News: Rule-of-Law reaches further into Afghanistan
Story by Pfc. Daniel Rangel
By Army Pfc. Daniel M. Rangel
22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Coalition leaders took part in a justice conference Jan. 13-14 designed to bring the Afghan criminal justice system to the next level of development in Panjshir province.
Army Lt. Col. Michelle Atkins, Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team deputy commander, and contractors for the U.S. Department of State acted as facilitators for the conference. Afghans in attendance included local prosecutors, justices, police chiefs and prison guards as well as the team leaders from the justice sector support program and the correction system support program in Kabul.
"The goal is to identify necessary resources and support that can be provided to the different sectors of the justice system in Panjshir in alignment with the overall national strategy for rule-of-law," Atkins said. "The resource requirements here are numerous, from infrastructure to expanding their knowledge of how the system works under constitutional law in Afghanistan."
One of the key resources needed by Afghan officials is legal reference books, which were sent to different provinces throughout Afghanistan earlier this year. The reference books help practitioners make sound and consistent legal decisions, said Navy Capt. Stephen Sarnoski, staff judge advocate, Task Force Cincinnatus.
"We delivered complete sets of law books, seventeen volumes in all, they went to each provincial district center, they went to the chief justice and they went to the governor's office and all the key ministerial departments here," Atkins said.
Provinces across Afghanistan have been in need of a comprehensive source to use as a legal reference. Sarnoski described what exactly these references contain and why the laws were distributed in print.
"The legal books are just a compilation of all the Afghan statutes," Sarnoski said. "One of the shortages in most places, and Panjshir is no different, is the availability of the various references in law. They don't have the computers and automated sources that we have, so we put together a complete set of Afghan laws and saw to it that every provincial court and every district court had at least one set."
Sarnoski also explained how the books are used as a legal tool and reference.
"When a judge has to make a decision, he has to be able to refer to the written law in order to determine the right answer," Sarnoski said. "Of course in the past it has been difficult, because there are many people who are not literate and they don't have access to the resources. But now that we have well-trained, educated judges, they need the resources to refer to, to guide them in their decision-making process and that's what the written legal books that we've provided will do for them."
Coalition officials did not play a major role in the conference, but acted more as observers in an effort to allow the Afghan people to develop a legal system of their own. Sarnoski believes this is taking place and is watching the Afghans grow.
"We're on the cusp of a change," Sarnoski said. "The shura system, the tribal loyalties and the cultural loyalties have been around for centuries and those will remain and probably should remain. But what we're going to do is find the right mix of the informal justice system with the courts and the formal system so that we satisfy the needs of the people."
To help meet the needs of all Afghans, more justice conferences are scheduled to take place in other provinces throughout Afghanistan.