Speaking Suffering: A Post-Colonial Analysis of Why the Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission Failed to ‘Touch the Heart of the People’

Event details

SSGM Seminar

Date & time

Tuesday 26 February 2019


Coombs Extension Room 1.04 The Australian National University
ANU Canberra


Claire Cronin



Between 2008 and 2012, the Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) collected the testimonies of individuals who had suffered, or taken part in, acts of violence during the period of conflict known as the ‘ethnic tensions’. Based upon the recently completed work of the South African TRC, the Commission had been advocated for by local faith-based organisations as a “moral body, a principled approach”, that would provide an alternative to state-led reconciliation initiatives. And yet, during my fieldwork in the Solomon Islands, I was consistently told that the TRC had “failed to touch the heart of the people” – this thesis seeks to provide an explanation as to why that was.

As a transitional justice model, the TRC grounded its analysis of conflict-related violence in the internationally normative human rights discourse: violence was categorised and analysed according to international legal definitions of crimes against humanity, and those who testified were afforded human rights ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ subjectivities. Yet human rights remains a highly contested ideology in the Solomon Islands. Drawing on postcolonial theory, this thesis argues that for most Solomon Islanders, the moral-political ideology of human rights can claim to command neither moral nor political authority. I suggest that the particular ‘vernacularisation’ of the human rights discourse that developed in post-conflict Solomon Islands, is both heavily gendered, and threatens to present a depoliticised version of rights that reinforces gendered power hierarchies. The thesis considers the TRC as being a point of contact at what Merry has termed the ‘global-local interface’, and claims that the popular reception of the TRC – including the power dynamics and moral dilemmas ignited by this encounter – must be read in the light of the long history of interactions between Solomon Islanders and outsiders.

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