Address by SRSG Lakhdar Brahimi At the Conference of Rome on Justice in Afghanistan

Just one year ago, Afghanistan embarked upon a process of rebuilding peace and stability after more than twenty years of war that had brought untold misery and destruction upon its people. The signatories to the Bonn Agreement recognized that, in order to secure lasting peace, the entire machinery of government should be reformed so that it would serve, rather than subjugate, the people of Afghanistan. It was also recognized that, for these reforms to be sustainable, they would have to be led by Afghans. Thus, in accordance with the Bonn Agreement, a national Emergency Loya Jirga mandated President Hammed Karzai to guide the transitional process, and I must pay tribute to the outstanding leadership he and his government have provided.

Alongside the transitional administration, the Bonn process called for special commissions to promote human rights and to review and reform the civil service, the Constitution and the Judiciary. Certainly, each of these is fundamental to the peace processing Afghanistan. Yet, if there is one lesson that can be drawn in common from almost all recent peace processes, it is that the rule of law is the bedrock upon which peace is built and a functioning, independent judiciary is, in the long run, the guarantor of the rule of law.

The ordinary men and women of Afghanistan have no direct experience of peace processes in other countries. But they know, from the pains they have suffered and the destruction they have witnessed, that justice is what they need most to rebuild their country and ensure a peaceful future for their children. The Afghan people rightfully demand an end to the rule of the gun, and to the control that local military commanders have over their lives. President Karzai’s recent decree on the army has provided the basis upon which local military formations will be disbanded and replaced by a single unified Afghan National Army under the control of the central government.

True security for Afghans will require that the judiciary and the police extend the rule of law into areas that are now controlled by the rule of the gun. True security will mean that every Afghan man and woman must feel that the law is a refuge, there to protect them against the arbitrary rule of the strong. The economy of war and drugs will not shift back to an economy of peaceful trade and commerce, unless accountable courts and police are there to protect against predatory crime and corruption. Similarly, unless people feel protected by the legal system, they may be tempted to retain their arms to protect themselves. At a national level, unity will suffer if the police and courts do not treat all Afghans justly and equally before the law. And ultimately, a stable, democratic society demands that laws reflect the aspirations of the people.

The task of judicial reform in Afghanistan is therefore absolutely fundamental to the peace process. It will require patience and dedication. Laws must be reviewed and reformed, courthouses must be rebuilt and their administration revitalized, judges and lawyers must receive the training they need.

This effort will certainly require international assistance, and we are therefore most grateful to the Government of Italy for the generous support it has provided, and for its willingness to take up the role of “lead” donor, to help galvanize the rest of the donor community to provide support in the justice sector. I should note, however, that the task of rebuilding Afghanistan’s judiciary is not merely one of technical assistance and infrastructural repair. As in any country, laws in Afghanistan must reflect both fundamental principles of justice and human rights and the particular historical and cultural character of the society they regulate. That is why the Judicial Commission needs to establish close contact with the national Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and with the Constitutional Commission.

Just as in every society, law reforming Afghanistan must be achieved not only through legal argumentation and review, but also through political and social discourse. Yet, in the aftermath of conflict, the mechanisms for discussion and debate in Afghanistan remain fragile. Divisive issues must be handled carefully, so as to help draw the fractured elements of society back together, rather than exacerbate past divisions. This is why Afghan leadership in the field of law reform is particularly vital. Only Afghans will ultimately be able to decide how best to revitalize Afghanistan’s legal traditions in a forward looking agenda of legal reform.

That is why I am very pleased that so many key Afghan jurists and leaders in the legal field are here with us today, including the members of the Judicial Commission, the Minister of Justice, and the President of the Supreme Court. The Commission, the Ministry of Justice, and the Court system will have to collaborate and cooperate closely together to accomplish the task of revival insight justice sector so that Afghans can once again live under the rule of law.

The basic principles are agreed upon already. The Bonn Agreement wisely recognized that the Afghan people are expecting their justice system to be rebuilt in accordance with Islamic principles, international standards and Afghan legal traditions. Customary legal practices will also have to be taken into account.

Work on a basic plan for judicial reformism already well advanced, and we look to the Judicial Commission to guide and priorities the effort to rebuild the judiciary. The Commission should be closely involved in decisions regarding assistance provided to the judiciary. With all elements of the justice sector working together, it will not be too difficult to identify both quick impact projects which can make a tangible difference to the functioning of the judiciary over the short term, and the necessary longer term reforms that must be completed.

I have every confidence that the expert members of the Judicial Commission and their colleagues in the Ministry of Justice and concerned parts of the transitional administration, along with the courts will be up to the challenge, if they work closely together, and if the international community provides the assistance they request.

The United Nations received a mandate in Bonn to support this process. We shall execute that mandate in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Agreement and on the basis of the principles which have guided UNAMA’s action in all the fields of its activities, the most important of which is that we are in Afghanistan to serve the people and their legitimate authorities. We are most grateful to the Italian Government for their role as the lead nation for judicial reform and look forward to even closer cooperation with them to support the work of the Afghan Judicial Commission.

Thank you.