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Afghanistan's Judiciary Rebuilding Under New Court

By Stephen Kaufman

Afghanistan's Judiciary Rebuilding Under New Supreme Court

A fresh team of Supreme Court justices appointed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in 2006 is determined to build up the professionalism of the country's judiciary, which has suffered from Afghanistan's 30 years of war, destruction and instability.

"People saw the change in leadership of the Supreme Court, so people are expecting a lot," said Afghan Supreme Court Chief Justice Abdul Salam Azimi. Azimi spoke with USINFO November 27 during a five-day visit to Washington where he and other Afghan judicial officials met with U.S. lawmakers, judges and administration officials.

Afghanistan is dealing with a judicial system in disarray, neglected like many of its other institutions until very recently. With continued corruption and many poorly trained judges remaining in their positions, Azimi places his most immediate hopes on internationally funded rule-of-law training efforts for the judges.

One of the donors, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), reports that since the Taliban government was removed, more than 600 sitting judge (more than 50 percent of Afghanistan's judiciary) have been trained. An additional 350 judge candidates have been trained or are currently in training. As part of USAID's Afghanistan Rule of Law Project, the agency also provided funding for the redesign of the country's law school curriculum.

"We are working on how to upgrade the knowledge of our citizens ... and identify who can stay and continue" as judges, as well as those who should be removed, Azimi said.

However, a large-scale purge of unqualified judges is not practical, he explained, because there are few qualified candidates to replace them. "What is necessary immediately, and one of the greatest challenges, is to upgrade the knowledge of those who are supposed to stay and remain in the system," Azimi said, because Afghanistan needs them despite their inadequacies.

Afghanistan also hopes to create a new generation of judges, but this will be a longer term project, even with international donor support, since a current high school graduate is still decades away from becoming qualified. The country is working to rebuild a vast range of professions, Azimi said, "not just judges."

Supreme Court justices play a key role in selecting new judges, a task that requires considerable time over and above the large number of legal cases demanding their attention. To prevent nepotism and corruption in the process, committees were created to screen and select potential judges based on applicants' education and background, and each committee must include a member of the Supreme Court.

In addition, each justice has been assigned to monitor the lower courts in one of the country's eight judicial zones. The justices travel regularly from Kabul to their respective zones, Azimi said. Their involvement sends the message that the central government is paying attention to the issues in the provinces and also encourages local judges to ensure that their behavior meets ethical and legal standards.

Azimi said one of the most important results from the new Supreme Court's yearlong tenure is the completion of a five-year strategic plan designed for foreign donors, listing all of the judiciary's needs and setting cost estimates and priorities. Prior to this, despite the availability of international donors, "We didn't tell them what we need. We didn't submit to them an established plan," he said.

To help increase the rule of law and end corruption, Afghanistan is seeking $360 million for its judiciary. But the chief justice stressed it is not right for the country to simply expect aid, since the donors are also "expecting assurances that we are functioning correctly" and using the money properly.

"It is a very critical time. There are very sensitive issues and we lost everything and we are supposed to work a lot," he said, calling on the Afghan people to "feel they are responsible to build their country and to do their job for their country in a positive way."


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