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At the same time however, what makes the TRC especially significant is its explicit attempt to incorporate elements of the rule of law within its reconciliation approach. In particular, the TRC is mandated to ‘look

go/newsroom/2010/march/first-trc-hearing-brings-relief-and-hopes-for-reconciliation .en (accessed May 2, 2011).

  • 101 Reverend Samuel Ata, Chairman of the Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Public Hearing at Gizo, Day One, Session, One, July 13, 2010, at two.html (accessed May 2, 2011).
  • 102 Ata, Public Hearing at Gizo, July 13, 2010.

at issues of accountability and responsibility for human rights violations and other abuses that occurred during the Tensions. This includes the question of whether human rights violations were the result of deliberate planning, policy, or authorization by any government, group or individual.’[1]

Unlike the South African TRC on which it was modelled, the Solomon Islands TRC does not have the power to grant amnesties in exchange for truth. The TRC Act 2008 thus declares, ‘For the avoidance of doubt [that] any facts or information disclosed or statements made pursuant to this Act or the findings or recommendations of the Commission shall not in any manner be construed as. . . . qualifying or entitling any person to any amnesty or further amnesty except amnesty or immunity granted in terms of the Amnesty Acts 2000 or 2001.’[2] Of course, as mentioned above, the application of these existing amnesties was extremely restrictive and in the end only a couple of people were actually granted immunity.

What is more, although witness statements are ‘inadmissible against the person in any action, suit, or proceeding’, witnesses are granted the usual right not to incriminate themselves or members of their immediate family, and ‘facts or information disclosed or statements made’ cannot be considered ‘admissible evidence in any proceeding before a court of law’, the TRC is authorized to recommend criminal proceedings.[3] This leaves open the possibility that on the basis of the evidence heard at the TRC it will, in its final report, refer a new set of matters to the High Court for prosecution.

Although the TRC Act was passed unanimously, the provisions allowing for the TRC to recommend further prosecutions is not universally supported in the Solomon Islands. In particular, in July 2009, before the TRC had begun its hearings, the Solomon Islands Minister for National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace, Sam Iduri, proposed the introduction of a ‘Forgiveness Bill’ to provide amnesty for perpetrators giving evidence before the TRC.[4] Although many proponents of forgiveness are at pains to stress that forgiveness and amnesty are distinct practices, the connection forged here is not unusual. Not only is amnesty defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as ‘A sovereign act of forgiveness for past acts, granted by a government to all persons (or to certain classes of persons) who have been guilty of crime or delict, generally political offences - treason, sedition, rebellion, draft evasion - and often conditioned upon their return to obedience and duty within a prescribed time’, but numerous other states have conceived amnesties explicitly in terms of forgiveness.[5]

However, like many that have gone before it in other countries and contexts, the proposed Bill has faced criticism from a number of quarters. In particular, the Chairman of Transparency International, Australia, Bob Pollard, has argued that ‘forgiveness is something that can only be given by the victim to the offender’ and, as such, there is no way ‘to legislate for forgiveness.’ In addition, he has suggested that offering amnesties to the perpetrators of serious crimes ‘could actually offend those who suffered during the civil war’ and, in doing so, suggested that the Forgiveness Bill may even ‘set the country’s healing process back.’[6]

In contrast to Pollard however, the Solomon Islands Western Province Premier, George Solingo Lilo, has argued that ‘there will be no nation building and reconciliation and our people will forever remain blemished if we fail to forgive each other and forget the past.’ Although he does not explicitly mention the proposed Forgiveness Bill, he alludes to the question of granting amnesties to the perpetrators of serious crimes when he acknowledges the difficulty of the task faced by the TRC in attempting to ‘reconcile discordant elements and make them cling together in one society’. Lilo argues that the members of the TRC ‘may have to put themselves in the position of those perpetrators of these gross human rights violations, who genuinely demonstrates remorse and regret and were willing to ask for forgiveness and help our society move forward.’[7] Despite continued opposition from some quarters, the Solomon Islands Government still plans to put forward the Forgiveness Bill although that has not, as yet, taken place.[8]

