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Remembering Shabir Ahmad Kamawal

By Jennifer Smith, Executive Director

I continue to be inspired by the many legal aid advocates around the world who remain on the front lines of the fight for justice during the COVID-19 pandemic. At great personal risk, they have led the fight for the release of vulnerable detainees from overcrowded and dangerous jails and prisons. They are committed, they are self-sacrificing, and they are heroic.

As I reflect on the remarkable work of so many of these frontline heroes, I wanted to give special remembrance to our dear friend and colleague, Mr. Shabir Ahmad Kamawal, who was killed in Afghanistan one year ago. 

Shabir was an outstanding defense lawyer and a fierce advocate for justice in Afghanistan. He was also a devoted husband and father to 7 children, and a respected religious scholar. He joined our Afghanistan office in 2006, just 3 years after its founding. During his 13-year career, Shabir worked his way up case by case from his start as a defense lawyer to become the head of the largest legal aid organization in Afghanistan. In the process, he was a leader in the transformation of Afghanistan’s justice system. To the very end, he continued to bravely fight for justice despite the deteriorating security situation. 

In 2011, we interviewed Shabir about his experience as an ILF lawyer and what it was like to be part of the justice reform movement in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban:

“We now understood that we could make a real difference. In my very first case, my client was wrongly convicted at trial. Between the trial verdict and the appeal, I worked to gather new evidence and, as a result, the verdict was reversed and my client was found innocent. I was amazed. I felt that for the first time, I had made an impact.”

Shabir believed in justice, equality, and a brighter future for Afghanistan’s young people. He invested in these ideas, not only through his own legal practice but through education as a great Islamic scholar and his mentorship of young men and women pursuing law careers. Under his leadership, the ILF established the first legal clinics in Afghanistan and trained hundreds of students—including many of the lawyers who right now, are fighting courageously for the release of detained people in the face of COVID-19. Their work is a testament to Shabir’s enduring impact in Afghanistan.  In recognition of this impact, the ILF’s legal clinics around the country will be renamed in his honor. When conditions allow, we look forward to coming together as a community to open the doors of the “Shabir Ahmad Kamawal Legal Clinic.” We cannot be physically together to remember our friend and colleague, but we can hold his memory close—and we can carry forward his commitment to justice. Thank you for keeping Shabir and his loved ones in your thoughts and for continuing the fight for justice. His vision for justice, due process, and equal protection under the law in Afghanistan will forever inspire all of us at the ILF.


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