ILF and Afghan Ministry of Justice Sign Groundbreaking Agreement to Provide Legal Aid for the Poor
ILF-Afghanistan and the Afghan Ministry of Justice, with funding from the World Bank, finalized an agreement today that will ensure legal representation for thousands of indigent Afghans accused of crimes. This initiative will strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan’s justice system to conduct fair trials and protect the rights of all Afghans.
Criminal defense is a crucial component of a functioning justice system and indispensable to ensuring the right to a fair trial. The constitution of Afghanistan guarantees the right to counsel and requires legal representation for poor persons accused of crimes. While the Afghan Ministry of Justice has long had a Legal Aid Department, the department’s criminal division lacked expertise in criminal defense and struggled to provide effective representation to even a handful of accused persons.
The ILF opened Afghanistan’s first independent public defender office in Kabul in 2003 with two Afghan lawyers. Today, ILF-Afghanistan has 73 lawyers operating out of 14 offices. For the first four years, volunteer practicing criminal defense lawyers from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Ireland were sent to Afghanistan on three–month assignments to provide day-to-day mentoring to Afghan lawyers, successfully developing their research and advocacy skills. In 2007, senior Afghan staff lawyers assumed responsibility for supervising and training lawyers joining the office. Over eight years, the ILF built a nationwide public defender system in Afghanistan from the ground up that has provided quality legal representation to over 19,000 indigent clients.
Although ILF-Afghanistan was built by an independent NGO funded by international donors, the ILF’s ultimate goal is to facilitate the creation of a government-supported, locally run public defender system. The agreement signed today represents a major step toward realizing this goal in Afghanistan.
This model of institution building is common in other development sectors such as medicine; medical facilities are often established by NGOs with donor support before being turned over to the government. However, this type of arrangement is unique in the justice sector and may serve as an innovative example for other efforts to strengthen the rule of law in countries emerging from conflict or in transition.
The ILF congratulates and thanks the staff of ILF-Afghanistan, who have demonstrated tremendous commitment and professionalism over the past eight years. The ILF is also grateful to its many donors, without whom this success would not be possible.