To strengthen public outreach in Afghanistan and increase legal awareness throughout the country, the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association (AIBA) launched its Communications Strategy 2017 – 2020, developed with IDLO technical support, on Monday, 6 November in Kabul. Attended by 50 justice sector professionals, NGO and civil society representatives and international partners, the launch intended to raise awareness of the Strategy and foster debate about the AIBA’s progress, achievements and challenges ahead as it seeks to enhance access to justice for Afghan citizens.
As part of its Afghan Justice Institutions Strengthening (AJIS) Program funded by the Netherlands, IDLO has been supporting public awareness initiatives in the country, including the development of a communications strategy for the AIBA.
“With the support of IDLO, AIBA was able to conduct legal awareness events in provinces where AIBA has no regional offices, thus reaching out to citizens who were not aware of their basic rights," remarked Mr. Rohulla Qarizada, President of the AIBA during the launch. "Afghan society greatly benefits from such activities.”
The strategy outlines guiding principles to inform the AIBA’s communications activities and seeks to establish the AIBA as a fundamental pillar in Afghanistan’s legal system that provides a crucial platform and voice for defense lawyers.
Access to justice in Afghanistan
In the aftermath of the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan has faced the considerable challenge of rebuilding its infrastructure and institutions. Judicial institutions operating in the country’s post-conflict context have suffered from a lack of resources, leaving them unable to deliver services to justice-seekers.
A 2016 survey conducted by the Asia Foundation found that the Afghan public has historically low confidence in its government and justice institutions. Many lack an understanding of the role of defense lawyers and have low awareness of their rights to legal representation, limiting their access to justice. Alongside a shortage of women defense lawyers, women especially face significant barriers to the formal justice system. A general lack of awareness about fundamental rights is a key limiting factor.
Speaking at the event, Ms. Lotte Hajema, Second Secretary of the Netherlands Embassy in Kabul, affirmed the importance of gender equality: “Women remain key actors in fostering social change and promoting the rule of law in Afghanistan.”
As a result of these barriers, justice seekers, particularly in rural areas, often resort to informal systems and local jirgas or shuras to resolve disputes which tend to undermine the rule of law.
Established in Afghanistan in 2008, the AIBA is the largest independent, non-governmental and non-political professional association of lawyers with 3,200 members across all 34 provinces members presently. The AIBA seeks to support delivery of justice and increase confidence in the Afghan legal system by protecting citizens’ basic legal rights and improving access to legal aid through its rapidly expanding membership of defense lawyers.
“The Netherlands Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation recently renewed its commitments to Afghanistan. Promoting the rule of law in this country remains a priority, yet we must recognize the great grassroots work conducted by associations such as the AIBA and its defense lawyers,” continued Ms. Hajema.
"Promoting the rule of law in this country remains a priority, yet we must recognize the great grassroots work conducted by associations such as the AIBA and its defense lawyers." -Ms. Lotte Hajema, Second Secretary of the Netherlands Embassy in Kabul
Given the level of public understanding about the role of AIBA and defense lawyers in the legal system, effective communications can help change citizens’ perceptions about the formal justice system and encourage them to engage with it, which in turn will lead to improved access to justice for all Afghan citizens.
IDLO conducted an in-depth communications assessment and country-wide survey of AIBA members to understand their perceptions, challenges and needs. The Strategy was drafted based on key findings from the assessment and provides a series of tailored recommendations to strengthen AIBA's outreach, sustainability and role within Afghan society.
The Strategy sets out to convey key messages that support 3 main themes: to portray the AIBA as a fundamental pillar in Afghanistan’s legal system, to improve public legal awareness, and to reinforce the critical need for an independent bar association in Afghanistan.
Through a combination of television, internet and radio outreach, the AIBA’s communications will reach target audiences including AIBA current and potential members, justice sector professionals such as lawyers, prosecutors and judges, partner institutions including the Ministry of Justice, Supreme Court, Attorney General’s office, and the general public in Afghanistan.
Going forward, the AIBA is encouraged to seek synergies with other justice sector stakeholders as it implements its strategy, such as ministries within the Afghan Government and civil society organizations providing legal aid, to achieve its long-term goal of more effective outreach, greater organizational stability, and a society where all citizens have access to justice in a fair and transparent legal system.