By Mohammad Nabi Waqar, Country Director, Afghanistan
When the ILF opened its first office in Afghanistan in 2003, the justice system had been decimated by nearly 30 years of civil war, insurgency, and Taliban rule. The country emerged from decades of conflict with only 150 defense lawyers, leaving most people in the criminal justice system without access to a lawyer and at high risk of torture, forced confessions, and wrongful conviction. Since then, Afghanistan has made incredible progress and established a modern justice system. Today, we have more than 3,000 active defense lawyers--1 in 3 of whom have been trained by the ILF--and we are actively working to expand access to legal aid.
Reinforcing these efforts, I am honored to have recently been appointed to Afghanistan’s newly established Legal Aid High Commission. The Commission is an independent body with a mandate to oversee the delivery of legal aid services across Afghanistan. In particular, we are responsible for monitoring the implementation of the 2019 Legal Aid Regulation, which provides a roadmap for increasing the reach and quality of legal aid services. The Commission is chaired by Minister of Justice Fazal Ahmad Manavi, and in addition to myself includes three other civil society leaders to ensure accountability, transparency, and public oversight:
Ms. Jamila Afghani, Director of Medica-Afghanistan;
Ms. Najia Nasim, Executive Director of Women for Afghan Women (WAW);
Mr. Abdul Wajid, Director of the Afghan Social and Legal Organization (ASLO)
Bringing together many perspectives, skills, and experiences is not always easy, but it is essential to build a justice system that will truly deliver justice for all. Legal aid providers often represent the most marginalized members of society. I and my new colleagues who are leaders in health, gender, human rights, and the law, will fight to ensure the Commission addresses critical issues impacting Afghans across the country from all walks of life.
“We are pleased to see the Commission is taking women’s needs and perspectives seriously when it comes to legal aid,” said my colleague Ms. Najia Nasim recently. “Women in contact with the law face unique challenges, so I will be focused on ensuring that legal aid services combat discrimination and offer holistic support to protect the rights of women and girls.”
In June, the Legal Aid High Commission also formally appointed a Secretariat to manage operations. Appointees include: Ms. Sahar Aryaee, Acting Head and Legal Affairs Director; Ms. Maliha Naseri, Administrative Manager; Mr. Rahmatullah Mangal, Communications Manager; and Mr. Ahmad Fardeen Mayar, Monitoring and Evaluation and Database Manager.
“Afghanistan has committed to expanding access to justice for all, and in the Secretariat, we will be fully dedicated to supporting the Legal Aid High Commission in achieving this goal,” Acting Head Aryaee said upon appointment. “Legal aid is absolutely essential if we are to build a system that is fair for everyone.”
Since day one, the ILF has worked in cooperation with the Afghan government to support positive justice reforms and grow legal aid access around the country. Today, ILF legal aid lawyers are being embedded in Ministry of Justice offices to expand the reach of legal aid services while keeping administrative costs at bay. We have also collaborated on innovative solutions, such as the creation of a police station duty lawyer program to reach people at the earliest moments after arrest.
There is no doubt we have a lot of work yet to do, but the establishment of the Legal Aid High Commission reflects continued positive collaboration between government and civil society and marks the exciting advancement of Afghanistan's bold commitment to peace, justice, and strong institutions.