Afghanistan General Counsel Shabir Ahmad Kamawal

“Before joining the ILF, I worked as a teacher at an orphanage in Nangarhar Province and practiced law as a private lawyer. My cases then, as now, were mostly criminal, but I never did more than write a defense statement. The accused or a family member would explain the case to me and request a defense statement, which I wrote without any hope that it would persuade the judge or affect the verdict. I never interviewed clients or any witnesses. Nor did I ever visit a crime scene or even attend trial. In fact, I never ventured beyond my desk. This was typical of lawyers in Afghanistan at the time.

When I joined ILF-Afghanistan, on February 15, 2006, I worked under an Afghan supervisor and several International Fellows who reviewed our cases. Though I anticipated having reservations about the training and all the work that the ILF expected of me, in actuality, I felt extremely fulfilled to go through the process of gathering evidence. Even before I started handling my own cases, I excitedly participated in the training program.

Of course, some of the techniques I learned during my training were difficult to put into practice. Simply finding a crime scene can be a challenge in Afghanistan as is finding and interviewing a witness. Initially, police and prosecutors were unwilling to allow defense lawyers to conduct independent investigations. Also, just as we were unaccustomed to interviewing witnesses, the average person was at times confused about why we were asking questions. However, because we were part of the community and not the authorities, we could often learn important information with just a bit of effort.

Within just a few months, my colleagues and I had been transformed into proactive advocates; we now understood that we could make a real difference in our client’s cases. In my very first case, my client was convicted at trial. Between the trial verdict and the appeal, I worked to gather new evidence and, as a result, the verdict was reversed. I was amazed. I felt that for the first time, I had made an impact on the outcome of a case. Of course, over the next few years I lost many cases as well, but armed with evidence and a greater belief in the presumption of innocence, I became a more confident advocate. Once, while defending a murder case, I was amazed to hear the prosecutor himself admit that I was making a very strong argument. The judge was so surprised to hear this that he made sure the court reporter had noted the prosecutor’s admission. At the time, I remember reflecting on the change that had occurred. While before, I sat in an office and wrote defense statements that I knew would have no effect, now I was in court convincing the prosecutor himself of the correctness of my arguments.”
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