By Army 1st Lt. Lory Stevens
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 15, 2009 - The Army's top judge gathered with other U.S. and Afghan leaders in Bagram district July 11 to celebrate the groundbreaking of the first in a series of new courthouses slated to further the rule of law within Afghanistan's provinces. "This courthouse is only a building, but what it stands for is justice," said Lt. Gen. Scott C. Black, judge advocate general of the U.S. Army, who travelled to the district in Parwan province to attend the ceremony.
People will be able to come to this place and solve their disputes peacefully, he said.
Abdul Ghafar Saeym, provincial chief judge; Abdul Basheer Yaqobi, chief prosecutor of Parwan; and members of Combined Joint Task Force 82 and Task Force Warrior gathered near the Bagram district center to lay foundation stones for the new district courthouse.
They also acknowledged the hard work and efforts of provincial and district government and justice officials.
"This courthouse will enable the people of Bagram district to resolve conflicts through and with their government," said Army Lt. Col. Jeffrey Hagler, staff judge advocate for Combined Joint Task Force 82.
It is impossible for the Afghan government to maintain legitimacy without a functioning justice system, noted Army Capt. Bruce Tyler, command judge advocate for Task Force Warrior.
A system of checks and balances is needed to eliminate crime and corruption, provide suspects a fair and just trial, prosecute criminals, and establish correctional facilities, not only to house convicted criminals, but also to rehabilitate those capable of reintegrating back into society, he said.
"As businesses start to thrive in Afghanistan, a system to handle property rights and disputes is needed or else businesses will not develop," Tyler said. He stressed the importance of a legal system to support Afghan National Police as the force works to secure the population.
Over the past year, the Commander's Emergency Response Program funded projects to stock district and provincial courts in Kapisa, Parwan, Panjshir and Bamyan provinces with office supplies, Afghan constitutions, more than 30,000 rule-of-law comic books, 300 Qaza magazine sets, 500 judicial reference sets, 800 Afghan civics guides and 10 legal library sets.
Other efforts included the facilitation of radio broadcasts dedicated to rule-of-law issues and legal research courses for Kapisa and Parwan judges.
The task force's command judge advocate developed and produced two iterations of the Rule of Law Training and Evaluation Program, where district justice officials received training and mentoring concerning the entire justice process, from suspicion of a crime to trial.
With only one registered defense attorney in Kapisa and Parwan provinces, a pro bono clinic -- in coordination with Albironi University Law School and the Afghan Bar Association -- was initiated, allowing more Afghans to be represented by qualified defense counsel when accused of a crime.
In addition, five national attorneys were hired to move throughout the provinces to conduct training for judges, lawyers and tribal elders regarding ethics, criminal procedures and human rights.
(Army 1st Lt. Lory Stevens serves in the Task Force Warrior Public Affairs Office.)