Friday, 18 September 2009 7:35 AM

The Pursuit of Justice For The Victims Of The Solomons Social Unrest

Dear Editor,

I would like to reply to your correspondent "Sri Ramon Jun Quitales" who responded to an article I had earlier contributed to your on-line publication relating to the instigators of the ethnic tension, or social unrest, has it has become labelled.

I firmly believe there must have been enough evidential information obtained and collated by the skilled investigation officers deployed under Ramsi's auspices following the early arrests and questioning of the foot soldiers like Harold Keke, Joseph Sangu, Andrew Te'e, Moses Su'u and even Jimmy "Rasta" Lusibaea to bring the "big fish" before the courts.

It is inconceivable that the investigation of those militants, and others, failed in determining their participation and involvement in the years of violence. It would have been essential, for evidence purposes, to determine whether they acted alone, or whether they conspired with others, or whether their actions, for which they alone, have been tried and convicted before the courts, were instigated by "others" who so far have have escaped punishment.

Joseph Sangu, in a report in the Solomon Star newspaper dated 25 August, 2006, said he had become an "Ambassador for Peace" following his release from prison. He went on to say, "I believe the problems that the nation had encountered would be blamed on our leaders. They are not genuine and honest in their conduct of the nation's affairs."

In his book the Manipulation of Custom, Jon Fraenkal, the well known writer on Pacific Affairs, lent some support to Sangu when he wrote, "The insurgent movements might have attracted a groundswell of under-employed youth in Guadalacanal and Malaita, but both were initiated by ex-national politicians who found in them convenient new weapons to deploy in their challenges to the government of the day."

When looking for other clues, it should be recalled that the forced removals of people living in the Weathercoast areas of Guadalcanal coincided with two inflammatory speeches by the then Premier of Guadalcanal Province, Ezekiel Alebua. The first at Ruavatu High School claimed that Guadalcanal land had been stolen from its people.

In the second speech he made, on 30 November 1998, he called for S$2.5 million compensation for 25 alleged murders on the island. The emergence of the group calling itself The Guadalcanal Revolutionary Army (GRA) soon began targeting Malaita islanders with increasing levels of harassment and violence.

Andrew Nori, a Barrister, and self-styled spokesperson for the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) laid claim to who some of the alleged instigators of the social unrest were when he wrote and published a local article. He named names and for him to have done so he would have risked defamation charges, but apparently not.

Sri Ramon Jun Quitales, in his article, said," There will be no real reconciliation in the Solomons unless those sharks are caught and put at Rove."

The Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Dean of the Saint Barnabas Cathedral in Honiara, Father Sam Ata, when commenting on the root causes of the ethnic tension, chose his words more carefully when he said, " Without justice and respect for human rights, peace, stability and development are difficult, if not impossible to achieve. Without truth and justice, there can be no peace in reconciliation." He went on to add that, "the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a good example of the search to cleverly approach the issues of balancing the need for immoral responsibilities and the truth and reconciliation process."

There appears, at least to me, to be some contradictions in what Father Ata had to say, especially as the Truth and Reconciliation Act, 2008, prevents the use of any testimonial evidence before the TRC to be used in evidence against individuals involved in the events of the period of social unrest.

The same Act is also said not to provide adequate protection for witnesses or justice for the victims of the social unrest.

If the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is perceived to be "toothless" for the reasons given, as claimed by some observers, the alternative pursuit of justice must lie with the police.

Ramsi very quickly demonstrated its effectiveness in rounding up and prosecuting the foot soldiers, but not the instigators of the years of social unrest. It could well be that Ramsi is not mandated in terms of the Facilitation Act with the Solomon Islands, under with it operates, to undertake such investigations. (Keke and Sangu were arrested and dealt with as a consequence of earlier Warrants of Arrest, prior to 2003, that had been issued following their appearance before the Court on charges which included armed robbery, attempted murder and unlawful possession of firearms). It will be recalled that the pair were bailed by Ezekiel Alebua following their detention on Bungana Island, but immediately absconded to the Weathercoast only to intensify their campaign of harassment and violence.

If the TRC Act was "cleverly" drafted to prevent criminal proceedings arising from its hearings and Ramsi is similarly impeded, then the challenge of pursuing the cause of justice must lie with the Royal Solomon Islands Police. Ramsi it is said has made a determined effort to build-up the capacity of the local Force but doubts remain in my mind as to whether the RSIP, alone, given the complexities of cultural limitations in the Solomons such as the wantok influence, as an example, and their still limited resources and, perhaps, the lack of people's trust, can successfully bring to book those big fish still evading justice. This is not to say, however, the RSIP lacks skilled investigators of the likes of my old CID colleagues Jackson Ofu and Walter Kola and others.

The question is, and despite the operational independence of the police service, whether there is a will to pursue the course of justice in relation to catching and prosecuting those who betrayed their countrymen and women and incurred so much suffering and bloodshed, to say nothing of social disruption, inter-island relationships and economic disaster.

One should be mindful of what the former Ramsi Special Coordinator, James Batley, was reported to have said in March 2006 when addressing a public forum in Auki. He was quoted in the Solomon Star newspaper of having told his audience of local chiefs, "That during the visit of the Eminent Persons Group from the South Pacific Forum last year (2005) similar calls were made as part of the group's recommendations (to investigate the root causes of the ethnic tension and find the "big fish"), however its unclear whether the enquiry was set (will be established, my words) because of its likely implications should the investigation is carried out."

Whatever happens from hereon, it is perfectly clear to me and the reason why after more than 10 years after leaving office I am still endeavouring to bring justice to those who suffered the consequences of the social unrest. Many families and communities suffered deeply as a result of human rights violations. They deserve to know the truth as part of the healing process. Only with the truth will the moral climate be created in which lasting reconciliation and peace might flourish.

Yours sincerely,
Frank Short

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter/article are those of Frank Short and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.

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