Afghan Mistrust In Justice System Pronounced

Afghan legal guidance i i

hide captionDa Qanoon Ghushtonky, a foreign-funded legal aid group, lectures Afghans in remote areas on their legal rights, as they do in Behsud district, outside Jalalabad.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson/NPR
Afghan legal guidance

Da Qanoon Ghushtonky, a foreign-funded legal aid group, lectures Afghans in remote areas on their legal rights, as they do in Behsud district, outside Jalalabad.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson/NPR

In Afghanistan, people say they are losing faith in their government amid growing insecurity and rampant corruption. But nowhere is people's mistrust of public institutions more pronounced than in the justice system.

Seven years after the West began rebuilding the country, experts say the court system is little more than a complicated maze fraught with graft. Afghan officials admit bribe-taking is rampant. Some say former warlords and strongmen exert undue influence on cases.

Western officials say part of the problem is that there hasn't been enough time to build enough courthouses and a big enough pool of legal professionals. Decades of war destroyed what buildings there were — and killed or drove out most of the country's legal minds.

John Dempsey, an American lawyer who heads the Kabul office of the U.S. Institute of Peace, says if he were to give the Afghan justice system a letter grade, it would be a D minus. He and others say the weak justice system is one the Taliban is exploiting to strengthen its grip on large swaths of the country.

In rural areas, it's the militants that Afghans go to in an effort to resolve disputes and punish wrongdoers. Taliban judges hold court in people's homes or local mosques.

In this series, NPR investigates the Afghans' troubled system of justice and its growing impact on the insurgency.

In Afghanistan, a former governor accused of corruption was named to head an anti-corruption task force (which has since been disbanded). A woman's rapists were set free by sexist and incompetent judges. And police officers along the country's main highways shake down drivers for bribes. So it's little surprise that most Afghans say the biggest problem facing them in the post-Taliban age is the lack of justice. It's what many in Afghanistan say is a key reason the insurgency is gaining traction. Part 1 of the series examines the problem and its consequences.

Part 2 looks at Afghanistan's many far-flung provinces, where government outreach and courts are rare. This has led the Taliban to fill the gap, with militant judges forming shadow courts that settle tribal and land disputes. But Taliban justice also has a harsher edge. Militants kidnap Afghans they suspect of working with the Western-led coalition or Afghan government to stand trial and usually sentence them to death.

And in the final installment, Part 3, NPR looks at what the West and the Afghan government are doing to enhance judicial outreach and the court system. The Italians have taken the lead in this effort, but many say they were quickly overwhelmed. And critics say major donors like the United States should have done more to help them early on. American and other international partners in Afghanistan are also accused of inadvertently hurting the judicial progress by not speaking up when President Hamid Karzai's government appoints former warlords and strongmen with checkered pasts.

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