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Bar News - January 4, 2008

The Progress of the Rule of Law in Afghanistan


Michael Johnson with an Afghan security officer for the Attorney General of Afghanistan, outside the AG's office in Kabul.

In December 2007, Dr. Abul Jabar Sabit, the Attorney General of Afghanistan, met in Washington with the Secretary of State and partners from major law firms throughout the United States. The purpose for his visit was to encourage partnerships between legal profession in the United States and the justice sector of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan and its legal system currently face many challenges. Security, corruption, economic instability, and justice sector resource deficits are substantial issues. Progress, though sometimes slow, is nonetheless real and substantial. Afghanistan is currently drafting a national justice sector strategy; redrafting its criminal procedure code; reorganizing its prosecution function through the Attorney General’s Office; developing a competent defense bar, organizing a standardized justice sector training curriculum, and in general is improving the overall delivery of resources to justice sector institutions.

From right to left: British Legal Advisor to the Afghan Attorney General, Francis Davis; Dr. Sabit, the Attorney General of Afghanistan, and Michael Johnson, the State Department's Legal Advisor to the Afghan Attorney General in the AG's office in Kabul. Francis and Michael are training the AG on the new laptop that the US provided to him as part of an automation project.

In a post-conflict state struggling with a failing economic base, the international community can make a real contribution to lasting peace and reconciliation by providing government institutions with the critical systems with which to govern under the rule of law. Systems for efficient administration, professional accountability, and legal reform and development must be managed within justice sector institutions. The institutions must be staffed with skilled professionals equipped with the tools to ensure the transparent and independent exercise of authority. Justice institutions function effectively in mature democracies like the United States because the traditions of the legal profession are integrated into a process of law enforcement and conflict resolution trusted by the people.

Because of our legal traditions, experienced American legal professionals have an important role to play in assisting our counterparts in developing countries. To be effective, however, it is essential that American lawyers understand the necessity of incorporating international legal norms of due process and the protection of human rights into the unique culture and traditions of those countries.

This is the case in Afghanistan today. American prosecutors are working closely with Afghan counterparts to build transparent and independent justice institutions. Working with legal experts from the United Nations, the United Kingdom, Canada, the European Commission, and Italy, American lawyers and judges are assisting Afghan prosecutors at all levels from investigation to administration. This partnership, in conjunction with the extraordinary commitment of the men and women of the United States military, has the potential to result in Afghanistan’s emergence as a stable, democratic nation in the coming years.

Afghanistan has a critical place in the community of nations. The necessary process of transition to stability in Afghanistan will require a long-term commitment by our government and our legal community. The more American lawyers know of this process, the greater potential for a successful transition.

Michael Th. Johnson is the senior advisor to the Attorney General of Afghanistan on a State Department-funded project to support the Justice Sector in that country. He recently completed a Senior Fellowship on Transitional Justice with the United States Institute of Peace and has been a member of the Bar since 1981.

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