𝘉𝘺 𝘋𝘳. 𝘛𝘢𝘳𝘤𝘪𝘴𝘪𝘶𝘴 𝘒𝘢𝘣𝘶𝘵𝘢𝘶𝘭𝘢𝘬𝘢
The Solomon Islands National Parliament has started the debate on the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) Report. This is necessary and important. There are two reasons why it is necessary and important that the TRC Report is tabled and discussed in parliament. First, members of parliament (MPS) should use this opportunity to highlight issues that this government and successive ones could prioritize and implement. Many of these are outlined in the report’s recommendations. Second, parliamentary discussions will become part of the repositories of Solomon Islands histories. We must remember and learn from this tragic period in our country’s growth, so we do not repeat it. While I welcome the debate on the TRC, I have some apprehension. The biggest is my concern that members of parliament have not read the report, or its summary. Consequently, the parliament discussions could lack substance and the outcomes could be potentially unhelpful. Judging from the debate so far, it seems that many MPs who have so far spoken have not read the report, or have not done so carefully. There is a lot of amateur historian grandstanding on the floor of parliament so far, and some even provide revisionist history. In 2016, I read all five volumes of the TRC Report. I did it because it was important for me to have a mental record of what happened to our country. But it was also a traumatic experience. I cried through many pages. It is therefore sad when national leaders do not take this issue seriously enough to read the report, carefully think through the issues and recommendations, and weave a whole-of-government strategy to address these issues and ensure our country does not go down that tragic path again. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act (2008) (the TRC Act). It was the result of efforts that were first initiated by civil society organizations led by the main Christian churches, through the Solomon Islands Christian Association (SICA). The idea of establishing a TRC was first proposed in 2000, during the height of the conflict, by a Peace Committee established within SICA. It was seen as a potential means to ‘build national unity’ through ‘truth-telling,’ reconciliation and justice or amnesty process. A Truth and Reconciliation Reference Group was established following a church leaders’ conference. The reference group received advice from the principal legal counsel to the South African TRC, who at the time was the head of the Human Rights Unit at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, and a framework for public consultation was developed and distributed. The proposal to establish the TRC did not materialize at that time because of the intensity of the conflict. However, after the RAMSI intervention, the idea was again proposed and supported by the then Solomon Islands government. It was however not established until the National Parliament passed the TRC Act in 2008. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the former chair of the South African TRC launched the Commission on 29 April 2009. It consisted of distinguished Solomon Islanders as well as citizens of other countries. However, the Commission did not officially start its work until 2010, and after which it worked for two years. The result was a five-volume report: Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report: Confronting the Truth for a Better Solomon Islands (2012) (TRC Report). It provides a comprehensive and compelling narrative of what happened, perspectives on the causes of the conflict, and a record of the experiences of both victims and perpetrators. The report has the potential to contribute to the delivery of justice, national reconciliation and sustainable peace. It was a difficult, but necessary process. As the report’s editor, Bishop Terry Brown, notes, “The TRC report is an exercise in truth telling, painful as the recollection may sometimes be, will help bring about the lasting justice, peace, reconciliation and unity that Solomon Islands so badly needs.” The report gives detailed accounts of human rights violations committed during the conflict. These included murder, abductions, illegal detentions, torture, sexual violence, the destruction of properties and the forced displacement of people, especially from their settlements on Guadalcanal. A total of 200 people were reportedly killed in conflict-related violence. It also contained testimonies that provide an insight into people’s experiences; the stories are heart trenching and give the reader an insight into a dark period in Solomon Islands’ history. The TRC Act requires that, “the Commission shall submit a report of its work to the Prime Minister at the end of its operation.” Consequently, the Commission submitted its report to the then Prime Minister, Gordon Darcy Lilo, in February 2012. The Prime Minister was required, under the Act to table the report in parliament. However, Prime Minister Lilo refused to table it in parliament, reportedly because he thought it was too sensitive and could reignite the conflict. His decision attracted widespread public criticism. In protest, the report’s editor, Bishop Terry Brown, unofficially released electronic copies of the report in May 2013. The report was eventually tabled on 5 September 2014, on the final day of the 9th Parliament before it was dissolved in preparation for the elections. However, it was never discussed in parliament because there was no motion for it to be considered. It is therefore good to see it being tabled in parliament now. The TRC report includes a number of recommendations that are divided into two parts. Part I includes addressing the needs of (1) victims; (2) vulnerable population; (3) former combatants; (4) reconciliation processes. Part II addresses (1) institutional reforms; and, (2) historical outstanding issues. Below is a summary of the Commission’s recommendations as outlined in the TRC Report. Each of these recommendations are discussed in detail in the report. Parliament’s time and privileges accorded to MPs to use the megaphone on the floor of parliament could best be used by focusing on the substance and recommendations of the TRC Report. That will require MPs to read the report and prepare well so when they stand to speak on the floor of parliament, they do so with substance. I hope the MPs who have not yet spoken provide substance when they contribute to the debate. Tagio tumas.