failing to address the causes of the conflict, Special Coordinator James Batley stated:
RAMSI’s position has always been that one of its key roles is to help create a stable environment in which Solomon Islanders themselves can take forward the task of peace and reconciliation, at their own pace, in accordance with their own customs and traditions.
This is not, however, to say that RAMSI or those involved in conducting the Tension Trials are wholly dismissive of traditional and customary forms of justice. As part of its law and justice mission, RAMSI has said that it aims to ‘ensure that the legal system also recognizes the traditional justice systems that have been used for many centuries in Solomon Islands.’ Rather, what it seems to suggest is that although RAMSI is open to the idea of incorporating traditional justice mechanisms within the rule of law approach, hybridization has not yet occurred. Recognition of the importance of traditional reconciliation has also come from within the justice sector. In the case of John Leveti Randy, a member of the GLF tried on charges of arson and membership of an unlawful society over the Marasa Village atrocities, Justice Palmer noted that:
some sorts of reconciliation ceremony have been conducted within the community. That is also good and is noted. But again this is inevitable, for any community to survive and to rebuild there must be forgiveness, true forgiveness from the heart, for that is an essential ingredient to reconciliation. At least that opens the way forward for the Accused on his release to be accepted back into the community as a changed reformed person.
Of course, in thus arguing, Justice Palmer was not suggesting that forgiveness and reconciliation ought to replace processes of criminal justice but rather that they both have important roles to play. In raising the issue of forgiveness, however, he touched on what has become a very sensitive issue in the Solomon Islands and one that has come to the fore with the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
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