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Reading Room: Transitional Justice in Practice: Conflict, Justice, and Reconciliation in the Solomon Islands

08 Jan 2018
Reviewed by Mikaela James

Transitional justice has emerged, over the last three decades, as a globally recognised approach to addressing one of the greatest challenges in post-conflict societies—seeking accountability for past wrongs and helping a society move forward after the fighting ceases.

Renee Jeffery’s collection of essays—all written by female authors—provides an insightful exploration of the practice and experience of transitional justice mechanisms in the Solomon Islands since the end of ‘the Tensions’ in 2003. The collection draws on in-country field work and the authors’ personal experiences, which enables it to offer rich reflections on the approaches used to date.

The collection helpfully situates the Solomon Islands’ case in a global context by reflecting on approaches in other post-conflict societies and how the Solomons’ experience was impacted by and contributed to practice and debates in the field. The chapters cover a diverse range of issues relating to transitional justice—from human rights to local customary systems of justice, success factors of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, forgiveness, the experiences of women and youth, and the role of development aid in reparations.

While each essay looks at different elements, all reinforce the challenges of achieving transitional justice and the complexities of work in this field. These include differing expectations and experiences for local and global players, differences between individual, local and state level justice and forgiveness, and varied perceptions of healing through telling, forgiveness and compensation.

A constant theme is the importance of working with local communities and avoiding the pitfalls of imposing an approach from the outside that has not been adapted to the local context. Each chapter wrestles with the “complex and precarious balancing act” between global norms and practice, and local customs and culture. It offers useful and practical recommendations for the future, yet at the same time raises a number of questions for future work.

The collection is frank in its assessment that more remains to be done, both in the Solomon Islands towards healing the wounds of the past, and also in the field of transitional justice for scholars and practitioners to find an effective balance between the global and the local to help communities to move forward.

Renée Jeffery (Eds.), Transitional Justice in Practice: Conflict, Justice and Reconciliation in the Solomon Islands, Palgrave MacMillan, 2017. ISBN13: 9781137596949.

Mikaela James is studying a Masters of Defence and Security Management at UNSW Canberra, where she has focused on post conflict reconstruction. She has a Bachelor of International Studies and received First Class Honors for her analysis of the stabilisation mission in the Solomon Islands.