Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Afghans Hold Rule of Law Conference

By Army Pfc. Beth Raney
Special to American Forces Press Service

NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Oct. 27, 2009 - Members of Afghan legal rights departments and police from three Afghan provinces came together here Oct. 11 to discuss the strategy for improving the legal system in the northeast region.

The rule of law conference, held at the Nangarhar governor's palace in Jalalabad, focused on the provinces of Nangarhar, Kunar and Laghman. The morning was filled with briefings and presentations by U.S. and Afghan agencies and nongovernmental organizations operating in eastern Afghanistan, including representatives from the U.S. State Department, the Supreme Court of Afghanistan and the Afghan Justice Sector Support Program.

"The conference succeeded in bringing all of these key players together into one room," said Army Maj. Jeffrey Thurnher, Task Force Mountain Warrior's legal officer, from Woodbridge, Va. "This was the first time all of these police and judicial leaders have gathered together for a regional conference."

After lunch, the attendees reconvened and divided into three groups.

One group discussed building ties between the formal and informal legal systems. In many remote areas of Afghanistan, local elders and community council members resolve disputes and pass judgment outside the formal legal system. The second group discussed improving public awareness of legal rights, and the third worked on improving cooperation among prosecutors, police and courts to reduce arbitrary detentions.

"The hope was to develop two or three suggestions for how to handle each of those problems, and to challenge the group to begin implementing them," Thurnher said. "They discussed ways to tackle some of the most challenging problems facing the legal systems of their provinces."

Army Capt. Craig Scrogham, a native of Richmond Hill, Ga., and Task Force Mountain Warrior's rule of law attorney, said the attendees also discussed a pilot program used in Kabul to track cases more effectively. Scrogham added that he hopes the program will be available in the area soon.

"The timing couldn't have been more perfect, because all the ministries joined together in Kabul the week after the conference and signed into law the use of this case-tracking system," he said.

"Although we certainly did not develop a comprehensive strategy with just one meeting, we took a great step toward increasing cooperation between the groups and developed some great ideas for making changes," Thurnher said.

"We have done training for rule of law before, but we have never brought all of these groups together for a session before," Scrogham said. "Training normally has been specific to police or to prosecutors or to [Rights] Department officials. Being able to talk to everyone at once was one of the primary benefits of this session."

(Army Pfc. Beth Raney serves in the Task Force Mountain Warrior public affairs office.)

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