Visiting a provincial prison in northern Afghanistan some years ago, I met a friendly and engaging prison chief. He told me about the challenges he was facing with corruption amongst the police, prosecutors and judges and how bad he felt about prolonged pre-trial detention and his administration's shortcomings.
He also emphasized how much he appreciated the cooperation with the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and was eager to show me the refurbishment done with PRT support. In the middle of the conversation the prison chief had to take a call.
After my translator and I left the meeting, my translator informed me that the telephone conversation was about how much bribe a certain prisoner should be expected to pay for his release.
Since the Presidential elections in 2004, I have had the opportunity to observe the international community's military, political and developmental engagement in Afghanistan. As a lawyer, I have been particularly interested in the role of law (or the lack thereof) in the shift from conflict to (at best) awkward peace.
During this period, common perceptions about state-building have changed from as ‘almost on track, give or take a few major challenges' to ‘almost failed, but possibly savable'. Over the same period of time, the common perception has shifted from rule of law reform being a marginal issue to becoming the issue to be addressed if the state-building process in Afghanistan is to be saved.
My experience with the prison chief is a perfect illustration of the failure of the rule of law reform strategies deployed in the first years of the state-building process: ad hoc and donor-driven reform projects focusing on some law reforms, short-term capacity-building and refurbishing infrastructure. These efforts affected nothing but the surface of the Afghan security and justice sectors, while a culture of corruption and impunity was allowed to grow stronger. Depending on who the interlocutor is, the security and justice sectors show their different facets. The well-meaning foreigner with her driver and translator and the Afghan peasant who is claiming back his land from the local commander face very different realities of (in)justice.
The past two years have seen increased focus on rule of law and have resulted in the emergence of new strategies and actors.
- The Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS) includes a comprehensive strategy for justice reform
- The World Bank has been supporting the establishment of a justice window in the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF)
- The UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) in cooperation with the UN Development Program (UNDP) have been beefing up its rule of law unit through establishing the provincial justice initiative and
- Troop contributing nations to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have been developing justice components in their security sector and development initiatives.
When interviewing representatives of the international community about the increased focus on promoting rule of law in Afghanistan, one interviewee noted that the international community is finally in a situation where it can ‘connect all the dots' and overcome the shortcomings of previous reform initiatives. My meetings and discussions with Afghan legal practitioners show these reforms in a different light; the ‘dots' may connect, but the map does not correspond with reality.
Continue reading the full article in NATO Review.
Sari Kouvo is Head of Programme, International Centre for Transitional Justice Senior Analyst, Afghanistan Analysts Network. Her previous positions include Human Rights and Rule of Law Advisor to the European Union Special Representative for Afghanistan and researcher on Afghanistan at Amnesty International.
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