Solomon Islands: 30 Guadalcanal victims testifying
(Visale, Solomon Islands) – During 23-25 June 30 victims testified in the second regional hearing by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Solomon Islands. By telling their stories, many of the victims express relief and a will to move on in their lives.
The Solomon Islands experienced violent civil conflict between 1998 and July 2003, and the victims appearing before the commission told about grave crimes committed during this period, including murder, torture, abductions, severe threats and harassment and loss of property.
One of the victims, Reverend Lionel Longarata, had to flee from Honiara because of serious harassment from militia members in Malaita Eagle Force (MEF).
“In July 1999 I was travelling three weeks to Fiji, but when I came back to my house, my family was not there,” he tells. After searching around in Honiara, he found his family members who could tell how they had been chased from their own property. As a result of this harassment, and to avoid further dangerous episodes, Longarata decided to move to a village on the Weathercoast of Guadalcanal with his family.
Four years later, in June 2003, Longarata’s house on the Weathercoast was raided by militia members from Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army (GRA). He was threatened with guns and forced to the seashore. Two young men were killed in front of him, and he barely got out of it alive himself. When Longarata came back to his village, his house and about 50 other houses were burnt to the ground and once again he and his family had to go back to Honiara.
Despite the adversity and the terrible memories, Longarata is glad to finally tell his story.
"In the past I would not tell my story. I thought it would hurt too much, but I have learnt that if I share my experience, I feel that the distortion inside of me is released.”
The hearing in Visale on Guadalcanal Island is the third TRC hearing. The first hearing was a national hearing with victims from all over the country. This hearing was held in the capital Honiara. The second hearing was a regional hearing, focusing on victims living on Malaita Island and the hearing was held in the provincial capital Auki. This third hearing focused on victims living on Guadalcanal Island.
“We are pleased to see that the reconciliation process continues in Solomon Islands. The TRC hearings have brought relief to many traumatized Solomon Islanders, and we hope and believe that this process can be an important contribution to national healing,” says Knut Ostby, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative.
The TRC is an independent body, comprising three national and two international commissioners. Its primary function is to promote national unity, reconciliation and peace. The commissioners are: Fr. Sam Ata of Solomon Islands (Chair); Ms Sofia Macher of Peru (Deputy Chair); Mr George Kejoa of Solomon Islands; Mrs. Carolyn Laore of Solomon Islands; and Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi of Fiji.
Financial and technical support for the TRC has been provided by a number of contributors, including the Governments of Solomon Islands, Australia and New Zealand; the European Commission; the International Centre for Transitional Justice; the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; and the United Nations Development Programme.
The next regional hearing by the Truth and Reconciliation commission is scheduled to take place 13-15 July in Ghizo, Western Province.