Justice is hard to import

Tarjei Kidd Olsen

Norway has announced a small but significant grant for reforms of Afghanistan’s justice sector, which observers say is still severely underdeveloped seven years after the United States invasion. Norway’s contribution of six million dollars will go to Afghanistan’s justice sector reform programme, with a total cost of $27 million. It is intended for everything from legal reform and staff education to rehabilitating buildings, providing computers and other communication equipment, and creating legal assistance offices to aid the most vulnerable such as women, nomads and refugees.

“There are serious challenges as regards training, infrastructure and all these issues. After all, Afghanistan has faced constant conflict for the past three decades,” police advisor Henning Høgseth at the Norwegian Foreign Policy Institute (NUPI) said. “The reform of the judiciary has gone really slowly. Norway’s foreign department has sent judges and state lawyers and prison officials to train the Afghans, but few other countries have contributed trainers for any part of the judiciary at all. Then there is a challenge as regards international jurisprudence and the Afghan constitution, which are not completely compatible, as well as local traditions — the elder councils and Sharia laws,” he said.

On top of this the security situation in many parts of Afghanistan appears to be spiralling downhill due to a rise in banditry, as well as an increase in attacks by Taliban insurgents and their allies in the south and east. In a recent statement 100 aid agencies warned that increased instability was threatening to make it impossible to operate in some areas of the country.

“Justice sector reform is central to efforts by the Afghans and the international community to build a sustainable state founded upon the rule of law and a democratic system of governance, but progress is affected by the security situation,” the foreign department said in a written statement, without elaborating. “Increased violence will of course affect reform efforts,” Høgseth said.

“Last year almost a thousand policemen were killed in attacks by bandits and the Taliban, and if the mainly bandit attacks on help convoys across the country now begin to increase, it will have an enormous effect on the general situation,” he said.

Justice reform is one of the so-called pillars of the Afghan government’s UN-conceived Security Sector Reform framework (the others relate to rebuilding the police and army, battling the Afghan heroin trade, and the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of combatants). “There has been some progress with police reform after the US stepped in with a teaching course right before Christmas. The real delays relate to justice reform, by which I mean the criminal justice system, the courts, the prison service, and so on,” Høgseth said.

“We can’t blame the Afghans for lack of progress with the reforms, as they were handed a system that had been decided almost before it hit the ground, to put it like that. What is needed is local institutional capacity building — the handing over of responsibility to Afghans themselves — we’re not the ones that are going to run the country after all,” he said. If this does not happen, Høgseth fears that it will take a very long time to rebuild Afghanistan.