U.S. and Afghan lawyers discuss reconstruction of Afghan justice system at U

By By Sylvia O'Hara

By Sylvia O’Hara

As U.S. troops wage war in Afghanistan, lawyers from the two countries met at the S.J. Quinney College of Law to learn the similarities and differences between Afghan and American law in an intensive three-week training session aimed at reconstructing the war-torn justice system in Afghanistan.

“We wanted it to be a comparative program, to learn from them what they were doing and to share with them what we were doing,” said James Holbrook, a U law professor who was part of a collaborative effort to organize the program. “To be able to provide this kind of training is of value to a country that is trying to reconstruct itself in the middle of an ongoing war.”

Under Afghanistan’s new constitution, approved in January 2004, prosecutors may legally construct their justice system in a similar way to the system in the United States.

“In the very near future, I would like to see the prosecutors there in Afghanistan do the same job as the prosecutors here do,” said Afghan Attorney General Abdul Jabar Sabit.

The program consisted of an overview of the United States and Afghan legal systems, mock trials and the prosecutor’s roles. Prosecutors also visited local jails, crime labs and court rooms and talked with local FBI officials. Organizers also created fake crime scenes to teach techniques of gathering evidence and forensics.

“What we designed was a chronological approach to what we believed to be a normal criminal prosecution-(from) arrest of the subject through the investigation of the crime, to the charges, to the presentation of it (in) court, to conviction and sentencing to post-conviction release,” Holbrook said.

During a needs assessment meeting, Mohd Shah Zarik said prosecutors from home have problems assessing crime scenes properly because they have no means of traveling to the scene.

Afghan prosecutors lack adequate office equipment such as computers to complete detailed paperwork, and they have an insufficient amount of and limited access to law reference books to read printed laws and procedures, according to information compiled by the U law school.

Afghanistan also lacks a case-management system because there is no way for police, prosecutors, judges and prisons to connect with each other. There is also no deadline-tracking system and no system to check a case status. Imprisoned defendants are not automatically released after completing their sentences.

The U.S. Department of State Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan provided the U with a grant last December to fund the program.

The $142,000 grant covered the majority of costs related to the program, said Virginia Beane, accountant for the U law school. The direct cost covered travel and lodging expenses, food and the cost of setting up the program.

The program is designed so that U.S. law firms can provide tax-deductible contributions to cover all other costs.

Afghanistan is currently without any formal process to legitimize prosecutors. Rather than formal education, prosecutors are taught by more experienced prosecutors. They are not required to receive any formal education or pass a bar exam.

The prosecutors plan to share the information they learned with other Afghan prosecutors when they return home. Afghan prosecutor Abdul Khali Zar said that what he would take home from the training was a “treasure.”

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Aaron Schwendiman

Jafizullah Khaligyar, Sarbaz Sabawn, Ghulam Sherzai are three of sixteen active prosecutors from Afghaninstan that are taking part in The Global Justice Project. The project is set up by the S.J. Quinney College of Law.