Afghanistan Launches Major Effort to Strengthen Justice System

Updated: Mar 26

Partnership between the International Legal Foundation and Afghanistan's Ministry of Justice

will expand legal aid and ensure quality criminal defense for the poor


KABUL—The Ministry of Justice of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan today made a firm commitment to strengthen rule of law by ensuring that a quality criminal defense is accessible to everyone in Afghanistan. In partnership with the International Legal Foundation, Afghanistan will build a more effective and sustainable legal aid system. The partnership will center on implementing Afghanistan’s 2019 Legal Aid Regulation which provides a roadmap for transforming the current system by increasing its independence, capacity to monitor and evaluate the quality of legal aid services, and ability to expand services nationwide. These steps align with Afghanistan’s public commitment to accelerate action on United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions).


Justice in Afghanistan has made significant progress since 2001 through the creation of a modern court system and the training of an entire generation of legal professionals. However, with over half of Afghans living in poverty, the country continues to face major challenges. Although Afghanistan’s Constitution guarantees the right to counsel for anyone accused of a crime and the country does have a state-sponsored legal aid system, in practice, few poor people have access to lawyers with the skill to defend them effectively. This puts suspects and defendants at risk of arbitrary detention, torture, coercion, wrongful convictions, and other abuses.


“Having a skilled lawyer is essential to protect the dignity and rights of all accused. Yet most Afghans don’t have the resources to pay for legal representation, or they live in areas of the country where there are no providers at all. This makes increasing access to legal aid vital,” said Mohammad Nabi Waqar, ILF Country Director in Afghanistan. “The ILF has over 15 years of experience training defense lawyers and providing quality representation to the Afghan people. We are eager to share our expertise in training, mentorship, and oversight to support the successful national expansion of legal aid.”


In collaboration with the ILF, the Ministry of Justice is committed not only to expand the reach of legal aid, but to guarantee access to quality legal services. The ILF will provide technical assistance, working closely with the Ministry of Justice to share international standards and best practices in legal aid system management and delivery. The partnership will focus on implementing Afghanistan’s 2019 Legal Aid Regulation and strengthening the Ministry of Justice Legal Aid Department, including:

  • Establishing an independent Legal Aid High Commission and Secretariat to oversee service delivery across the country

  • Setting out a framework for public-private partnerships to expand the reach of legal aid

  • Putting in place new units for training and evaluation that will lead curriculum development, needs assessments, training workshops, data tracking, and quality assurance.

  • Creating a legal aid trust to expand funding for the provision of legal aid

“Without access to quality legal representation, there can be no access to meaningful justice. This partnership helps ensure the sustainability of justice reform in Afghanistan, building on years of hard work across the country,” said ILF Executive Director Jennifer Smith. “ We are inspired to see Afghan leadership making a bold commitment to expand access to justice and make this a national priority. ”


This initiative to strengthen legal aid is a significant step in driving forward UN Sustainable Development Goal 16: to “provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions.” The Ministry of Justice and the ILF doubled down on their efforts to achieve SDG16 with an acceleration action submitted to the United Nations. The action highlights their commitment to developing a comprehensive legal aid system that is accessible, effective, sustainable, and credible across Afghanistan. Both parties also concluded a formal memorandum of understanding outlining their plans on March 16, 2020.


Our people are in dire need of inclusive and balanced justice and judicial services which should be provided to all needy people without prejudice or bias,” said Afghanistan Minister of Justice H.E. Dr. Abdul Baseer Anwar. “We acknowledge our international partners who transparently and generously provide services to our people. The International Legal Foundation is one of the strongest Ministry of Justice partners. I believe that with the signing of this memorandum of understanding, the cooperation between the Ministry of Justice and the ILF will strengthen and improve justice.”


The ILF opened Afghanistan’s first public defender office in 2003 and now provides legal aid services in 22 provinces. It remains the country’s largest provider of criminal legal aid services, assisting low-income Afghans regardless of their ethnicity, gender, age, or political affiliation.


Afghanistan Minister of Justice Abdul Baseer Anwar shakes hands with ILF Country director Mohammad Nabi Waqar at a ceremony to mark the signing of the MOU on March 16, 2020.


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About the ILF

Every day, millions of people languish in jails around the world because they cannot afford a defense lawyer. The ILF is a non-profit organization founded to address this global crisis in access to justice. For nearly two decades, the ILF has fought to guarantee high-quality legal representation for everyone arrested or detained. Around the world, we provide quality criminal defense services and build sustainable, effective legal aid institutions. Currently, we provide direct legal services in Afghanistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Palestine, and Tunisia and offer technical assistance worldwide. For more information, visit www.theilf.org.


Media Contact: Leah Conklin, lconklin@theilf.org, +1 570-709-5952

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