Afghan Justice System Faces Challenges

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The chief justice of Afghanistan's supreme court was in Washington this week, meeting with his American counterpart. Chief Justice Abdul Salam Azimi talks with John Ydstie about the obstacles facing his country's justice system.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Last year, Abdul Salam Azimi, the new chief justice of Afghanistan's Supreme Court was tasked with rebuilding and reforming his nation's judicial system. It was a huge challenge - thousands of cases were backlogged; fewer than half of the country's 1,500 judges were college educated; some were illiterate and many were corrupt. Tribal or village counsels often dispense justice based on custom and local versions of Sharia or Islamic law instead of national statutes.

Chief Justice Azimi was in Washington this week visiting his counterpart at the U.S. Supreme Court, and he joins us now in the studio. Welcome.

Chief Justice ABDUL SALAM AZIMI (Afghan Supreme Court): Thank you.

YDSTIE: Mr. Chief Justice, what do you see as the most important element in the reforms that you're attempting in Afghanistan's judicial system?

Chief Justice AZIMI: The most important challenge is the human resources and the pestilent. As you mentioned in your comment, we have around 1,500 judges, and that's quite true that some of them are not qualified. We can see that they are illiterate, but we can say that most - some of them, they are not qualified because the first item of qualification is to be graduated from law college, but they are not graduates from law college.

YDSTIE: Let me ask you about another issue and that is the issue of corruption: You're suggesting that education is the most fundamental issue, but corruption has been something that's eroded the credibility of the judicial system in Afghanistan, and how are you dealing with that?

Chief Justice AZIMI: Actually corruption is a problem. You know, their salary is really very funny.

YDSTIE: Very what?

Chief Justice AZIMI: Funny.

YDSTIE: Funny?

Chief Justice AZIMI: Yeah. Why? Because what is the amount of the salary - can you imagine that a judge is receiving 60 bucks per month?

YDSTIE: Let me ask you, I know that you were reluctant initially to take the post of chief justice; now you've been at it for some months, are you seeing improvements? And do you feel now better about taking the job than you did when you were first offered it?

Chief Justice AZIMI: Yes, the answer is, yes. And, first of all, we actually passed a five-year strategy plan and we distributed it to countries' organization, donors, and we explained all our needs here. And on the other hand, we designed some programs for education or training. We designed some programs for monitoring of judges, for traveling, in going to the provinces and to watch and monitor the course of everything.

YDSTIE: You also must be gratified to be working to change the system in your country and…

Chief Justice AZIMI: I hope and I am committed. My colleague and myself, we are committed to do things to guarantee the justice for all, and this is our goal. I am not saying that this is easy; I am not saying this applicable in one year, in two years, but at least we are supposed to lay a foundation for this to do something for the future and for the future's generation better, and this is long journey.

YDSTIE: Professor Abdul Salam Azimi is the chief justice of Afghanistan's Supreme Court.

Chief Justice AZIMI: Thank you.

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