Friday, December 16, 2011

The Other Side of Afghanistan

Recently there has been a great deal of international attention on the imprisonment of an Afghan woman, Gulnaz.  She was sentenced to twelve years in prison for adultery, when in fact she was raped by her cousin’s husband.  After serving two years, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai “pardoned” her and released her from prison following intense advocacy by human rights activists all over the world.

Too often we hear negative stories about Afghanistan and more so about the treatment of women. People often ask me, “Is anything positive happening over in Afghanistan?”

My answer is yes, absolutely.  Just this week I touched down in Kabul, Afghanistan to see our groundbreaking programs in action. 

On Wednesday, I had the privilege to meet all of our local partner organizations – Justice for All, Voice of Women OrganizationAfghanistan Independent Bar Association, and Afghan Women’s Network – that implement our Legal Advice Bureaus (LABs) in Kabul, Herat, Mazar and Nangarhar provinces.  We designed the LABs to assist poor and marginalized people, particularly women, secure access to the services they need to understand and assert their legal rights in family court.

The concept of providing pro bono legal services is new in Afghanistan and Global Rights’ LABs are setting a new standard for access to justice, especially for women.

The expansion of the LABs outside of Kabul is also met with great demand.  The LAB in Mazar launched in October 2011.  The following month, they received 81 individuals seeking legal advice.  It really is incredible that in just one month we provided that many people with legal assistance who would have had nowhere to turn before. 

Watching the mock trial
I also had the opportunity to witness fourth year Shar’ia students at Kabul University in our Young Lawyers in Training Program (YLTP) conduct a mock trial.  

YLTP is unlike any other legal education course in Afghanistan.  It provides fourth-year Law and Shar’ia students with practical legal skills that they do not receive in their theoretical university instruction, as well as a clear understanding of human and women’s rights.

I was thrilled to see that the "players" of the trial – judges, clerk, prosecutor, defense lawyer and accused – were all women, performing in front of a mixed crowd of both men and women. 

The Dean of the Shar’ia Faculty pulled me aside and told me that our hands-on, practical training program is contributing to a stronger rule of law that protects the rights of individuals.  

This is exactly what the Afghan justice system needs in order to succeed.  By training the future generation of Afghan lawyers and judges to apply laws fairly and correctly, it will become less and less likely that women like Gulnaz will be subject to imprisonment for crimes they do not commit.

So, again, the answer is yes.  There are positive stories coming from Afghanistan and Global Rights is championing them each and every day.  Whether it is inside the court room, or outside, we are helping Afghans create a stronger rule of law that protects all citizens, rich or poor, male or female.

- Susan

Posted by Susan M. Farnsworth

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