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In the case of the Solomon Islands, transitional justice has been pursued on an ad hoc basis with little integration of the various mechanisms employed and minimal coordination between the parties responsible for delivering them. Inadvertently, however, this has resulted in the implementation of what Olsen, Payne, and Reiter have recently argued is the optimal combination of transitional justice mechanisms: trials, amnesties, and truth commissions.[1] Amnesties were successfully employed to achieve a peace-settlement even though, in the end, very few individuals actually benefitted from them. Criminal trials not only brought accountability for human rights violations to the Solomon Islands but drew a firm line in the sand, making it clear to all that criminal behaviour would be tolerated no longer. And the Solomon Islands TRC has sought the pursuit of truth for the victims of the Tensions. Together, these mechanisms have brought undeniable improvements in human rights to the Solomon Islands. Widespread human rights violations have ceased, and the perpetrators of crimes are held accountable in a functioning criminal justice system.

Despite these successes, however, several notes of caution must be sounded. First, although the Solomon Islands has successfully implemented an amnesty, trial, and truth commission process, these elements have not always sat well together. In this case, the combination of amnesties and trials has brought with it the impression and, arguably, the reality that RAMSI and the Solomon Islands’ criminal justice system reneged on the amnesty deals brokered to facilitate a ceasefire. While they have largely gotten away with doing so in this case, it is difficult to advocate this course of action more broadly. What is more, the potential for trials to result from the TRC has proved a divisive issue. Thus, although its final recommendations remain outstanding, at this stage it seems that the TRC has not bridged the justice divide but rather helped to reify the two positions.

Second, although the Tensions have ostensibly come to an end, peace is very uneasy in the Solomon Islands. Improvements achieved thus far for human rights, justice, and peace will all be in vain if the underlying causes of the conflict, particularly disputes over the land tenure system, chronic deprivation, and underdevelopment, are not adequately addressed. Thus, while justice must remain a key priority of post-conflict peace building in the Solomon Islands, its ultimate ability to affect real change over the longer term to some extent rests on the broader success of the peacebuilding operation underway.

  • [1] Tricia D. Olsen, Leigh A. Layne, and Andrew G. Reiter, ‘The Justice Balance: WhenTransitional Justice Improves Human Rights and Democracy’, Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 32 (2010), pp. 980-1007.
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