Nonetheless, in the absence of legislation formally connecting forgiveness to amnesty, throughout the TRC’s five regional public hearings in 2010 talk of forgiveness was abundant. Indeed, most people who testified before the Commission either offered forgiveness to those who had perpetrated crimes against them or appealed to the perpetrators to come forward so they could discuss what had happened and be forgiven.[9] While some offers of forgiveness pertained to loss of livelihoods, threats, intimidation, and arson, others involved far more serious offences, including violent assaults, torture, and murder. For example, in his testimony Mathew Amali Toma told of how, when fleeing from GRA militants with his children, including a baby in his arms, he was stopped by a GRA commando who ordered one of the militants to shoot him. When the gun failed to go off, the militants began attacking him with a hook knife used for harvesting palm oil. Still holding the baby, he managed to run to safety with his children who had witnessed the attack. Toma finished his testimony by stating, ‘I would like to call on the militants who had attempted to take my life that time with their guns and knives, I call on them anywhere they are now or if they are listening I want you to know that I have forgiven you all.’[10]

While in some instances victims offered unconditional, unilateral forgiveness that was not premised on an acknowledgement of wrong, many of those who gave testimony before the TRC expressed a desire to see justice done before forgiveness was granted. Justice in this context may amount to accountability in the form of truth telling or the offering of reparations or compensation but has, at its heart, the perpetrators’ acceptance of responsibility for the injustice they committed. One of the most prominent supporters of forgiveness, Lionel Longarata - the priest tied to the canoe during the Marasa beach atrocity - explains, forgiveness itself is not a problem for the people of the Solomon Islands. It is, he says, ‘just a matter of following our custom procedures towards forgiveness.’[11] As Peter Hosking remarked, however, for Longarata, ‘reconciliation is only possible where there is appropriate justice and truth.’[12] Indeed, as Longarata explained:

The people of Marasa are just waiting for the relatives of those who burnt down our homes and kill our two young men, come over and pay some kind of reparations... a little compensation to mark they are sorry for what they are done. When they have done that, then people will forgive them. It’s just a normal way for Melanesians, and of course the people of the Weathercoast of Guadalcanal.[11]

With the TRC’s final report and recommendations still pending and the Forgiveness Bill before the Solomon Islands Parliament in limbo, what remains to be seen is whether further prosecutions are, in fact, pursued or whether the TRC represents the Solomon Islands’ last bite of the transitional justice cherry.

  • [1] ‘Mandate of the Commission’. Bold in original.
  • [2] Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Act 2008, No. 5 of 2008, article 20(b), at (accessed May 2, 2011).
  • [3] Solomon Islands TRC Act, article 7, 5(1), 20(f).
  • [4] ‘Solomon Islands Government Plans Forgiveness Bill’, Solomon Star, (July 20,2009),at (accessed May 2, 2011).
  • [5] Black’s Law Dictionary, B. Garner and H. Black (eds.), 8th ed. (St. Paul, MN:Thomson/West, 2006). See for example, Guatemala’s 1996 Amnesty Law, Angola’s1994 Lusaka Protocol, and El Salvador’s 1993 Amnesty Act;Mallinder, Amnesty,Human Rights and Political Transitions, pp. 4, 37;Alfonso Anzueto, ‘War CrimesAmnesty Approved, One of the Last Obstacles to Peace’, Associated Press (December 18, 1996);Lusaka Protocol, annex 6. Stephen J. Pope, ‘The Convergence ofForgiveness and Justice: Lessons from El Salvador’, Theological Studies, Vol. 64,No. 3 (2003), p. 815.
  • [6] (‘Transparency Solomon Islands Criticises Proposed Bill’: 27 July, 2009).
  • [7] (‘Forgive and forget’: 2 February 2010).
  • [8] ‘Forgiveness Bill Disrespectful: Wale’, Solomon Times Online, November 5, 2011, at (accessed May 2,2011).
  • [9] See, for example, Testimonies of Gabriel Tuke, Elizabeth Takaingo, and NelsonSiama Vatora, Gizo TRC Public Hearing Session One, July 13, 2010, at May 2, 2011).
  • [10] Testimony of Mathew Amali Toma, Malaita Public Hearing Day 2, Session 3, at (accessed May 2, 2011).
  • [11] Longarata, ‘Melanesian Brotherhood Murders’.
  • [12] Hosking, ‘Melanesian Brotherhood Murders’.
  • [13] Longarata, ‘Melanesian Brotherhood Murders’.
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