“There is nothing we can do right now. Afghanistan’s justice system [has] collapsed [right] now. If we say that Afghanistan’s justice system has collapsed since the Taliban took over, we might not be exaggerating.” said Adnan, a nickname of the person I interviewed with him, chosen for security reasons. He shared these words during our online interview in mid-November 2021. Adnan left Kabul, Afghanistan in July 2020 where he was working as a Legal Advisor with the government of Afghanistan. Through this position and previous ones, Adnan has managed to make quite an impact on law librarianship both inside and outside his country. Thanks to his excellent legal and library credentials, he was also invited to update and write some articles on the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. However, his work has now been completely dismantled and abruptly uprooted. He said himself: “With the arrival of the Taliban, everything collapsed and [was] destroyed.”
In this brief article, I will outline and describe the information Adnan shared with me during our online interview. He talked about the development and progress made over the past twenty years in the Afghan legal system, specifically legal research and legal sources of information and its complete demise following the U.S. military withdrawal and the subsequent fall of the Government of Afghanistan to the Talibans.
Pre-August 2021 Taliban Takeover
Adnan emphasized that in the last twenty years, a lot of “noble and extraordinary” work had been done within the justice system in Afghanistan. The country’s justice system was “almost” modernized and updated with the help of millions of dollars from foreign donors, Adnan noted. The process of rule of law reform in Afghanistan took shape particularly in 2007 during the framework agreed upon between Afghanistan’s Government at the time and the international community. These principles and guidelines are commonly known as the Rome Conference on the Rule of Law in Afghanistan. Five years after its inception, a group of experts from the Italy-based Siracusa Institute did analyze its impact as well as all efforts on rule of law reform in the country. Despite its massive challenges, Adnan refers specifically to the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS) framework and the “Justice for All” plan prepared by the Supreme Court (SC), the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) in the country as examples of coordinated efforts to move the legal and judiciary systems forward.
Before Adnan left Afghanistan, people had access to both print and electronic resources for legal research. The legal publications accessible to lawyers, researchers, students and the public alike included Adalat from Ministry of Justice, Qaza from Supreme Court, Parliament from Afghan Parliament, and other private and public publications. The electronic resources were primarily maintained and updated through their respective websites: the Ministry of Justice, the Supreme Court, the Afghan Parliament, the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Organization (AREU), the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University (ACKU). Non-printed sources were housed in the following law libraries: the Law Library of the Ministry of Justice, the Kabul University Library, the National Legal Training Center Law Library, the AREU Library, the ACKU Library, the Supreme Court Library, the National Assembly Library, and several private libraries, Adnan listed.
Post-August 2021 Taliban Takeover
Following the full Taliban takeover in August 2021, the three central legal institutions in the country were immediately paralyzed and ceased all work – the Supreme Court, General Attorney’s Office and the Ministry of Justice. These offices were one of the pillars of the Afghan government and they are currently closed, Adnan indicated. Therefore, any possibility of legal research and review of cases for Afghans is either severely restricted or indefinitely closed.
Adnan noted that the country’s Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Court, both important government authorities for legal investigations and research, have not been active at all since the Taliban takeover. Their closure prevents any updates and website maintenance of databases previously mentioned, which were instrumental for Afghan legal research. Moreover, since the Taliban took over, these two government institutions have not yet begun to address public complaints, commercial and criminal cases, and law enforcement at all. Furthermore, there is a “witch hunt” system taking place whereby judges, lawyers or any person who worked for the previous government are hunted and killed by the Talibans. This is particularly true for female judges and lawyers. Libraries of any kind are also considered “devious” and they have tragically become targets of extermination.
A modicum of online legal research is still possible through the previously mentioned websites. However, Adnan notes that access to online legal research may be limited in the near future due to the Taliban government taking complete control over the government authority of Afghanistan. Online legal research requires a website, database, updating, a budget and plan. Adnan emphasizes that these resources and tools simply do not currently exist. The US Library of Congress has taken it upon itself to archive several Afghan websites in its Afghanistan Web Archive, as an effort to safeguard these online sources.
No Way Forward
Adnan finalized our online interview by reflecting that there is simply no hope at this time in his country given the fact that the Taliban are not interested in creating a modern justice system. They do not accept the laws that have been enacted and enforced over the last twenty years. Therefore, Adnan believes that the current performance of the Taliban shows that Afghanistan’s justice system will not be restored for a very long time.
“My own voice chokes in my throat. I am still in a dream. Not a dream, a nightmare. A nightmare where you scream but can’t make a sound. A nightmare where you think you’re awake but you’re unable to open your eyes or move a muscle. Where you’re completely paralyzed.”
― Atiq Rahimi, A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear