More legal security in Afghanistan

22.07.2015 – After decades of armed conflicts, Afghanistan adopted a new constitution. GIZ is supporting the country in putting existing legislation into practice.

On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) has been supporting Afghanistan in reforming its legal system since 2003.

Many Afghans still rely on traditional and informal legal systems. However, these are often inconsistent with the constitution adopted in 2004. Legal institutions, such as courts, the public prosecution service and the Ministry of Justice, are not widely accepted by the population. There is also a lack of coordination between the institutions.

One important step towards putting existing legislation into practice is ensuring that more citizens have access to the courts and competent lawyers. GIZ therefore helped establish a legal information office in Mazar-e Sharif. Since May 2014 the office, which is beside the Blue Mosque in the centre of the city, has been a key port of call for people looking for quick and understandable information on a range of legal issues. The office is permanently staffed by GIZ-trained advisor from the Ministry of Justice with the support of students from the law faculty at the local university.

‘Many Afghans only have limited knowledge about their rights, so the office provides legal assessments, puts people in contact with lawyers and helps them draft applications, objections and other documents,’ says Bernd Messerschmidt. He works for GIZ and is responsible for the rule of law programme in Afghanistan. ‘The most common queries concern civil law, for example land or inheritance disputes, or cases of domestic violence,’ Messerschmidt adds.

An important part of the office is its integrated lending library. In Afghanistan, the availability of literature cannot be taken for granted. Many students therefore make the most of the opportunity to read, study and borrow books at this library in the heart of Mazar-e Sharif.

On behalf of the BMZ the GIZ is currently working to strengthen the rule of law in Afghanistan, for example by setting up legal libraries at several universities. The Afghan Independent Bar Association has opened its first regional office in Kunduz, increasing the number of accredited lawyers in the area from 12 to 70. The project is providing special support to women to complete their legal education. At the university in Mazar-e Sharif they now have their own dedicated study rooms and a computer lab. Young female graduates also receive targeted assistance in obtaining internships. In 2013, only 361 female lawyers were registered; the following year, this figure had increased to 565.